RICHMOND, Va. -- Near the end of time, people queued up in a budging blob to watch … practice.
Across the hours of a scalding Saturday, 25,000 people shoehorned into one security gate to witness … practice.
A barbarous sun zeroed in on unforgiving asphalt upon a broiling planet, so much so that the brain's moorings seemed to loosen and danger did seem plausible during the very-gradual entry to …
A roar went off in the distance. Somebody must have scored a touchdown in practice. Enough of those touchdowns, and by the end of the day, the Washington Redskins' record would be, well, OK, 0-0.
Had you arrived from another, cooler planet into the stylish Virginian capital to which Redskins' camp has relocated, into the neighborhood with its becoming front porches and elegant museums and fresh RGIII buzz, you might guess that these particular fanatics seem starved, parched and eager for some sort of sustained football excitement.
Ding-ding! You would be accurate!
A mural upon a tarp on the fence along the hellish walk in tells of Redskins history -- Look! Darrell Green! Joe Gibbs! -- which really does grow thin with the 21st century until you get to this booming face beaming from down the line.
A woman got there with her nails painted intermittently burgundy and gold, with Redskins logos upon her dangling earrings, with a No. 98 Brian Orakpo jersey, and she beheld this face of this otherworldly RGIII on the mural. She stopped and posed for photos with this awesome face.
Then she leaned down and kissed its lips.
Then that had been insufficient.
Then she licked the lips.
What delirium around this portent of the end of time. Hundreds of people teemed back and forth on the sidewalks all around the neighborhood, some arriving and some going home, perhaps after discerning it was a practice. At least half the throng seemed to have the surname "Griffin" if you judged by the backs of the jerseys, maybe headed to some sort of Griffin family reunion, perhaps at the neighborhood restaurant boasting the "Griffin sandwich."
Implored by a cranky mother, two tykes held up their banner: "RG3 PLEASE STOP OVER HERE." Then, below that lettering: "JUST 10 SECONDS!"
It looked professionally crafted.
It seemed impossible that the NFL could seem any larger than it seemed already, but here it seemed, and here they came on Fan Appreciation Day, just as here they've come in thousands since camp opened. Some crouched near a tree-lined fence in pressing need of shade. A mother carefully explained dehydration to her daughter. A stretcher whisked off an elderly man, because while it's always terrible to croak, it might add a might more sadness to croak at practice.
The Washington Post reported about 100 stretcher calls and 10 hospital visits last Saturday, and while people long have forecasted the end of time, this might really be it.
After all, once beyond the security check, and once inside the facility, practice had developed its own ecosystem! It had its own VIP area, demonstrating apt patriotism. It boasted the booths of a lottery, a pizza company, and a certain restaurant chain redolent of 1950s hamburger establishments. It gleamed with a little shop for a cell phone company, because people always like to mix in a little cell phone shopping with their NFL practices.
Families sat in lounge chairs on the grass as if at a picnic. People made a jaw-dropping throng yonder by the field on the near horizon.
And off to the side, a sole Hogette stood by a porta-john.
The ecosystem had endured such foot traffic that even in the remorseless sunshine it had developed mud, entire patches of mud, mud that had annexed a stench, mud that made the sneakers cry out for a garden hose. So thick were the crowds that it had grown difficult, in this lifetime, to watch practice.
You might find one good vantage point over on the other side of the makeshift cell phone shop, but then others had found it too by slogging through the mud. Reaching field-side meant edging through a human thicket in a small passageway where workers shouted, "Keep to the right if you're coming in so people can exit! (Pause.) Keep to the right if you're coming in so people can exit! (Pause.) Keep to the right if you're coming in so people can exit!"
Over by field-side, these starved and parched and eager fans studied the action, seeking clues. One said, "Oh, we're in the hurry-up? OK. OK." One said of third-string quarterback Rex Grossman, "Rex done thrown an interception." One complained because second-string quarterback Kirk Cousins had a receiver open but threw elsewhere. (The louse!) One with an unbelievably keen eye thought second-year running back Alfred Morris looked especially good.
One little boy with a view from upon some shoulders exclaimed, "They're kicking footballs into the crowd! The kickers!"
Yet he could not get near -- or anywhere near.
All this came days after this remarkable sentence from Scott Cacciola in The New York Times, describing the thousands of witnesses of two Mondays ago: "A long heave from the backup quarterback Kirk Cousins to tight end Logan Paulsen, even with no defenders on the field, was enough to send everyone into near hysterics."
… even with no defenders on the field …
It did seem apocalyptic, this practice ecosystem, but on the way out came a thought of solace. The Redskins camp sits right behind the Science Museum of Virginia, with the stunningly beautiful architecture of its edifice completed in 1919. "They're in our backyard," said museum spokesperson Terri Rose.
Might some children might wander into the museum and learn some science? Might there be hope?
"Oh, it makes total sense," Rose said. "We've had a lot of additional kids coming through. It's been really positive." And: "It's a very big deal. It's kind of been on the front page of the paper here every single day since it opened. It's a very big deal for our community. I would say there's a lot of excitement around town."
Besides, in addition to a football exhibit explaining some football physics, the museum welcomed in Washington's three Vince Lombardi trophies from 1982-83, 1987-88 and 1991-92, then welcomed in the people who wished to see them. Think of it. This proved to a whole generation of people that the Redskins winning a Vince Lombardi trophy is scientifically possible.