Skip to main content

News | Washington Commanders -

Week 1's 'Welcome Home' theme resonates with fans of all backgrounds   


For Commanders' fan Glenda Sprankel, waking up this past Sunday ahead of her drive from D.C. to FedExField came with an overwhelming feeling of joy.  

"This was like Christmas morning," Sprankel said. "I was so excited to come here today. New owner. New beginnings. We're just pumped for the new season."  

Excitement for any NFL team's season is arguably at an apex in the hours before Week 1 kickoff. For Commanders' fans at FedExField on Sunday, though, the aura all around, to put it in one word used over and over, was "different." The theme for Washington's Week 1 -- and a slogan that will carry throughout this 2023 season -- was "Welcome Home."  For fans of all different ages and backgrounds, this tagline seemed to perfectly describe a historic gameday full of hope and happiness.   

Justin Davis has been a fan for as long as he can remember. It was how his grandpa was raised and his dad was raised, too. They used to have season tickets. Davis' attendance at games had been on hiatus for a while, which meant he wasn't able bring his 11-year-old son, Graham, into their fandom fold in the same way Davis men of generations before had. Sunday changed that, though.  

"I waited and watched the press conference, and when the vote went through and they said Josh Harris, Mitchell Rales and their group would be the new owners, I bought tickets [to Week 1] three minutes later," Justin Davis said.

Yorktown, Virginia-native Bubba Hutchinson was basking in the similar glow of a long-anticipated first gameday with his family as he attended Week 1 with his wife Amanda and two children Clare, 10, and Jett, 9. Five years ago, Hutchinson, who had season tickets for 30 years, had chosen not to go to any more games. Sunday marked a special return for him.

"I'll tell you right away when we first walked in, I felt this vibe that I'd never felt before," Hutchinson said. "'Welcome Home' is the best motto they could have ever chosen."

Also celebrating a memorable first was the foursome of Lee and Anna-Michelle Petry and Mike and Phuong Wilkerson. Lifelong fans Lee and Mike had season tickets all the way up until around 2009. On Sunday, the two men got to be at a game together with their wives for the first time and all were struck by the buzz inside FedExField.

"It's just a revived energy. It feels positive," said Phuong Wilkerson.

In looking at the perspective of fans like Phuong Wilkerson and Justin Davis, the "Welcome Home" theme feels very literal. These are folks who had gone away and now are back. There are, of course, large swathes of fans who have a different story: they have been here, been coming to FedExField over the last couple decades. While their experiences do contrast to those who have come back since the summer, 'Welcome Home" still feels like the right phrase to them.

Alonzo Barnes has been a diehard Washington fan since the '80s. His wife of 14 years, Reneè Barnes, eventually came on board once they fell in love. They have been season ticket members since 2018. In the eyes of Alonzo Barnes, who played sports seriously growing up, staying on the ride of recent years comes down to what the essence of sport is all about.

"You stick with the team. You root them on. You give them the confidence. You implant that fire to help them move forward and do better."

The Barnes' feel excited about the resurgence of fans. For Alonso Barnes, no doubt, the feeling of Sunday conjured notes of the days at RFK he used to love. That feeling for him was a home he feels the franchise is on the right track back to.

Landover natives and sisters Belinda Jackson and Bernice Brooks have also kept coming to games. The lifelong Washingtonians have tried their best every year to go to at least a couple each season. As the two stepped out of a WOW tailgate with amenities they had never seen before, the "Welcome Home" meaning for the kind of fans they have been took on new clarity.

"We feel loved," Belinda Jackson said.

Related Content