On Wednesday morning, Redskins fans over the DMV visited First Baptist Church of Glenarden in Upper Marlboro, Md., to pay their final respects to Redskins superfan Zema Williams.
Instead of black suits and dresses, they wore bright jerseys and hats. Instead of solemn, welcoming glances, they greeted each other in the lobby and in the aisles with hugs and conversation. Instead of a silent recessional, they sang along to a rendition of "Hail to the Redskins" and chased the anthem's spirit into the parking lot.
The hundreds of fans, friends and family members that congregated Wednesday morning at First Baptist Church of Glenarden in Upper Marlboro, Md., made sure that vision was fulfilled.
The atmosphere, after all, resembled a gameday gathering. This time, those in Redskins apparel – even some wearing Williams' likeness on their shirts and on their heads – didn't have their usual pregame, tailgating pep. A staple around the RFK Stadium, then FedExField, parking lots, posing for photos with anyone who asked, Williams lay in an open casket two hours before the service began, giving fans a final opportunity to pay their respects and stand next to him, the superfan, for one last time.
"If there was a game today, he'd want us to be there instead of here," said former Redskins MVP kicker Mark Moseley, one of two alumni, along with Daryl Grant, that eulogized briefly during Williams' service.
Indeed, the location and timing of the funeral – a stone's throw from FedExField, the day the team reported to Richmond, Va., for training camp – emphasized Williams' spirit and loyalty to the Redskins, dedication that will forever be part of his legacy in the Washington, D.C., metro area.
"Our fans are some of the best fans in the world, and Chief was probably one of the best of all time," Moseley said after the service. "I've known him for a long time and not only has he been a Redskins fan, but he was a personal fan. He's the kind of guy you want to be a fan with. He was going to be there no matter what. If you ever needed anything, he was the kind of guy where you could call him and he was going to be there."
Williams, born on July 7, 1941, in the small sharecropping town of Colquitt, Ga., began his adult life in the U.S. Army when he was drafted shortly after completing high school. After returning, he found his way to the Washington, D.C., area and began a career in car sales, a profession that afforded him some fame as a top producer month after month.
His determination in business eventually manifested itself in the Redskins.
He attended every home game, starting with a Monday Night Football contest against the Cowboys in 1978, a feat that continued into 2015, further cementing his legacy of devotion. Along his 38-year journey, he accumulated a multitude of experiences – including an induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000 – but gave a lot of them back to those that sought him in the parking lots and concourses.
"He brought history. He brought excitement…He brought love. He embraced everyone," said Tela Capri-Jones, a premium season ticket holder, who was dressed in her signature Redskins cowboy hat and shoes. "He was truly passionate for the team, passionate for the game and he truly loved people and children. We are so sad by what has happened and nobody will be able to replace him. Ever…We're going to miss him."
"I would consider him the No. 1 Redskin fan," Washington, D.C., resident Calvin Hopkins said. "I just came to pay my respect to him. I know there's going to be a whole lot of people out here. I see that everybody is dressed in their Redskins gear and this camaraderie and respect for the chief, I respect a lot of people to be coming from far and near to pay their respects."
"He was a good man," said Clifford Smith, whose own mother once dated Williams when she was younger. "He sold her her last car. He was a good man."
Several family members on Wednesday represented Williams, who will be interred in Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Cemetery later this week, and he is survived by his eight children, 23 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
They likely won't have to worry about keeping his spirit alive. As Pastor William Covington noted in his eulogy, Williams was planning to attend this year's training camp. Those in attendance will feel his absence there, and at FedExField in the weeks to come. But they also plan to fill it.
"He's going to always be remembered," Moseley said. "He'll always be a big part of the Redskins, their history and I think he'll be a big part of the future."
As "Hail to the Redskins" finished the service, 120 miles south of where he rested beneath bouquets of flowers (one sent by former Redskin Santana Moss), Redskins players were simultaneously beginning a new season together. The wait was over. Football had returned.
It's why the timing of his service seemed so appropriate.
It's why losing Williams didn't feel like a defeat.