Many say rookie quarterback sensation Robert Griffin III is the reason the Redskins are making a rare appearance Sunday in the NFL playoffs. But James Heilman, of Purcellville, knows different. It was his lucky porch that broke the team's slump.

Whenever the Skins are in a bind, Heilman heads to his porch for a smoke. He can't see his TV from out there, but he feels sure that standing there means things are more likely to go the Skins' way.

"I can watch a game intently with little action, but if I step outside for a moment ... something good seems to happen to the Redskins," said Heilman, a fan for 30 years. "It doesn't work every time, but it happens often enough that I will do it when circumstances dictate."

Whatever drove the Redskins to these rare heights, it's a welcome reward for fans like Heilman who stuck with the Skins through eight coaches, 22 quarterbacks and only three playoff appearances over the last 19 years. The Skins' win over the Dallas Cowboys in the season's final week gave them their first NFC East division title in more than a decade.

"It's really nice to have them back," said Doug Thornell, of Silver Spring. "There was this feeling that they needed to take drastic measures or else fans would start peeling off. [With this team,] D.C. gets its swagger back."

Thornell credits Griffin, the much-hyped second overall pick in last year's draft, for bringing much of that swagger to town.

"Everything promised to us about him he's demonstrated," he said.

The rookie quarterback has given fans a heavy dose of something they've sorely lacked for a long time: hope.

Scott Avery, of McLean, held on to warm memories of the Skins that dominated the 1980s and 1990s to get through the years of disappointment. He thinks the team's turnaround goes all the way to the top, with head coach Mike Shanahan and general manager Bruce Allen.

"There just wasn't leadership at the top of the organization," Avery said. "But you've got to be a fan and love them, and you've got to love them for things other than their record."

The Skins lived in the shadow of the Nationals and Capitals in recent years, but the team's seven-game winning streak and shot at a postseason run -- starting with the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday -- could restore the lustre lost so long ago.

Not that it'll be easy on Tyrone Basilio, of Alexandria. Basilio will be wearing his burgundy and gold Sunday, but his wife, a diehard Seahawks fan, won't be cheering with him.

"We wanted to go to the game, but decided, for obvious reasons, that that wasn't the best idea," Basilio said. "Instead, we're going to a house party, where we'll arrive in separate cars and watch on different floors."