Chris Hanburger decided to bring a few Washington Redskin teammates to his Ford dealership's grand opening two years ago. He figured having players there to sign autographs would attract a crowd.
It did. An estimated 5,000 fans swamped the College Park showroom, stretching six abreast across the parking lot and bringing Route 1 traffic to a standstill.
Adults and children stood elbow-to-elbow for as long as three hours, pressing patiently toward the window for even a glimpse of the six players inside. Some were lucky enough to secure autographs.
The mob that day proved football players attract fans off the gridiron as well as on. In Metropolitan Washington, that means customers for Redskins who own business.
Altogether, Washington players own nine businesses locally and another four scattered across the country. There are Redskin manufacturers and investors, home builders and public relations men, film producers and restaurateurs, cattle ranchers and farmers.
Players see their businesses as investments for the future. As Bill Brundige said, "You can't play football forever," and ample salaries need to secure before they are squandered.
To hedge their bets, teammates band together to tackle the competition. Because one player's presence produces some results, they reason more of the same should keep profits rising.
The group involved in area businesses - including Hanburger, Brundige, Mark Moseley, Ron McDole, George Starke and Joe Theismann - agree that launching an enterprise is easier for Redskins. They have the two things beginning businessmen need most: capital and publicity.
Name recognition is an asset most acknowledge but find impossible to measure. Brundige, who owns The Huddle restaurant in Purcellville, Va., and the Buffalo Enterprises investment firm, says being a Redskins "opens doors. The president of the bank may not want to talk to you, but he'll talk to me because he wants to know what happened last Sunday."
Status may help get a foot in the door, but after that it's strictly business, especially when transactions involve large amounts of money.
Moseley, president of Kaskins Development Corp., a home building firm in Reston, doesn't believe anyone would buy a house simply because a Redskin built it.
"In our business, being a Redskin hasn't got a whole lot to do with success," Moseley said. "I don't gloat over the fact that I'm a Redskin. I want to get a reputation for building a nice home at a fair price."
Hanburger, whose commercials compare his start in football to the introduction of the Mustang, considers dwelling on Redskin status a valuable public relations tool. But, like Moseley, he doubt it has any appreciable effect on sales.
"I don't even think about my being a Redskin," he said. "To me, that would be the last thing on someone's mind. People (looking for cars) are too smart for that."
Talking with Hanburger's customers indicates some are too smart to care about his Redskin status and others smart enough to understood why they should.
Jody and Stacey Gillman began looking for cars at Hanburger's dealership because it is close to their College Park home. They weren't impressed with his being a Redskin. Jody roots for the Baltimore Colts, and Stacey couldn't care less about football.
"If it weren't for the commercial, I wouldn't even know Hanburger was a Redskin," Stacey said.
But Wayland Ho, who said he's partial to the Forty-niners, had more Redskin-related reasons for driving from his Largo home to the dealership.
"I heard the commercial and I figured, well, Chris Hanburger, he's famous," he said. "He might have better sales and a larger inventory." His hunch was correct - Ho said Hanburger had more cars in stock than the other five dealerships he had visited.
Whatever advantages Redskins status brings, nearly all players capitalize on it, taking plans to to make it known that their business is owned by a football-player.
At Ron McDole Inc., a furniture manufacturing company in Winchester, Va., the stationery and trucks carry an insignia derived from Number 79s NFL nickname - the dancing bear. And McDole is preparing to introduce his own brand of wood furniture, the 79-line.
Hanburger's radio commercial ends with cheerleaders shouting, CHRIS HANBURGER! CHRIS HANBURGER!CHRIS HANBURGER! Then a referee's whistle blows . . .
Nowhere is the Redskin edge more apparent than in the restaurant business, where it is possible to attract a loyal, decidedly Redskin following. Sunday at Joe Theismann's restaurant near Bailey's Crossroads is probably as close in ambience to the stadium as a fan can get.
The hostess, wearing a Number 7 burgundy and gold jersey, greets you at the door. Minutes after opening most of the 88 seats are filled with season ticket holders having brunch before they ride chartered buses to the game. Most will return for dinner, knowing that Theismann and a few friends are likely to show up if the team wins.
The walls are cluttered with autographed photos of virtually every Redskin. Mixed in are paintings, woodcuts and assorted memorabilia. The daily sports pages hang in the bathroom.
For fans without the coveted game tickets there is a TV, salads and sandwiches, including the house specialty, a roast beef, swiss cheese and cole slaw sandwich created specially for Theismann. It is called the Number Seven.
General Manager Vernon Grandgeorge insists the restaurant's success is more attribute to its menu and friendly atmosphere than its name. "Our theory from the beginning was to use Joe's name to get people in," he said. "But we keep them with the product we have to offer."
Customers like Mike Tamillow, who rode the bus from Theismann's to the game recently, said the food lures the crowds. "If you're into the Redskins and you see the name, you're inclined to stop," Tamillow said. "But after that, the place sells itself."
And when there are opportunities for comparison, Redskin businessmen edge out the competition. The small building that houses Theismann's restaurant previously was occupied by two restaurants that eventually closed because they couldn't attract enough business.
Jim Koons, whose family owns controlling interests in Hanburger's dealership, said sales there have doubled since they bought the dealership and let Hanburger take over. The boost, he said with little modesty, was due to Koons ownership - and Hanburger's fame as a Redskin.
Last week, the Koons family announced the purchase of its ninth auto dealership with Redskin quarterback Billy Kilmer and safety Jake Scott each owning 24 percent. The dealership is Colonial Chrysler-Plymouth on Duke Street in Alexandria.
Brundige and McDole jointly own Brundole Enterprises, a firm involved in constructing and remodeling area homes. But Ron McDole Inc. is the most completely Redskin organization. McDole is president and Brundige treasurer, and stockholders include Sonny Jurgenson, Kilmer and Diron Talbert.
McDole says the Redskins are good advisers, especially Talbert who owns two investment firms in Texas that deal extensively in Holiday Inns and apartment complexes.
The business network even extends to departed Redskins. Former special teams expert Eddie Brown is part owner of Moseley's construction firm. Theismann and retired Redskins Mike Bass share interests in a condominuim in the Bahamas.
During football season, business is relegated to the sidelines. Players oversee operations from a distance and seldom get to their places of business more than two or three times a week. But from January to summer camp, Redskins exchange shoulder pads for neckties and pursue business with the same fervor they demonstrate on the field.
Besides spending most of his time as general manager of Lamar Sloan Ford in Winchester, Brundige does accounting work for his restaurant and three companies. Theismann oversees operations at his restaurant, a public relations firm he owns in Canada and an investment firm in metropolitan Washington.
Moseley likes to tell how he and Brown built a model home next to a lake in Reston. He emphasizes that "every nail in that house, Eddie and I pounded."
Hanburger didn't just walk into the vice presidency of a Ford dealership, title in hand. "He had to roll up his sleeves," said Koons, who had Hanburger working at his dealership for nine years. "He started at the bottom, washing cars and working in the parts department."