Skins Win, Z Shades Are Triumphant
!!!!!! But more on that later.
The unsungest of unsung heroes hurried off the field as soon as the game was done, pausing to let Colt Brennan and Todd Collins pass, dodging the inactive Marcus Washington as he slapped hands with fans in the tunnel, and then safely finding shelter in the cool belly of FedEx Field.
Players walked by, not looking at these secret stars. "That's what you DO!" Chris Samuels screamed at Santana Moss, whose fourth-quarter touchdown made him an easy leading man in the TV storylines. "That's what you DO, baby!" Samuels yelled again.
Meanwhile, those few Redskins employees who had just stood in the sun hoisting Z Shades above their heads for nearly three hours paused in the tunnel and rested.
"It's just awkward," said one of the young men, who were not supposed to speak to the media. "It kills your back, your arms, everything."
The background: Coach Jim Zorn had brought his famous "Z Shades"--dubbed "Zawnings" by amused newspaper editors--to Ashburn during this summer's most sweltering practices. The Z Shades, which Senator Ted Stevens might describe as white fabric held together by a series of white tubes, stood behind one end zone during practice, offering shady relief from the sun.
But Zorn was told that, if team officials erected such structures during an actual game, they would have to provide similar lean-tos for the opposition. And with kickoff temperatures today right at 90 degrees--making it the hottest game in FedEx Field history, and the steamiest Redskins home game since Sept. 8, 1996--every inch of shade counted.
So Zorn enlisted the help of six "maintenance guys," as he dubbed them, from the game-day operations staff to substitute for the legs that would normally support the shade-providing fabric.
"I had a couple words for them as the game went along," Zorn said, "and my quote was, 'Do Not Get Tired!' And one guy said, 'Well, I'm getting tendonitis.' I said, 'At halftime, get some ice. But you can't get tired. You've got to hold these things.' "So they did a nice job there."
One of the Zupporters wore gloves, which seemed wise. Another said it helped to rest the Shade on your head. Three Zupporters held up each Shade; for brief moments they occasionally got help from the large fans that also lined the field. Here's hoping the NFL didn't see that part. And the response from the players?
"I was kind of skeptical at first, but you've really got to take your hat off to the guys that were holding them," defensive lineman Kedric Golston said. "That was great. I mean, they did a great job. That was a tough job. Seriously. Seriously!" he repeated, after I smiled.
(Of course, the Z Shades weren't the team's only Ztrategy for keeping cool. "These were games that you could easily get cramps and just sort of fade at the end, and we needed everything we had out there, being two scores behind," Zorn said. "And you know, I told everybody, 'Make sure you go to the bathroom so you have some space for some more liquid after halftime.' I know it's kind of gross, [but] we just couldn't get dehydrated out there, right?")
The Shades attracted occasional visits from reserves; Brennan, for example, made at least one second-half shade stop. Zorn said he only ducked in his own head to see the offensive linemen. And indeed, the linemen seemed to most enjoy the comfort of the Shades.
"They did a good job of taking care of the D-linemen," Demetric Evans said. "I don't know about nobody else, that's all that counts."
"You know, the Shade does a lot of wonders man," Andre Carter said.
"Heck yeah, it helped keep the sun off you," Cornelius Griffin agreed. "I was sitting up under that thing, and I moved? Man. Oh my God. It made a big difference."
If you look at the box score, by the way, you might notice the score in the fourth quarter, when heat exhaustion would likely have taken its biggest toll. Redskins 14, Saints 0. Here's one vote for the "maintenance men" for NFC Players of the Week.
September 14, 2008; 6:51 PM ET
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