The question yesterday at RFK Stadium right before the Washington Redskins-Houston Oilers game, according to one source, was who will make the cut?
Not the cut in team members -- the cut in the owners' box. The cut among the chosen few who comfortably sip soft drinks and liquor, munch on a spread of hors d'oeuvres and cold cuts at Redskin games.
It's a question because now both owners of the Redskins are in residence. One is the familiar Edward Bennett Williams, Washington lawyer, president of the Redskins and new owner of the Baltimore orioles. He owns 14 percent of the Redskin stock.
The other is Jack Kent Cooke, who owns 86 percent of the Redskins stock. Cooke, a multimillionaire, recently sold the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team, the Los Angeles Kings hockey team and Los Angeles' Forum sports arena (which he also built). Cooke has moved to a farm in Middleburg, Va., where he will live part of the year.
So, as Cooke took his place in the owner's box some seven years after his last visit here, observers watched for sparks. Would Cooke partition off 86 percent of the owner's box for himself and his friends? Would he and Williams argue over the best seat in the box?
Would the likes of such regulars among Edward Bennett Williams' friends as Art Buchwald, Joseph Califano, Benjamin Bradlee and Nancy Dickerson be told that there was no more room in the box, and to try getting seats in the end zone?
Nothing of the sort. When Cooke appeared in the owner's box, he talked heartily with all those assembled -- Buchwald, Jack Valenti, baseball great Joe DiMaggio, and others -- as if they were his best buddies. He talked to the assortment of youngsters. He made sure his son John Cooke and daughter-in-law and family were well-taken-care-of by the ushers.
He chatted about the Chrysler Building in New York -- he just bought that -- where he will put offices. The 66-year-old Cooke looked crisp, despite mid-80-degree weather, in white button-down shirt, tie and jacket.
Clearly this was his day.
He was asked how Williams liked sharing his owner's box with the newly arrived co-owner. Cooke's eyes widened."Is Mr. Williams having a good time sharing my owner's box with me is more the question," he corrected cheerfully. "And I think he is."
As kickoff time neared, Cooke moved to the far left seat in the front row of the mezzanine owner's box settled back, and grinned contentedly.
"Oh, I think they're getting along fine," said Art Buchwald of the two owners.
For one thing, there is plenty of room. The owner's box has been remodeled and expanded into an adjoining box. There are 45 seats according to one estimate, in the sheltered two-level area. Track lights have been installed. "This is all Mr. Cooke's idea," said one knowledgeable person with a grin. "Williams has been here six or seven years and he hasn't remodeled it."
Williams had little to say as he made his way into his box, immediately loosening his tie and taking off his jacket.
"I don't think my father has good times at the game until it's over," said 15-year-old Tony Williams. "He's nervous about winning."
The starting front row line-up in the box went like this: from the left on down toward an endzone: Cooke, Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Nancy Dickerson, Cooke's son and family, Mrs. Mary Connolly (another regular, the wife of Williams' law partner the late Paul R. Connolly) and her daughter. And on down the line: Valenti (president of the Motion Picture Association and a regular), his 13-year-old son, Father Gilbert Harke, formerly head of the drama department at Catholic University and a long-time Redskins fan, plus the pastor of St. Matthew's Cathedral Father Louis Quinn, former Washington Post editorial page editor Philip Geyelin and Buchwald.
There were empty seats in the box, since over the Labor Day weekend, many regulars were vacationing or out of town.
When the Redskins edged four points ahead of the Oilers for the first time in the game, during the first half, Cooke jumped up and wrapped his arms around Williams' shoulders from behind in a bear hug. When the score jumped to 17-6 with the Redskins leading, an otherwise unexcited Williams jumped up from his seat and Cooke embraced him again.
"Cooke told me when they made that last touchdown, he got goose bumps," said Valenti during halftime. "I told him, 'You ought to be here every day. You're making the bookies look bad.'"
When the Redskins scored again in the second half, Cooke jumped up, shaking Williams by the arm. Then Cooke went down the row of seats smiling at the other fans in the box, patting his son on the back.
And when things then took a turn for the worse and the Redskins eventually lost 29-27, it was reflected in Cooke's face as he sat glumly thgrough the final quarter.
One owner's box regular said he couldn't lay odds on who will be in the box this season. "Many of the same people who are here all the time are here today. It's just too early in the season to tell what will happen."