Burgundy Revolution travels to Atlanta
I was still a few blocks away from the Georgia Dome Sunday afternoon, when I ran into a middle-aged husband and wife from a very wealthy part of Fairfax County who had traveled to Atlanta to see their Redskins. Wendy, the wife, had designed a pair of custom T-shirts for the occasion. On the front, the shirts said "Redskins." On the back? "Love the team, hate the owner."
"He's breaking our hearts," said Wendy, who said she was scared to give me her last name for fear of reprisals from the club. "We're afraid to wear them to the stadium; we'll get thrown out."
A couple minutes later, I saw two friends from the D.C. area who carried a pair of paper bags. "Danny won't let us protest at FedEx so we came to the Georgia Dome," one of the bags read.
"Papers will be served next week," cracked a nearby Falcons fan.
Not long after I entered the stadium, I ran into Antonio Fierro, a 23-year old Redskins fan from Miami. He was sitting in the front row, right behind one end zone, holding up a massive homemade banner that would later make the Fox broadcast. He bought the tickets on eBay, expressly so he could get a sign on television.
"CONFISCATE THIS DAN!" the sign taunted. "FIRE VINNY."
"That's exactly what MY sign says!" remarked David Moore of Fredericksburg, who had never met Fierro.
Yup, the Burgundy Revolution hit the road Sunday, and there were pockets of resistance scattered all over the Georgia Dome. Many of the agitators were upset about the usual stuff--the offensive line's decrepitude, the unproductive second-year receivers and the front-office structure. But this week, a new item was added to the list of grievances.
"He took away the First Amendment right of Redskins fans," said Jason Coons of Olney, who was holding a "Cerrato + Snyder = Fail" sign and wearing one of the Junkies' "Worst.Owner.Ever." shirts. "He wants to control what we say, what we wear. This is what I want my quote to say: He's a communist."
Look, there was some irony here. I don't think Coons really thinks Snyder is advocating for shared wealth, and anyway, the Communists were once the revolutionaries.
This is getting too confusing, so I'll put it simply. Redskins fans are mad. Taking away their signs didn't make them less mad.
Of course, the club clarified its rules in the past couple weeks, saying that all T-shirts that aren't profane are permitted at FedEx Field. But the sign ban still stands, and I'm just not sure that cracking down on free expression is a historically proven method of propping up a shuddering regime. Sometimes, it can inspire in the wrong direction.
"It's the first time I've ever made a sign," said Jim Wilson, a Redskins season-ticket holder from Richmond holding a "SNYDER: SELL THE TEAM" banner. The Redskins argued that signs at sporting events can be hazardous, so Wilson made his banner out of a bedsheet.
"Soft cloth," he explained. "I didn't want to poke anyone in the head."
A few sections away, Damon Proffitt and Mark Yenowine had a different safety concern.
"The only thing I worry about is tripping over my own feet when the sign is in front of my face," Yenowine said. "Too many people wanting to see the signs."
These decades-long Redskins fan held a tandem message: "Hey Dan Take This Sign," read Proffitt's sign, which concluded with an arrow pointing at Yenowine's "IMPEACH SNYDER" banner."
These guys came from Louisville, where they're proud members of the Louisville Hoggs. Yenowin has been a fan since Vince Lombardi; his dad moved the family to D.C. in the '60s, and the Skins stuck.
"They're taking away signs at FedEx; that's why we did it," Yenowine said.
"They can't take 'em here," Proffitt agreed. "[The owner's] like a little baby, kicking his feet when things go wrong."
They were sitting pretty close to George Lafoon, whose "BAN THIS SIGN DAN; Riggo Buy The Team" creation was also proving popular. I mean, I had to wait in line to snap pictures of some of these signs, because so many Redskins fans were doing the same thing.
And these weren't casual fans. One of the bag wearers, Alex Meyer-Stokes, has a Redskins tattoo. Another, Arlington native Jen Hawkins, has a dog named Riggo. A third, Eddie Jenkins, told me about a 1987 professional family portrait in which he wore a Doug Williams jersey and his dad sported Art Monk. Now, he had shown up for a road game, with a "Fire Our Xtortionists" banner.
"It's my one chance to voice my opinion," he said. "You can't have gag orders on your fans."
Obviously, I agree. Many sports franchises have been bad; that's not particularly noteworthy. Banning signs because of the threat of head-poking injuries, though, seems to fundamentally sever the covenant with your fans. Which is probably why just about every person I saw with a sign on this day was rooting for the visiting team. I saw one Falcons fan with a D-Fence creation; I can't remember a single other Falcons fan with a sign. This didn't have to become a big deal, a bunch of paper and marker. Now, though, it is.
"How crazy is it, we can't even express ourselves in our own stadium?" said Joe Davis of Silver Spring, whose sign announced, "We had to drive 10 hours to hold up this stupid sign."
"We've been to Green Bay, Carolina, here, New York, Philly, and every game experience was better than FedEx Field, every one," Davis continued.
"Even in Philly, which is insane," said his wife, Amelia. "I love the team. The team's bigger than the owner. But he's ruining it."
These fans were mostly in their 30s and 40s. They grew up at a certain time.
"Our expectations are the three Lombardi Trophies on this banner," Hawkins said. "That's what we grew up with."
Not today's kids. And I'm not trying to suggest that every Skins fan was protesting. There were thousands and thousands here, and only a tiny minority had signs or bags. It was truly impressive, how many fans came out to see a two-win team on the road. The sign holders are just the vanguard, but they said the reaction was almost uniformly positive, from both Falcons and Redskins supporters.
Anyhow, after the game, the agitators congregated outside the dome. Lafoon was holding court with two other Redskins fans wearing paper bags over their heads. They were joined by Ashley Tate, the founder of the Fire Snyder Sign blog, who's been urging fans to create a giant "Fire Snyder" message by wearing color-coded shirts.
"We love the Skins," said Peter Derry from inside his paper bag head. "But it's tough."
Falcons fans, and even Cowboys fans, were taking photos. They seemed to be sympathetic.
"I think everyone in the league feels sorry for us," said Stella Mercado, holding a massive banner in the 100-level. "We're getting a sympathy vote. And I'll take it."
The Falcons, if you're curious, have their own rules about signs. Nothing larger than 3 feet by 3 feet, nothing derogatory, profane or commercial, and nothing inappropriate.
I saw some signs that were too big, but I didn't see any staffers enforcing the rules. They were too busy handing out free samples of Apple Gouda Sausage during breaks from the out-of-town replays that were showing on the gorgeous HD video screen.
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