For a moment, I thought I was watching John Thompson III getting introduced at Verizon Center.

“RG3! RG3! RG3!”

Fans were chanting the initials of Washington’s youngest hero, holding up three fingers in the air. They were crazy for Robert Griffin III, the Redskins’ rookie quarterback. He had scampered down the sideline for a 76-yard touchdown run, sealing an incredible 38-26 win over the Vikings. It was just one of many highlights of a perfect day at FedEx Field.

It is my first football game in 10 years. The last time I went to one was at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo, a venue dwarfed by the Redskins’ complex. FedEx Field regularly packs in almost 80,000 fans every home game, making it the second-largest stadium in the league.

Being surrounded by so many people dressed in red and gold is overwhelming and impressive. I’m not even a Redskins’ fan, but it definitely feels like I am part of something much greater than myself. As long as you are not wearing the wrong colors, you fit in just fine. People who you don’t even know will give you high fives and pats on the back. When the home team is winning, everyone is feeling good.

While the game is the main event, the real fun begins in the shadows of the stadium. Forget the field; the parking lot is the mecca of football fans. Football is the only sport that worships the tailgate. On Sundays, cars start filing into the parking lot more than four hours before kickoff.

Fans line up side by side on the pavement, roll down their windows, turn on the radio and fire up the grill. They open up their coolers, unfold their lawns chairs and unwrap the hotdogs and hamburgers. They set up the corn-hole boards and toss around the football.

On this sunny October day in Landover, Md., everyone has his own way of being a fan. Most just wear Redskins jerseys, with the late Sean Taylor and Griffin’s being the most popular. Others get really intense. An older fan in a wheelchair wears a full Native American costume, complete with war paint and a headpiece full of feathers.

Some vehicles are works of art. There is a “Fanbulance” a few cars down from ours — some crazy fans bought an ambulance, painted it red, installed a giant flat-screen TV and speakers and planted a few flagpoles on the roof for good measure. People are huddled around it watching the 1 p.m. games. There are a few converted school buses nearby and even a row of Redskins tents pitched in the back of the parking lot. You might even wonder whether this is a tailgate or a state fair.

At the tailgate, people are completely in their element. The dress code is blue jeans, sneakers, and backwards caps. No suits, no ties and certainly no high heels. You see nothing but pick up trucks and SUVs, with a few ambulances and school buses here and there.

It feels like America, with Fords and Chevys all around. It’s casual on Sunday, and I have never seen so many people content with just eating, drinking and watching football.

Football really is remarkable. It’s the only sport that turns a three-hour game into a daylong event. Sadly, you can miss this amazing part of sports culture if you stay at home and only see what goes on inside the stadium.

Sure, you can buy a nice TV, plop down on a comfy couch and still have a good time. But if you never bother tailgating, you miss something that is just as integral to the sport as the game itself.
Nick Fedyk is a junior in the School of Foreign Service. MORE THAN A GAME appears every Tuesday.

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