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Canton is capital of Redskins nation on Hall of Fame weekend

CANTON, Ohio -- They turned Fawcett Stadium into Fed-Ex Field. They trekked from the nation's capital to the National Football League's womb and splashed the haunt burgundy and gold.

They came to hail Darrell Green and Art Monk. And they threw their arms around one of their former assistant coaches, Emmitt Thomas, too.

That made half of the 2008 Hall of Fame Class Redskins family members. And that gave Redskins fans all the reason they needed to come to Canton, bring their brand of rowdy and sincere spirit and celebrate one more notch added to the tradition and legacy of this world-renown franchise.

"This is a day we have long been waiting for and a great day for the Redskins," team owner Daniel Synder said moments before the ceremonies began, beaming under the blinding sun. "It's just a delightful moment and especially for Art and Darrell, who played together, to go in this Hall together, with both players and their families side by side."

It was a day that the Redskins fans cherished.

They arrived early and remained late for the ceremonies on Saturday, bouncing about Fawcett Stadium in small groups and in large ones. One fan, Harold Wilson Jr., 40, wore a Redskins headdress of long feathers and insisted he has been a fan of the team for 41 years.

But he was only 40, he was reminded.

"Yeah, but you can count the embryonic year -- my parents were serious 'Skins fans then, so, I'm sure I was then, too."

Monk's induction impacted Wilson most.

"Back in '83 I went to his football camp," Wilson said. "My mother was paralyzed from the waist down and was in a wheelchair. She came. Art wheeled her closer to the field so she could get a better look. Here was one of my heroes wheeling my hero. She died a couple of years ago. I feel like she's here today. I feel like we're putting our stamp on Canton today."

Wilson would not be overshadowed by "Superskin."

He was asked his real name.

He would not reveal it.

If you were dressed in gold shoes, gold knee socks, burgundy pants, a gold and burgundy long-sleeved, tight shirt with a huge Redskins' insignia on the chest and donning a burgundy, eye-cut-out hood, maybe you would not, either.

"It was before the 2000 season, and I had a dream, and Jack Kent Cooke came to me in the dream and said, 'Son, Fed-X Field does not have the same zip and flavor as RFK did,'" Superskin said of the former Redskins owner. "'We need to do something to spice it up in there. And you are it.' And I woke up that next morning and there was this suit at the foot of my bed. It fit me perfectly. And I've been Superskin ever since at every Redskins game."

I think he was kidding. He said this outside of Fawcett Stadium between taking photos with children and adults who were Redskins fans and with others who were simply curious.

"The wait is over for Art Monk," Superskin said. "We don't have to fight for him anymore to get in here. Today is about exhaling. It's all about Art, but Darrell and Emmitt also. It's about the Redskins family. It runs deep."

That was clear in the way the Redskins fans not only flocked here but also celebrated this time, this place.

"I've often said that the Redskins are the greatest sports franchise in the world," former Redskins coach Joe Gibbs said. "And it's because of that fan base. If you are a fan in that stadium, you have been in that stadium for the last 20 years. And if you're not in that group, it means you just got off the list after 20 years. Because that is how long it takes to become a season-ticket holder there. Those fans are battle tested. They understand it, the game. They know good football when they see it. They cheer it. They support it. And boy, they boo when it's bad.

"We had a block of time there when we were pretty good and winning Super Bowls and there are so many guys who should be in here from those teams. Art and Darrell are very deserving. They probably feel today like I did when I was inducted here: You want to go up there and shake each one of those fans hands and personally thank each one."

Gibbs had been the last Redskin inducted. That was in 1996.

The last Redskins player inducted was John Riggins. That was in 1992.

A 12-year drought for the Redskins in Canton ended with an emphatic punch. The crowd announced was 16,654. It seemed like 16,000 of them were Redskins fans in burgundy and gold. An analysis of early ticket sales indicated that 75 percent of tickets were sold to fans in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area.

"And so many of them who wanted to come are not here," said Vinny Cerrato, Washington's general manager. "And they are all over the country and all over the world. We were in Virginia Beach recently and a fan came up to us with tattoos all over his body of our Super Bowl trophies, all of our Hall of Famers, pro bowlers, our history. These fans are year-round fans. We feel so obligated to do well by them."

Bobby Beathard was the Redskins general manager who drafted both Green and Monk. He was in Canton on Saturday to join the Redskins nation.

Beathard also worked for the Chiefs, Falcons, Dolphins and Chargers. He fondly recalls the intensity of Redskins fans and the many games where old RFK stadium would shake and sway.

"So many players like Art and Darrell come to D.C. and to the Redskins and stay," Beathard said. "For your post-career, it is a fine place to live and work. And when you play there, then and now, it is different -- the fans feel like they know the players there one-on-one. They call the players by their first name. They recognize them everywhere in the community. It is a band of brothers."

Green earned the Hall in his first year of eligibility, but Monk waited eight years after being eligible for enshrinement.

Green yelled: "It's a Redskins day, baby!"

And Monk, the final inductee of the night, received the longest and an emotional standing ovation from the crowd before speaking a word. He saluted all of the Hall of Fame members. And he saluted his Redskins fans and family.

"I'll always be known as a Redskin," Monk said. "And even now, as a Hall of Famer."

His faith supersedes both identities, Monk said.

"I never imagined football would take me this far," he said. "I will wear the banner with pride."

Every Redskins fan took home a similar banner. At the least, a mental one that colored this enshrinement burgundy and gold.

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