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Experiencing the EagleBank Bowl

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There were around 30,000 red-faced folks inside RFK Stadium today, and they had all sorts of reasons for being there. Some had family members on the field. Some were alums. Some were being paid. (Guilty.) But the best reason for attending an 11 a.m. game between teams with a combined nine losses in near-freezing conditions was provided by two shivering souls sitting somewhere in section 511.

"So we had been drinking heavily," explained Mike Adams of the District. "It was 3 a.m. We were watching Saturday Night Live animated shorts at the time. That led to, 'We're on the Internet, we should buy EagleBank Bowl tickets.' "

Add that to the list of alcohol's dangers. Anyhow, without knowing which teams would be here, Adams and his pal, Nate Jensen of Alexandria, bought three tickets at $40 per, figuring they'd be able to find a third college football enthusiast with nothing to do on a Saturday morning. They failed.

"So now it's the two of us having one-and-a-half times as much fun as a single ticket holder," Adams said. "Best EagleBank Bowl ticket story ever."

Quite likely. But everyone had a story to tell, more or less.

"We have a son on the team, that's why we're here," explained Mike Raines, whose son Chance is Wake Forest's reserve center, as he walked toward RFK. The next group of Wake fans I stopped included the brother of tight ends and fullbacks coach Steve Russ. The next group included Holly Grobe, who happens to be the wife of the head coach.

And while most of the fans were there to cheer on either Navy or Wake Forest, some of them were there to root for the stadium itself. There were Redskins fans who never managed to score tickets to Gibbs-era games on East Capitol, and who wanted to experience football at RFK.

"It's RFK Stadium and it's football -- I'm there," said Bob Tarnai, who was decked out in Redskins apparel.

"I just wanted to see where the Redskins used to play," said Mike Cotroneo, who was also wearing burgundy and gold. "My favorite part so far has been the montage before the game about the Redskins."

(Not everyone felt the same; Pat Redmon, a Cowboys and Navy fan, was less intrigued by the stadium experience. "Hell, to tell you the truth, I thought it was closed," he said. "Guess it ain't.")

Some things have changed since the days of Gibbs I. For example, lime-flavored Bud Lights and papusas at the concession stands, and much-maligned Nationals in-game entertainer Clint on the field.The in-stadium giant posters staring down at the stands featured Marcelo Gallardo and Jaime Moreno, some bathrooms featured garbage bags sitting on the floor in lieu of actual containers, and instead of Chief Zee, the sidelines featured "Eagle," the bowl's creatively named mascot.

But it was a lot easier to be cynical before wading into Wake Forest's post-game victory celebration, where the team's departing seniors posed for photos, hugged their parents, hit each other on their bottoms and praised everything about the first-year bowl, including the venue.

"Pretty sweet, dude," said Wake tackle Joe Birdsong. "I feel like I'm in a Spanish soccer stadium."

"It was sick," punter Sam Swank said.

"I loved it," safety Chip Vaughn said. "Just stepping foot out here, you got a sense of all the great players, and you wanted to hold yourself to that same standard."

Running back Kevin Harris, who racked up 136 yards, gushed over the field itself, describing it as both grippy and quick.

"I mean, if I did well on it, it's got to be good, right?" Harris noted. "A white running back?"

Some of the departing seniors spoke passionately about the end of their careers--"It's gonna be hard leaving the locker room," linebacker Aaron Curry said--and about their final bowl experience.

"It exceeded our expectations,' Curry said. "Now Wake Forest goes down in history with the Redskins that won the Super Bowl."

And some chose to highlight another feature of amateur athletics. "I'm ready to get paid," was how Vaughn put it, with a wink.

So anyhow, it was a strange place to be on a Saturday morning, a creaky old building hosting the first college bowl for a city with no bowl-eligible teams, but a pretty high number of attendees were happy with their surroundings.

"It's got character," Birdsong's father John said. "It's got memories, and character, and stories. The new stuff doesn't have stories like the old stuff does. It's kind of like an old family quilt; it warms you up."

Metaphorically, of course. For literal warmth, Birdsong recommended a hot toddy.

By Dan Steinberg  |  December 20, 2008; 4:59 PM ET
Categories:  College Football , EagleBank Bowl  
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"Pretty sweet, dude," said Wake tackle Joe Birdsong. "I feel like I'm in a Spanish soccer stadium."

"I feel like I'm in a Mexican prison", anyone trying to leave Fedex after an NFL game.

Posted by: rdpinva | December 20, 2008 8:35 PM | Report abuse

It was kinda surreal to see football at RFK, as it's only ever been a baseball stadium for me (which, I guess, is the opposite of how a lot of Skins fans felt when the Nats reinaugurated baseball to RFK). Was there as an alumni of Wake who last went to a game my senior year, and last went to a bowl game when shipped to Hawaii as part of the pep band for the 2000 Aloha Bowl. Just a great experience all around. Here's hoping that a DC Bowl Game becomes a tradition and not a one-shot affair.

Posted by: thurdl01 | December 22, 2008 10:05 AM | Report abuse

i assume it's a safe bet that the concession options and availability were far superior to those for DCU games? you know, the team that actually gives the stadium a reason to exist?

Posted by: dimesmakedollars | December 22, 2008 11:07 AM | Report abuse

No love for Clyde Simms or Fred on the United sign?

Posted by: kolbkl | December 22, 2008 11:07 AM | Report abuse

Never been to a DCU game to compare, but it was pretty much just hot dogs, fries, and chicken tenders. About 1/3 of the concession stands were closed, and the open ones tended to have just one cash register per. They had hot chocolate and coffee in deference to the cold. If the selection yesterday was better than at DCU games...then ouch.

Posted by: thurdl01 | December 22, 2008 1:06 PM | Report abuse

A third of the stands were closed? Then there were some extra stands compared to a United game. RFK's lackluster attitude towards United and its fans has created the great tailgating atmosphere at it's games.

Posted by: kolbkl | December 22, 2008 2:36 PM | Report abuse

I don't know kolbkl, the description from thurdl01 sounds pretty accurate. Dan mentioned the pupusa stand being open, which is the only food in the stadium that won't give you some kind of stomach malady.

Posted by: Chest_Rockwell | December 22, 2008 5:25 PM | Report abuse

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