In the press boxes at certain away games, I’ve noticed, the teams manage to include some kind of local food. Sometimes this is major — crabcakes at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore; cornbread and collards at Bank of America stadium in Charlotte — and sometimes it’s just something small, like Tastykakes in Philadelphia.
I half-jokingly asked on Twitter the other day what the Redskins could offer at FedExField that would be comparable, because those little touches really make the press box experience interesting. I like the sense of locality, of pride in a place, that they indicate.
Well, despite some interesting Twitter responses, the team is not currently making any changes to the press box food, but they have found another way to localize the game experience, at least for one game: at the home game against the Cowboys on Sunday, December 27, Wale will be performing at halftime.
Wale may not be a household name for everyone just yet — here’s Rick Snider of the D.C. Examiner giving the ultimate old-guy response to the news — but he’s getting there. For those of you who are unfamiliar: Wale (pronounced wah-LAY) is a D.C.-born rap artist; he grew up in the DC Metro area, and he’s made his hometown part of his music and image as he’s risen to prominence in the world of hip-hop
And prominence is the right word. Just this year, Wale was the house band for MTV’s VMAs; he released his first major-label album, Attention Deficit; and he opened for Jay-Z on tour.
Also, because of his D.C. upbringing, Wale is a die-hard Redskins fan; you might remember me mentioning his name last week as both a participant in the WKYS Sean Taylor tribute, and (in the same post) his video tribute to Taylor a year later.
So having him play at halftime may not be opening an auxiliary branch of Ben’s Chili Bowl in the press box, but it ain’t peanuts either.
I had a chance to talk to Wale yesterday while he was at Redskins Park. Here are some fast facts about Wale growing up a Redskins fan and how he thinks he could contribute ON the field.
Wale’s earliest Redskins memory involves lots of screaming:
“It’s very, very faint because I was young, but I do have it on tape somewhere in the house – Broncos versus Skins in the Super Bowl. That was when I was living in D.C., I just remember my parents screaming a whole lot while watching it.”
Like many fans this season, Wale has trouble focusing on good Redskins memories:
“Best Redskins memory – I’ve got a couple. Just when we clinched the playoffs, the last time we clinched the playoffs was a good one.” He pauses for a second, thinking. “It’s sad that all the bad ones are poppin’ up in my head – Rocket Ismail burnin’ us that one time, LaDainian Tomlinson breakin’ free that once. All the diehard Skins fans know these moments. Even the Cowboys game last week, or Sean Taylor, when he passed away and we played the Bills.”
Speaking of Sean Taylor, Wale explains how important the musical tribute was to him:
“They asked me to do it, and it skipped over everything on my priorities. There were songs that I was getting paid to do that it took precedent over. So, it was my duty. I almost wanted to do something separately by myself for him.”
Wale’s bagels have more effect on the Redskins than you might think:
“My affinity to the Redskins is, like, beyond measure, to the point that I’m superstitious [even] before the games. One of my superstitions is, if we’re winning, whatever I’m doing – it could be cooking some eggs, toasting a bagel – if we start winning while I’m doing it, I’ll keep doing it. I’ll toast 12 bagels if we’re winning.”
Sometimes, Wale loves the Redskins so much that he doesn’t even watch them:
“When we beat Dallas – the last time we beat Dallas. I wasn’t even watching the game, because the TV wasn’t on it. I had to stop what I was doing and just continue whatever I was doing. I don’t speak much — well, now that I’m a public figure obviously I have to speak — but I wouldn’t talk at school the next day when we lost. I wouldn’t speak.”
This Redskins season has made Wale miserable, but he has found a silver lining:
“It’s a rough one, but I mean, these are always inevitable. We haven’t had a season like this since Richie Petitbon. It’s been awhile, know what I mean? It’s unfortunate because our division is pretty strong, and you know, the Eagles are pretty good. Regardless, bad to us is still good to most NFL franchises. Even the Giants are not looking good, but you still know they’re a great football team. We’re like a different type, we’re fightin’ still, so I guess there’s a little bit of silver lining in that.”
