Thursday, September 27, 2012

Washington Redskins Honorary Captain

“It’s one of my fears—to be on the big screen and everyone say ‘you suck,’” HollaAtYoBoy said.

I then fantasized being introduced for the coin toss before the Washington Redskins game: “And two-time cancer survivor Ben Rubenstein…” Before the PA announcer can finish, the crowd chants “Booooo!

This discussion didn’t arise out of the blue like HollaAtYoBoy’s drive-off-the-highway gestures had on our way to Beach Week years ago. In February I sent my book to the Redskins’ owner, Daniel Snyder, with an enclosed letter illustrating what his team meant to me throughout my cancer treatment. His assistant called me a month later saying that Mr. Snyder wanted me to be the honorary captain and official observer for the 2012 home opener. I followed up in July to ensure I hadn’t dreamed it. She confirmed the opportunity and said she’d call back in August with details. I didn’t hear from her, so in September I called the Redskins. His assistant left the organization, and after looking into it, the Redskins Charitable Foundation inked me in for the September 23 game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Days later, Sarah Kogod of The Washington Post contacted me. The Redskins had sent her a copy of the letter I wrote to Mr. Snyder and she wanted to write a piece on me and my upcoming team captainship. Two days later we spoke, and one day later—50.5 hours before the game—Sarah’s story published. The story spread rapidly and the response I received was congratulatory and full of enthusiasm (and jealousy).

SlimZ shook my hand before JD and I left his tailgate at 11:10 a.m. on Sunday. “He just wanted to shake London Fletcher’s hand through you,” JD later told me.

We arrived on the field at 11:30 and walked around. When considering my Make-A-Wish Foundation gift in 2000 I had nearly requested for me, JD and friends to play flag football with Redskins players at FedEx Field. Only that would have been cooler than this.

JD had taken less than 100 total photos with his nine-month-old iPhone. That more than doubled Sunday as he was on photography duty.

Ryan Kerrigan stretching during pre-game warmups
Ryan Kerrigan's calves are the size of my thigh
On the field before a Washington Redskins game
It took willpower for me not to eat the field to attain some form of permanence, even if it meant undigested grass lodged in my intestines
Media covers the Washington Redskins from FedEx Field
Too bad JD didn't have that camera to work with
Cincinnati Bengals warming up before Redskins game at FedEx Field
Humans weren't meant to get this big…
Fred Davis warming up before Washington Redskins game at FedEx
…Fred Davis included
Washington Redskins Honorary Captain before coin toss at FedEx Field
Now we're getting closer to normal human size. I'll ask Daniel Snyder if he can field a team of Rubensteins…
Meeting Daniel Snyder on FedEx Field before kickoff
Mr. Snyder (black suit) wasn't fond of the idea, though he was very chill and wearing sunglasses with slick-backed hair. I also asked rapper Wale (front right) if he was performing, though I should have recruited him to the Rubenstein team.
Meeting GM Bruce Allen on FedEx Field before kickoff
When GM Bruce Allen (black suit) shot down my idea, I was too depressed to ask offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan (shaking my hand). He knew better than to tell me I had "no f***ing balls."
DeAngelo Hall warming up on FedEx Field before kickoff
DeAngelo Hall is too cool for socks. Despite his performance Sunday I still believe he's cool, and has balls.
Washington Redskins Honorary Captain for coin toss
The coin toss is approaching. My balls are intact, though my poo may not be.
Washington Redskins run onto field during introductions
The Redskins are coming!
Washington Redskins cheerleaders before gametime
JD got distracted. Trust me, they're coming.
Nearing kickoff at FedEx Field
Game time!
Robert Griffin III runs onto FedEx Field during Washington Redskins player introductions
The ovation for Robert Griffin III (middle of picture) was deafening. Skins fans haven't felt this kind of excitement in years.
Honorary Captain enters FedEx Field for Washington Redskins coin toss
My favorite picture: me smirking as I contemplate photographing RG3 mere seconds before I walk out for the coin toss…
Robert Griffin III warming up on FedEx Field before kickoff
…Of course I will photograph him from ten yards away

I was not provided much instruction prior to the coin toss. Let's watch the series of events:

Entering midfield with the players was an amazing rush. I doubt I received boos, though I can't even recall how the PA announcer introduced me, so I later asked Matte Ice. "Best selling author/baller," he joked.

