How much do you love your favorite sports team? I mean, we all say we love the Redskins or the Caps, or the Terps or the Saskatoon Blades or whomever, but how do we profess that love? Do you wear a jersey on game days? Do you have a tattoo of your favorite player’s number on your ankle? Do you grow a playoff beard that doesn’t get even the slightest trim until your team’s post-season run is over? (Ladies, if you said yes to this one, you’re part of the “one percent.”) In other words: How do you carry the flag for your favorite team?
In the case of Andrew Mack, he carries the flag for DC United quite literally. And he carries it everywhere.
Mack is a 49-year-old Northwest Washington native who runs an international consulting firm. Its mission is to help companies become active in emerging markets, especially Africa and Latin America. As such, Andrew’s passport gets stamped a lot. He estimates he’s been to 93 countries over the course of his life (34 in Africa alone), and wherever he goes, he takes his DC United flag with him and photographs himself with it as a means of expressing his allegiance to the black and red.
The flag, to be specific, is a Barra Brava flag with a DC United logo branded in the middle. “The Barra,” as they are commonly known around RFK, are one of United’s original supporter groups. The membership is mostly Latino, and the fact that Mack, a full-blooded gringo, was so quickly welcomed into the group gives you a sense of how irrepressible his love for this team is.
“I’ve always been a fan of the sport, but I wasn’t one of those Euro fans,” Mack explains. “I picked it up here. I played high school soccer and in recreational leagues around DC, and when they announced MLS was starting in ’94, right after the World Cup was here, I just felt like an early stage investor. I knew my town was about to fall in love with the thing I loved.”
Mack attended that World Cup in ’94. In fact, he scrounged tickets to all five games here in DC, then emptied his bank account to see as many of the games as he could at venues around the country. That’s when he knew he was hooked.
And so the three-by-five-foot flag began its traveling odyssey side-by-side with Andrew. It has been stuffed into suitcases, backpacks, scuba suits, and other dubious locations, poised to emerge and be photographed at some of the most iconic locations on the planet. The flag has been to the mangrove swamps of Angola, the jungles of Peru, the pyramids in both Egypt and Mexico, the Eiffel Tower, Stonehenge, the Taj Mahal—the list goes on.
At each spot, when the flag and the camera come out and Mack tells the locals who he is and what he’s doing, invariably, they want to participate. “One thing everyone around the world has in common is football. The flag has been a greater conduit to friendships and communication than I ever could have imagined,” he says.
It has also caused the occasional international incident. Several years ago Mack found himself in Greece, which meant, of course, he would take a picture of the flag in front of the Acropolis. Problem is, because Greek law considers the Acropolis a sacred sight of national importance, the Greek flag is the only one permitted to fly there. On top of that, it was Greek Independence Day. “How would I know that? I’m a gringo,” Mack recalls with amusement.
Greek police confiscated the flag and threatened to arrest Mack. “I had to talk my way out of it, and I had to get that flag back. I speak a lot of languages, but Greek is not one of them,” he says.
After 30 minutes of pleading, which may have included an inadvertent gyro order, he got the flag back.
Mack estimates he has snapped pictures of the flag in 30 different countries. This year alone, he has taken the flag with him on business trips to Kenya, Cameroon, Senegal, Brussels, Mexico, Indonesia, and Singapore. He says those colleagues who travel abroad with him frequently start inquiring about the flag within moments of touching down. “They all ask, ‘When are we doing a flag photo?’”
And now it seems his personal mission is taking root with others in United’s fan base. “This year people gave flags to their friends and relatives who are DC United fans serving overseas, so we’ve seen flags in Iraq and Afghanistan and in the cockpits of US fighter jets. It’s been unbelievably cool,” he says.
Even the team itself has taken notice of Mack’s global odyssey. DC United’s website has featured several of the flag photos in its “supporter spotlight” section. If the organization could find a way to infect DC’s general sports population with his fervor, it likely would.
By the way, Mack and his wife had a son, Ethan, on May 1. The birth prompted an epic display of self-restraint on Mack’s part: He promised not to attend a DC United game for 14 days after the baby came, and he lived up to his word. But on day 15, he was at RFK, flag in hand.