I had heard that a busload of Redskins fans from Chicago were coming to the Detroit game, so I figured I’d spend some time pregame at their tailgate, getting their story and seeing what kind of spread they set out. As tailgates generally take place outside the stadium and this one included an entire busload of fans in Redskins gear, I figured it wouldn’t be too tough to find.
I failed to reckon on the fact that Ford Field is located in downtown Detroit, and the only parking lots that allow tailgating are literally more than a mile from the stadium, so — predictably — it took a little longer to find than I expected, and I had to call a friend at the tailgate to find out specifically where they were.
She gave me the cross streets, but sounded perplexed. “I don’t really know,” she said, “but it looks like we’re tailgating under some kind of parking structure in a meat packing district.” Which was about as accurate a description as I would be able to come up with.
The tailgating area in Detroit is in the Eastern Market, lots of wide open parking lots bounded by large buildings. Apparently on Saturdays, it’s an insane crowd of vendors and buyers, but on Sunday it just feels strangely industrial and grey. I never realized how much color the trees around the FedExField parking lots added to the tailgating experience. Maybe if the Lions were winning it wouldn’t have felt so grim, but it’s been a long time since the Lions were a winning organization.
In any event, the bus was as promised, completely full of Redskins fans. I pulled aside the organizer, Chris Mooney, to ask him about it.
“I’m originally from Los Angeles, but I’ve been a Redskins fan all my life,” he said. “When I moved to Chicago, I immediately started googling Redskins Fan Club. I wanted a place where I could go to a bar, watch a game, and not be heckled by Bears fans.”
The bar he found was Maeve, and the fan club he found was the Redskins Fan Klub. The K, of course, is there to create the acronym RFK, and it was just about at this point that the founders of the RFK introduced themselves.
Actually, they never properly introduced themselves — they gave titles (“Coach”) and Clinton Portis nicknames (“Dolla Bill”) and a bunch of other things, but mostly they just started talking about the Redskins, Sean Taylor, Clinton Portis, and the history of their klub.
“It started back in 2005, during 5-0 or we don’t go,” said founder (and “Coach”) Derek Light. “We all met at one bar in Chicago and I got some email addresses, put up a website, put an ad on Google, and it just went from there.” They printed up business cards, which they would give to anyone in Redskins gear or stick under the wipers of cars with Virginia plates.
The next step was to find a home. “In Chicago, everybody watches the Bears games,” Dan (“Assistant Head Coach”) Hibey explained. “Even if you find a bar with the Skins game on, you can’t get sound on it. Once we start up the club, this guy who works in a bar tells us that his place is basically empty and has the NFL Ticket, which is a combo that’s pretty much unheard of in Chicago, so now we have the Skins with sound.”
The bartender’s name is Ben Carlson, at Maeve. He’s a Bears fan who has taken to wearing a Sean Taylor jersey to work on Sundays — Carlson calls Taylor one of the greatest players he’s ever seen, and it keeps the Redskins crowd happy — while he puts the Bears game on without sound on a back corner TV. He plays Hail to the Redskins after every touchdown, and keeps the crowd happy. It’s an ever-increasing crowd, too. “This is the first year that the bar is starting to feel a little small,” Hibey said.
So they’ve got membership. They’ve got a place to watch their favorite team, with sound. And they’ve also got their own T-shirts. Last year, it was Counter Trey:
This year, Route 281 — “In honor of Darrell Green and Art Monk,” they tell me.
They started the roadtrips last year, heading to the Green Bay game (in which, Hibey pointed out, “Sean Taylor had two interceptions and made Brett Favre the all-time interception leader”), and this year they brought 40 people to Detroit. The entire group woke up at 3:30 in the morning to depart at 4:00, with the bus showing Rocky & Bullwinkle cartoons followed by highlights from the Redskins Super Bowls, and made their way to Ford Field. They set up a tailgate featuring not only the usual piles of brats, burgers, and chicken, but even some delicacies that remind them of being back East.
Which is, after all, the entire point of the whole endeavor. “In Chicago,” Hibey said, “you don’t have FedExField, you don’t have the DC bars, you don’t have DC. Our bar is our slice of home.”