All-American Redskins fans won't be alone in raging before the tube tonight during the broadcast from Metropolitan Irving. Also gnashing teeth and crossing fingers will be Brahim Labidi, David Kirdassi, Dora Aguado and countless other foreign-born area residents. Death may be the great leveler, but Redskins mania unites Washingtonians, regardless of race, creed or green card.
"You gotta hate the Cowboys," says Jorge Nava, an Argentine who has lived in Washington 12 years. "I don't think they are an American team. The American team is right here in RFK. Those shiny uniforms the Cowboys wear don't get dirty on their Astroturf. But when they come here on real grass, we mess them up. It's a good feeling: They have to pay for the laundry."
"I hate 'em," says Oscar Salazar, a Costa Rican national and a languages professor at American University. "I hate those guys like Danny White -- I don't know why."
"They're just one of those teams I hope we can beat every game," says Jim Mitchell, a British buyer for Myers Candy and Tobacco Co. here. "It's rivalry built up over the years and I've just gone along with it. Some of the Dallas players seem aloof. They think they're the best and that's it."
"I don't like Dallas; I like their cheerleaders only," says a diplomat at the Saudi Arabian Embassy, who would rather not be named.
They are part of Washington's international community -- diplomats, students, global business people and immigrants -- just nuts for Joe Gibbs' boys. They love John Riggins, they know what Charley Taylor used to be, and boy do they hate the Cowboys.
Chalk up the foreign fervor to the contagious Washington spirit known as Hog Fever (or swine flu for many). Fueled by two Redskins appearances in the last three Super Bowls and the NFC East championship last year, their love of the Redskins promises to be even stronger this time.
David Kirdassi, a Jordanian export executive here, thinks of other transplanted foreigners who have adopted the Redskins: "There is Bassim Farouqi and Nassar his brother. We watch games together . . . and Bassam Aburdene, one of the great Redskin fans . . . "
The renowned Bassam Aburdene had to go to England and was unavailable for Hog talk. But being in England isn't so bad, it turns out. They like the 'Skins there, too.
English television introduced American pro football in 1983, the year the Redskins wiped out Miami in the Super Bowl. That game set the hook in the United Kingdom, said Able Seaman Adam Hanness of HMS Argonaut during the ship's recent visit here. Now, he says, there are many Redskins fans in England. "It's just the way they played -- the stars stuck out. Especially Theismann." The Argonaut docked last month just in time for Hanness and about 50 other crewmen to hit RFK for the preseason game against the New England Patriots.
"We have all kinds of fan clubs over in England," says Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke. "I have no idea why. . . . But they've watched the games, particularly the Super Bowls. They've become enamored of football in general and the Redskins in particular. The fan clubs correspond with us. There's one fan club in France. It's very small . . .They ask for statistical information about the players, and photographs . . ."
"The foreign women come in looking to meet Redskins, looking around for big guys," says Mike O'Harro, owner of the Champions bar in Georgetown, which he dubs the official nightclub of the Redskins. O'Harro remembers talking with baseball great Frank Howard (of the former Washington Senators) last fall, when ". . . a Latin American gal came over and wanted to meet him," thinking he was a Redskin.
When told Howard was one of the great home run hitters of all time, "she said, 'I don't like baseball' and walked away," O'Harro recalls. "I think she thought he was Joe Jacoby."
"I used to be a soccer fan," says Dora Aguado from Nicaragua, a nurse here for the past five years. "I figured I'd be in a lot of trouble if I didn't like football. Now I'm so fanatical that burgundy and yellow have become my favorite colors. . . . I have friends who tape the games so I can watch later. Every now and then we have a football party, so we can watch the most exciting games in the off-season."
Aguado, like most other foreign fans, has vivid memories of the first time she saw a football game: "We were watching TV in a bar and everyone got so excited, I wanted to know what they were watching. I think it was a game with the Miami Dolphins. It was very exciting, incredible. I loved it -- the men were so big . . . "
A Costa Rican friend of Oscar Salazar invited him to a Redskins game many years ago, Salazar's first. "It was in November. A very cold day. My feet froze to death. I think it was against the New York Giants. I really liked it from the beginning, everyone bumping each other. In soccer I don't like to see that rough stuff. But in American football I really like it."
"I thought, 'Bunch of animals, pile on top of each other for no reason,' " says David Kirdassi.
"It took me a while to get used to the rules," says Jim Mitchell. "I said, 'What's he doing hitting him? He doesn't even have the ball. And I said, 'What are they doing with all this padding?' I soon realized if they didn't they'd get killed."
"I saw a sport where there was too much reliance on brute strength," says Jorge Nava. "Now I realize it's a sport with quite a bit of strategy and room for individual talent. It's not just strength, it's finesse."
But it wasn't merely an appreciation of the game that won him over, says Nava. "It's part of living in the U.S. . . . Washington has become my community, so I follow the team very closely."
"For me now it's kind of tradition," says Saleh Obeid, who works at the information office of the Saudi Arabian Embassy. "A family tradition. Especially when it's wintertime to sit by the fireplace, all cozy, and watch."
"We get together -- my parents, brothers and friends -- and watch football on TV every Sunday," says Marcello Albornoz, 39, an Ecuadorean accountant who lives in Silver Spring. The son of an official at the OAS, he came to the United States when he was 13. "All my five brothers are Redskins fans. In fact, I have a brother in Texas. . . . When he watches Redskins versus Cowboys he's the only Redskins fan in his group of friends. They always tease him about that."
"Football was boring to me the first time," says Tunisian Redskins fan Brahim Labidi, a nine-year resident of Washington. "But when I understood the rules about first down and second down from American friends of mine and went to the Army-Navy match in 1978, I enjoyed it very much."
Labidi's favorite player is "The Diesel," John Riggins. "He's so tough he can carry nine people on his back. . . . I like Art Monk, he's intelligent, and really fast -- like myself when I play soccer. Nobody can stop us. . . . "
The foreign fans all have their preferences, from past and present.
"Theismann, he's my favorite," says Obeid. "He's an alive person -- it's his personality."
"I like Riggins, of course," says Margaret Mitchell, a British switchboard operator at the British Embassy for more than 10 years. "He really goes in there with a bang, doesn't he!"
"I like the receivers mostly," says husband Jim. "[Especially] Art Monk. I think he's great. He always seems to be in the right position. Half the time he's open and nobody sees him."
"I became most emotional with the ones that belonged to the old Redskins team," says Albornoz, who has followed the team for 25 years. "Like [Sonny] Jurgensen and Charley Taylor, those were my heroes. I still feel attached emotionally to them. They were the ones that provided the biggest entertainment to me while I was young."
Nava has similar memories. "I remember the era of the Sonny Jurgensen-Billy Kilmer competition, and siding with Jurgensen all the time," he says. "He was one of the original characters . . . Sonny was not a scrambler, but he could put in that long ball and the short ball. He was outstanding."
Finally, the talk of heroes frequently brings accompanying philosophy. For Dora Aguado, football "helps people open up their minds and emotions. Americans are really kind of simple people. Once you get them into football, they become exciting."
And David Kirdassi, who now favors football over soccer (an unthinkable treachery), has this to say about The Game:
"Football to me resembles the American way of life. It's aggressive: you have to be number one. You have to deal with time and real estate, distance and time. It's the clock. You have to advance, be aggressive, be tough . . . To me, you see all aspects of American society."