After kickoff, JD and I were escorted to Mr. Snyder's suite. We passed the double wooden doors into a huge burgundy room with couches to the right and a bar to the left. A gourmet food buffet spread in front of us, which included Georgetown Cupcakes. We walked past our lunch and photos of Daniel Snyder arm wrestling Darrell Green, toward our seats. Three long rows of soft bucket chairs filled the length of the suite in front of the open view of the field. Each seat came with headphones to listen to the game on various stations, a game program, artesian water, and a name tag. JD and my seats were on the end in the first row. I sat next to Sandy Montag (a top sports agent), five chairs from Alan Greenspan, and on the opposite end as Daniel and Tanya Snyder. We met Clinton Portis who spent much time at the bar. Sandy introduced me to Joe Theismann, one of his clients, whose handshake strength I was unable to mimic.

Televisions displayed everywhere, including the bathroom.
Daniel Snyder's owner's box men's bathroom urinal

The napkins and most everything displayed the Redskins emblem.
View from Daniel Snyder's owner's box at FedEx Field

Sandy remarked it was the nicest owner's box in the league. There is nowhere I'd rather watch the Washington Redskins play.

At halftime JD and I walked around. We stopped in front of a large picture of the '99 team at the White House, when the woman on the couch asked, "Are you Ben?"

We hadn't even noticed Daniel Snyder's wife and family in front of us. Tanya told us how the owner's box had previously been more secluded, but she worked to create an open and welcoming atmosphere. She said that because of Daniel's passion for the team, there are times he prefers to get away from the cameras. He must have spent the end of that painful first half in his cave, wherever that was (the Redskins were losing 24-10). "After the game we'll all get a picture with your book," she said before informing someone to retrieve her copy of Twice.

I laughed. "Honestly, that's not necessary," I said.

JD and I returned to our seats for the second half, along with my third plate of desserts. I looked over at Mrs. Snyder at times: always attentive, often rooting the Redskins on. Mr. Snyder waffled between his front-row seat and his cave.

The Redskins dominated the third quarter scoring two touchdowns. In the fourth quarter the Bengals tacked on two touchdowns, and RG3 ran for one. Down seven points with 1:47 left in the game, the Redskins had the ball at their own 2 yardline. RG3 had already led the offense to more points in each of his first three games than the Redskins typically scored in the past 12 years. Now, we needed seven more.

Mr. Snyder came out from his cave and approached the front row, next to JD, to watch the rookie. Eleven-yard pass, then a twelve-yard pass. Daniel was screaming, "Let's go Robert! Come on, baby! Let's go Robert!"

JD and I couldn't believe the billionaire owner of our beloved team cared this much. In that moment we realized that if Snyder committed murder then we'd still have a certain respect for him.

Robert Griffin scrambled for 19 yards and was hit way out of bounds to gain another 15 on a Bengals personal foul. Now, Snyder was screaming semi-obscenities at the refs and/or Bengals player. Had JD and I been watching at home we'd have done the same thing, but now Snyder's behavior encouraged us to partake a little. We wondered if Snyder approached us because we were real fans as opposed to some others in the box who attended because they held status.

With 29 seconds left RG3 was sacked for a 15-yard loss, and then Fred Davis was called for a false start with 7 seconds left. The Redskins then were called for a personal foul penalty because, in short, the replacement refs were clueless. Now at their own 41 yardline, RG3 heaved a pass that went incomplete, ending the game. It was furiously exciting, with an unfortunate conclusion.

We sat in disbelief of our surroundings before getting up to leave. I waved goodbye to Mrs. Snyder, but she met us back at the couches. "Mr. Snyder really wanted to talk more with you, but he's with the press now and not in the best mood. He's so disappointed because he wanted the team to win so he could give you the game ball. We'll have to bring you back another time, if you want." I looked at JD speechless, who chuckled and replied, "Of course we'd love to come back. This was amazing."

Tanya said we could wait around in case Mr. Snyder came back, but ten minutes later she insisted we get a picture with Twice since he wasn't likely to get away from the press.
Tanya Snyder and family in Redskins owner's box with Benjamin Rubenstein

Of all the powerful individuals in the box that day, she spoke to JD and me for half an hour. She is kind as can be, a fellow cancer survivor, and hopefully serious about having me back to get that game ball.

Though the coin toss was an adrenaline-filled blur, the whole experience was unforgettable thanks to the owner of the team I so proudly captained that day.