Redskins vs. Federals?

The Washington Redskins may never meet the Washington Federals at RFK Stadium, but they have clashed already at Mel Krupin's.

For nearly three weeks, the proud, new Federal Eagle, symbol of the fledgling Washington franchise of the new U. S. Football League, looked down on the celebrated and not-so-celebrated diners at Mel Krupin's Restaurant, gathering place of sports, political and media figures.

And then the black eagle with a silver star on its neck and the black letters "Federal" emblazoned across the 6-by-8-foot banner disappeared.

Berl Bernhard, principal owner of the Federals, who had given the banner to Krupin to hang in the restaurant, was upset over lunch one afternoon to see it missing. Bernhard, a Washington lawyer and one-time aide to former senator Edmund Muskie, said he asked Krupin, "Hey, what's going on here, what happened to my banner?"

As with so many Washington stories, the truth was elusive. Bernhard said Krupin was noncommittal and pointed out that his restaurant supported all Washington sports teams.

Word spread, however, that Jack Kent Cooke, principal owner of the Redskins, had seen the Federals banner as something akin to a battle flag and had demanded that Krupin take it down or the Redskins would consider his restaurant an enemy camp and seek other lunching spots. Cooke could not be reached for comment.

Krupin admitted he had flown the Federals banner, but would not comment as to why he had taken it down. "I support all the sports teams in the Washington area and I don't show favoritism," he said in the solemn tone of a restaurateur not about to pick a fight with the biggest and winningest sports team in town.

Bernhard, whose Federals have yet to play their first game -- though they've been selling tickets and selecting players and cheerleaders -- had the last word on the missing banner:

"Our symbol is the eagle; what appears to have happened is kind of chicken. If that's the nature of the respective beasts, I'm comfortable with the long-range outcome."