Fauber: Local coach returns game ball to Redskins’ Orakpo

Anyone can go to a Major League Baseball game and catch a baseball that soars into the stands. It happens hundreds of times each and every day during baseball season. But catching a game ball during an NFL game? That’s not so common.

So when Strasburg head football coach Mark Roller left FedEx Field with a game ball in hand following the Redskins’ 45-41 win over the Bears on Oct. 20, it was a pretty special moment for the longtime Washington fan.

Sitting with his family — a group that consisted entirely of Chicago fans — as well as friend and Redskins season ticket holder Karl Roulston, Roller watched from the front row of Roulston’s end zone seats as fifth-year Washington linebacker Brian Orakpo swiped a deflected pass from Bears quarterback Jay Cutler early in the second quarter.

Orakpo returned the interception 29 yards for a touchdown to give the Redskins a 17-10 lead. The linebacker then tossed the football to Roulston, who was wearing his Orakpo jersey.

Roller said he and Roulston didn’t realize at the time that it was Orakpo’s first career interception and touchdown.

“[Roulston] had his Orakpo shirt on and Orakpo scored that touchdown and tossed [the ball] to him. Next thing I know … he said ‘here it’s yours,'” Roller recalled on Wednesday. “Monday afternoon I read the Washington Post and it said it was Orakpo’s first interception, first touchdown, so I said it was the right thing to do to give it back to him. So we did.”

Roller decided to part with his unique souvenir, and Roulston set up the opportunity for Roller to return the football to Orakpo during the Redskins’ practice session last Friday at Redskins Park in Ashburn.

Knowing that his kids might never again have the opportunity to visit the Redskins’ practice facility, Roller plucked his three sons out of school that day and made the trip down to Ashburn with his family and Roulston. There, the group returned the game ball to Orakpo and exchanged handshakes with the 6-foot-4, 257-pound linebacker.

“He signed autographs and gave … Karl another ball. He signed a picture for my wife and I and the kids. It was pretty neat,” Roller said.

Roller said many other players greeted his family as they walked through the lobby towards the practice field. Roller’s oldest son, Satchel (12), who was donning the maroon and orange of Virginia Tech, even got a “Go Hokies” from former Tech receiver Josh Morgan.

“They were all very nice. All the guys. They walked out to practice to go into the bubble out there and they all spoke to the kids,” Roller said.

“That just talks highly of those guys.”

The experience was a great one all around for Roller’s children, but the most special moment of all for his three sons came when Redskins star quarterback Robert Griffin III walked over and gave them all handshakes.

“It was pretty nice. For them, they know who RG3 is. Everybody knows who he is. But for him to come over and take the time out of his day just to come over and say hi, that was pretty special,” Roller said. “It gives you a lot of respect for those guys because he didn’t have to do that. We’re there during their practice time. But he did.”

Roller opted to give Roulston the replacement ball that Orakpo had given them, as the chance to experience the moment along with his children was enough of a gift.

Roller admitted “I don’t have any Redskins fans in there” when referring to his family (partly due to Roller’s wife, Mandy, being a Bears fan), although that may have changed as a result of recent events.

“Satchel was a Cowboys fan, but I don’t think he’s a Cowboys fan anymore,” Roller said with a laugh.

Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or bfauber@nvdaily.com. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD