Perspective | Commanders fans are swooning, delirious and head over heels in love


These days, the Washington Commanders are living in a honeymoon suite. Everything is wonderful. Everybody is happy.

The sugar high of falling in love — with a new billionaire — keeps making fans do some crazy things. Such as showing up to the Commanders’ practice field despite the extreme heat blanketing the region, then shouting for joy as Terry McLaurin hauls in a catch that any dad could pull off in his backyard with a beer in his hand. Love is blind and blinding and brainwashing. It compels hundreds of adults and children to forget how their favorite team minimally upgraded a roster that finished 8-8-1 and missed the postseason again last year. Instead, they find happiness in July in something as simple as seats for spectators at Commanders Park.

No telling how long the honeymoon will last, but on Thursday, what was once the blah training ground for the most dysfunctional team in the NFL transformed into the happiest place in the D.C. area.

In Ashburn, clouds resembling the color of dirty dishwater covered the sun, and being outdoors was akin to being stuck under the hood of a car. And yet they still came out. The fans of these Commanders, many of them filling the near sideline while the rest sat up above in metal bleachers, soaked up the view of a team that Vegas projects to win 6½ games this year.

But what’s another humdrum season when eight wins would taste like manna to a malnourished Washington fan? And what’s a hot and muggy morning when you have spent the past 24 years in hell?

“Oh, the vibe? Unreal. I mean, this is everything we want,” long snapper Camaron Cheeseman told me while working his way down a line of autograph seekers after practice. “I know the fans are loving this. I just think everything’s going to come together. The energy is there. It’s just nothing like I’ve seen. … I’m excited, just as much as they’re excited. It’s going to be awesome.”

And as Tress Way, everyone’s favorite punter, multitasked by greeting fans and giving away his signature, he said: “I’ve already had two Tress Way jerseys [to sign], so things are looking up. There once was a day when there was none other than my family. And then seeing everybody excited, vibes are an all-time high.”

And it’s all because of the grandstands. Or really because of the man who put them there.

This season, Josh Harris, a middle-aged man with no publicly recorded 40-yard dash time, will rush for as many yards as his wealthy friends who signed up as limited partners and will register a whopping zero, zero point zero quarterback rating. Yet he will be the most beloved person on gamedays. Harris salvaged a franchise in the trash bin by dropping a cool $6.05 billion, and for that, among Washington fans, he can do no wrong. At least, for now.

“I don’t believe in Santa Claus, but I believe in Josh Harris,” said 46-year-old Frank Smallwood, who has been a Washington football season ticket holder for nearly three decades.

Smallwood remembered attending Washington football training camps since the Carlisle, Pa., days, and how then-owner Jack Kent Cooke would step out of his car and take photos with fans. On Thursday morning, nostalgia must have swept over Smallwood when he spotted Harris, in a black polo, stop to greet fans on his way to the practice field. Earlier, as players and coaches descended the same pathway, Smallwood showed off the strength of his larynx, his shouts carrying over all others:


For Harris, Smallwood saved his sweetest serenade: a “THANK YOU, JOSH!” chant that briefly picked up but petered out as those in front of the line tried to get the new owner’s attention.

“All of our friends are like, ‘What would you like to see?’ I don’t care. Dan’s gone,” Smallwood said. “We got a new owner. We already won. That’s our Super Bowl.”

This time every year, in training camps across the NFL, hope runs high. It doesn’t matter whether their team doesn’t have a chance; all fans have optimism — even those who follow the Houston Texans, which is saying something. Maybe it’s the sunshine beaming down on unpadded, undefended players who are running routes against air.

With only assistant head coach/offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy standing near the 40-yard line — he’s not exactly a shutdown corner — new starting quarterback Sam Howell connected with McLaurin. Cheers erupted from the bleachers. Someone yelled “Touchdown!” A man in one of the yellow staff shirts proclaimed, “I got you over 1,200 this year!”

Josh Harris assures Commanders with his words, his presence and a few changes

The energy continued throughout the day. Young wide receiver Jahan Dotson practices selective listening. He claims not to hear the crowd whenever he’s on the field: “It’s kind of like I’m in a tunnel,” he said. But Chase Young, now healthy again, couldn’t go about his drills without hearing the disruptive joy.

“It’s different when the receivers are running just regular routes on air and every time Terry catch the ball, I hear the crowd,” Young said. “I know they hype and excited, and so are we.”

Young does not come across as a big exterior decoration guy. He’s a defensive end by trade, blessed with arms perfect for grabbing and terrorizing NFL quarterbacks. His focus is on getting back to the same Chase Young football fans adored and opposing offensive coordinators loathed before his ACL injury. But on Thursday morning, something strange made him smile: bleachers.

“It was great, man, to see the fans. Definitely lifted me a lot,” Young said. “I appreciate our fans. I know they’re excited about new ownership, and you know, just the stands itself made it feel more [like an] NFL practice.”

But also the picnic tables. And the food trucks serving up pizza, barbecue and Korean Vietnamese fusion; the bank of port-a-potties; the open grassy field for youngsters to toss around tiny footballs; and, with this being the NFL in the 21st century, the exclusive hospitality suite welcoming VIPs. The place looks and feels different. And better. No one here is thinking beyond happily ever after.


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