It was an all-American celebration for an all-American kind of guy.
Some 400 loyal fans of former Redskins superstar running back Larry Brown -- ol' Number 43 for the burgundy and gold -- came to the silent RFK Stadium yesterday to honor him on his 43rd birthday. Actually, yesterday wasn't his birthday. (That was Sept. 19.) But nobody -- including Brown -- seemed to mind. The stadium was empty (due to the only scheduled week off during the regular season in Redskins history), the cheerleaders were idle, the fans were antsy and the weather was glorious. It was a perfect day for a football picnic -- game or no game.
Plus, the tribute was a benefit for some of Brown's favorite charities: Deafness Research Foundation, the Kingsbury Center, the National Learning Center and the United Negro College Fund. And Brown, now a Xerox executive and ever the community service leader, worked not only the older crowd -- fans who watched him faithfully from 1969 to 1976 on the gridiron -- but also the younger one. All afternoon, kids huddled around this football hero -- most born after his retirement -- shoving T-shirts, programs and well-worn footballs up to him for autographs.
"You ever been on this football field?" Brown asked Eddie Potter. "No," answered the 10-year-old red-haired, freckled, sky-blue-eyed left tackle for the Potomac Boys Club. So Brown took Potter and his pal, Mike Ward, 9, of Rockville, out onto the plush playing field and showed them the moves.
No one else was allowed there, except for the phenomenal, award-winning, high-stepping Eastern High School marching band, which played "Happy Birthday" as five caterers carried out Brown's favorite dessert: an enormous, football-shaped strawberry shortcake.
Forty tables were set up on the Redskins sideline with burgundy tablecloths topped off with yellow and red balloons. Guests paid $75 a ticket ($35 for kids) to mill around, munch on gourmet hamburgers, hot dogs and barbecued chicken and schmooze with some of the Redskins' finest alumni. Old-timers Casimir "Slug" Witucki, Al DeMao and Joe Tereshinkski. Lombardi alums such as Carl Kammerer. And 1972 Super Bowl teammates Brig Owens and George Starke. Noticeably missing were two of Brown's teammates, linebacker Sam Huff and quarterback Sonny Jurgensen.
"They have very, very tight schedules," said event spokesman Mary Jo DeMatteis. Other no-shows included Assistant General Manager Bobby Mitchell and Mayor Marion Barry. But Del. Walter Fauntroy made an appearance.
"Larry's one of our special heroes here," Fauntroy said. "Not only as an enduring role model, but also because of his habit of giving back to the community -- something our other heroes should learn to do."
Perhaps the most honored and special guest was George Dickson, former assistant coach under Vince Lombardi, who flew in from his home in Stockton, Calif., just for the picnic.
"He's all man," Dickson said of Brown. "And I think all the things that make up manliness are all the things that make up Larry's character, particularly integrity. ... In 40 years of coaching, I never saw anyone put in as much work as Larry did. When he came, this organization was mediocre. When he left, they were championship caliber. He lifted everyone.
"One time Coach Lombardi said to me, 'That Brown has done more in the degree of toughness and purposefulness than any coach in the game.' ... Everything he did, boy, he did it right. He wasn't a shortcut guy."