The first crisis came even before Sugar Ray Leonard climbed into the ring.
Joy Johnston thought she had gotten the word well beforehand. In fact, it was printed on her skirt. Now the word was that the word was off. The word was Stroh's.
"We just got the word," Johnston said. She is a Washington Bullette, assigned last night to the enviable task of ring girl at the Capital Centre's championship prizefight between Sugar Ray Leonard and David (Boy) Green of England. "We can't go on network TV because ABC has another beer advertisement and our uniforms say Stroh's on them," she said.
So after a few rounds of a preliminary bout, no more ring girls appeared to identify the changing rounds.
Johnston sat semi-forlornly with three ring girl colleagues -- Dreana Randolph, Diana Ackermann and Markita Williams -- and commiserated. Even sitting down, however, they sent their message to the 15,000 fans. The message was transmitted mostly by their sequinned blue halter tops, white skirts and very sheer stockings.
Every stout heart in the Capital Centre, of course, wanted to help. But it was Preston Peace, who was working near ringside, who came up with the solution. "Hey, hey, hey, don't you want some tape to cover the word? I mean, there's not a man here who wouldn't go get you some tape."
So some three-inch-wide red tape was obtained and the day saved. The word Stroh's on skirt and on round-counting cards, was obliterated.
Just then, 10 feet away, Roger (the Dodger) Leonard landed a solid punch on the face-bone of Johnny Gant, sending him through the ropes in a halo of flying sweat and blood. The crowd roared its approval.
"The difference is that when you're a Bullets cheerleader, no one notices you individually," said Ackermann, "but in the ring you're all alone."
Somebody led Johnny Gant away to have his face put back together.
There were a lot of raincoats, probably because it was raining outside. There were also lots of cowboy hats, although the explanation for that was not as meteorolgical.
One of the less fashionable ensembles was worn by Darren Stuart and his friend, Brian Stephenson. They were decked out in red and white caps, and wore the Union Jack draped over their shoulders. The men of Boy Green, over from England.
"Oh, it's grand to be here," said Stuart, who described himself as an "Elton John-type" singer from Glasgow, Scotland. "Sure I'm here to see Boy win the championship, but I'd also like to line up some work. I've always wanted to sing in the States." Stephenson, however, is a true of the Fens, the rich English farmlands out of which Boy Green sprung, only to be replanted in the fourth round last night by his American adversary.
"We wave the flags and like that," Stephenson said. The Englishment -- there were several dozen -- were very polite and interested in making new friends. "Like perhaps you could introduce us to those ring girls?" Stuart said.
Boy Green's parents sat on the west end of the ring and Sugar Ray Leonard's parents sat on the east. They could not see each other, buy they could watch their sons above do battle in what was effectively a remarkable geochronological tele-warp. England and Maryland waited while the Capital Centre's telescreen was lowered onto the ring to present two light-heavy weight matches originating in Nashville. Then the telscreen rose and Leonard knocked Green out. Then the telescreen was lowered again for the Larry Holmes versus Leroy Jones fight from Las Vegas.
Needles to say, most people in Largo, Md., last night were for Sugar Ray. You had to be a big man to root for Boy Green, and George Ballard was. That seems strnge if, only because Ballard is a native of Washington, D.C.
"I'm definitely for Boy Green," Ballard said just before the fighters entered the ring. "He's going to win. He's just a better fighter."
Ronnie Hall, also of Washington, could not help overhearing.
"Don't listen to him," Hall said, characterizing his companion in an unkindly fashion. "Why would a proud black man be against a local hero and for somebody from another country?"
"He's better," Ballard said.
"What do you know?" Hall said. "You have never been further away than the Virginia-Maryland line in all your life. What do you know about England? You are nothing but a bum."
Farther along the row, Maria Coates, who grew up with Sugar Ray in Palmer Park, watched with her husband and her 12-year-old son Lorne.Lorne was taking pictures of everyone with his Polaroid and laying the prints to dry on the seats around him. He viewed the fight crowd with the eye of an Ansel Adams overlooking the Grand Canyon. Awed -- but not artistically immobilized.
"Sugar Ray is a fine fighter," said Maria Coates. "Don't listen to those men. He'll be champion for a long time."
On the fashion front, Leonard certainly had it all over Green. Green entered the ring wearing an imitation tiger-skin warm-up coat signifying his image as the Fen tiger. Sugar Ray wore a muted white garmet of pristine intention.
As soon as Boy Green went down for the count, so did Stephenson, Stuart and the rest of the Union Jacks.
It was happy ending for nearly everyone else.
The ring girls got at least four rounds of national television exposure, and they probably will even get paid. "we used the tape to cover up Stroh's, but even though I work for them I'm sure they would have wanted my girls to perform anyway," said Diane Hollis, director of choreography and public relations for the Washington Bullettes. If the fight had gone 15 rounds, the ring girls would have gotten even more TV time -- but nobody wanted Sugar Ray to work any harder than he had to.