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A lot of people came to RFK’s swan song with a heavy heart. Some came with a heavy heart and a set of hand tools.
“I’m stealing my damn seat,” Skins fan Thomas Paul told me before the game, profiling with a shiny Craftsman adjustable wrench, like Tupac packing heat.
In football terms, the game was notable only for its meaninglessness. The Skins’ spectacular collapse in the second half of the season did away with playoff implications, and Dallas didn’t even bother faking a desire to win for the sake of rivalry. Emmitt Smith wasn’t in uniform; Troy Aikman and most other Cowboy starters didn’t touch the field after warmups.
The powerful inhabitants of Jack Kent Cooke’s luxury box didn’t seem willing to lend any degree of significance to the proceedings, either.
“I won’t miss [RFK] if the new place is nice,” Colin Powell generalized during his elevator ride to Cooke’s midfield digs. Powell freeloads off the ailing owner for his Skins passes, so it’s pretty easy to see where he is coming from.
Apathy hardly reigned, however. Out in the grandstands, where the freeloaders don’t range, the team’s move to Raljon’s fiscally greener pastures inspired far more discouraging words than Powell’s.
A lot of Skins fans, like Paul, went into RFK damned determined to come away from the league’s best little stadium with more than mere memories. But Paul probably took the end of RFK a little more personally than most others. The D.C. native—born at Sibley, schooled at Gonzaga—has basically always been Skins crazy. Paul’s dad taught him how to root for the Skins, but his parents split up and mom got custody. He’d watch the Skins’ away games on TV by himself, but when the team played at home, Paul cheered on Sonny and Billy and the Over the Hill Gang from “his” seat in RFK’s upper deck, right next to the old man.
“Those games meant everything to me as a kid,” Paul recalls. “I was just five years old when my folks got divorced, and for my childhood it was like the only time I ever got to see Dad was when the Skins were playing at RFK. I lived for those games! More than anything else, really, we shared the Redskins. I’m sure that’s why RFK is so special to me. I think it sucks that they’re leaving.”
Paul, like so many attendees Sunday, took his anger out on the stadium. But for all his wrench turning, by game’s end he realized that removing just one seat would be impossible. A security guard came after him when he started walking toward the exit with a row of three seats, so he put a foot to his plunder and settled for sneaking out one damaged chair back, which he hid under his coat.
Seats weren’t the only item being coveted: Everything was being coveted. All but a few of the game programs intended for the media were stolen from the upper press box, and after the game it seemed that anything that could be dragged out of the stadium, no matter how worthless, was.
The memorabilia-larcenists even infiltrated the Redskins’ locker room. Mammoth tackle Ed Simmons became enraged when he realized his helmet had been stolen while he showered after the game, and the even more mountainous Tre Johnson huffed and cussed at the unknown parties who had removed footballs and other trinkets from his stall as he washed up.
By then, all hell was breaking loose out on the field. Through brutality and will, police and security guards succeeded in keeping fans off the RFK sod for a few minutes after the final gun. But eventually the mob stormed forward and created a scene as chaotic as a Mogadishu food drop.
“Yeah, but the goal posts are still standing, aren’t they?” one cop said during the fracas. “That means we’re winning.”
As he uttered his victory proclamation, men and women of all ages, races, and social strata could be seen running around the RFK end zone or on their hands and knees at midfield, using pocket knives and screwdrivers to dig up a piece of the place to leave with.
“I got me a big chunk of the RFK grass, from its burgundy paint all the way down to its roots,” boasted actor/gadfly Mathew McConaughey, standing in the tunnels beneath the stadium after he’d escaped the rabble. “And that grass is going to be put in a jar and on the mantle of my home!”
Paul could relate to McConaughey’s excitement. After he procured his seat, Paul too went down to the field and tore up a big chunk from the 50-yard line.
When he got back to his apartment he put the chair back on display in the bathroom.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do with the dirt,” he shrugged. “But I’m glad I accomplished what I set out to do: I’ve got some of RFK with me now.”
And although Paul conceded that his actions earlier in the day had been unlawful, he offered no apologies.
“When I was really young, I thought everybody got to go see the Redskins at RFK, just like me,” he said. “I was a lot older before I realized what a privilege it was. I saw the Redskins play in the best stadium anywhere. I don’t care how nice that new stadium is. The way I look at it, the Redskins are gone, and things will never be the same. I don’t care about going to Raljon, and I don’t think I’m the only Redskins fan who feels that way. I know it’s not going to be hard to get a seat there.”
Not with a good set of tools, Tom. Not with a good set of tools…—Dave McKenna