Wale is a bit concerned about this Sunday’s game against the high-powered New Orleans Saints; this probably just indicates that Wale is not delusional:
“I’m a little worried about Sunday, I’m a little worried. It’s scary man, it’s a little bit scary! We are fighters though, we are definitely fighters. I believe Zorn is definitely going to try to control the ball. The running game looks real good as of late, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we can pull it out. I mean, Rock is averaging 3.6 yards per carry or something like that? We control the ball. Rock is looking like a 25-year old running back right now.”
Wale is incredibly pleased to be performing at halftime of a Redskins game, but would rather be participating:
“I consider it an accolade. A very great, early accolade in my career. Obviously, I grew up a Redskins fan and understanding the significance of the Cowboys vs. Redskins, but to be part of it…As a little boy, you always dream of playing in the game, but this is the next best thing. I don’t know who we’ve gotta call to let me return a kick or two, but until that happens I think this will definitely suffice.”
In fact, Wale — a running back in high school and college — believes that everyone could benefit from signing him to the practice squad:
“I mean, let’s do it. I think it’ll be good pub. I think we could sell some tickets. All we’ve gotta do is give me like a half-back toss, you know I could read a couple blocks, and if it’s not lookin’ too good, get out of bounds.”
Despite the publicity benefits, Wale is realistic about how he would perform on the NFL level:
“I’d probably run for my life though. You know, I ran out of Wing-T in high school, and I didn’t get an opportunity to run out of [I-Formation]. I-formation is what made me legendary in little league, but I couldn’t run out of that until I got to Virginia State, and I got my legs back as soon as I did it. I got my whole swagger back together when I ran it. The speed is obviously a lot faster, and I’m a lot more out of shape.”
Wale’s muse has not led hi
m to many Redskins references in his recent work:
“I did earlier in my career. Just from an artistic standpoint, nothing has been mentioned because most of the references just come like that.” He snaps his fingers. “I just close my eyes and let it go.”
Wale runs into more Redskins players than the average, non-hip-hop-star person:
Among his friends, he counts “Portis, Cooley, Rocky McIntosh. I’ve met Mike Sellers, D. Hall gave me a game jersey after we beat the Broncos. Those are some good people, man. I’ve bumped into Jason Campbell a couple times, like backstage at the Jay-Z concert I saw him.”
Internet reports that Wale has a Chris Cooley tattoo are, sadly, false:
“No. I don’t have any tattoos,” he says, and makes a note have his publicist update his Wikipedia page.
His performance on December 27th will be only the third Redskins game he has attended:
“I’ve only been to two in my life. My second game I went to was the Denver game (Week 10). I’m going to tell you how long ago it was since I’ve been to a Redskins game – the last Redskins game I went to before the Broncos game, Skip Hicks ran for like 180-yards. He wasn’t a very patient runner though. Like Stephen Davis wasn’t that fast, well he had deceptive speed because you couldn’t catch him from behind, but he was a very patient runner. I used to try to run like him, but I’m not big enough, if you get a hand on me I’m probably gonna go [down]. I used to love watching him run.”
Despite his fondness for the guy’s game, Wale did not model his running style after Skip Hicks:
“Barry Sanders. I had odd people that I looked up to: Byron Hanspard, Barry Sanders, Warrick Dunn, James Avery who played at Ole Miss and was drafted by the Dolphins, and Tavian Banks that was at Iowa and was drafted by the Jaguars. I used to like certain running backs that reminded me of myself, that were like my build, smaller guys who had to use their feet a little more.”
Wale’s tourmate Jay-Z does not share Wale’s enthusiasm for the Redskins, and Wale hasn’t had much luck converting his peers to Washington sports fandom:
“Yeah, [Jay-Z]’s a Cowboys fan. Cowboys, Yankees, Nets by default, and Knicks kinda, obviously Cavaliers. I can’t win anybody over on the Nationals right now, except that we got the coolest hats. The CEO of Allido Records, my boss Rich Kleiman, he’s a Giants fan. And John Mielli, my co-manager, he’s a Jets fan. Back on Roc Nation, there’s nobody who’s with me on the Redskins conversation.”
Wale’s album Attention Deficit is available for download on iTunes.
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