It was the best of times, it was the worst . . . okay, it's not the best of times for the Washington Redskins. But the past was glorious, something to really crow about. For a few hours last night, the team celebrated its greatest moments and its greatest men at its 70th anniversary gala.
To mark the seven decades, the Redskins have named the 70 Greatest Redskins since 1932; 48 of them attended the black-tie party at the Marriott Wardman Hotel. The list of greats included Joe Theismann, Sonny Jurgensen, Art Monk, Bobby Mitchell, Darrell Green and former head coach Joe Gibbs, who received the loudest ovation of the night.
"When you get together with great players as special as these, it brings back all the thrilling moments," said owner Dan Snyder, whose love affair with the team started when he was 6 years old and continues (give or take a dropped pass) to this day. "It's good stuff."
"The only way to get a team to work together is to be a family," said Vince Promuto, an offensive guard who played from 1960-'70. "And part of that is looking back and seeing where you came from."
The VIP list also boasted NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, current head coach Steve Spurrier, Virginia Sen. George Allen (son of Hall of Fame coach George Allen), Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan, former CNN anchor Bernard Shaw and Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson. Hotel magnate Bill Marriott and AOL founder Jim Kimsey chaired the evening, which raised $1.5 million for the team's Leadership Council Youth Development Program.
They called this the "Super Bowl" of charity galas, and that meant 1,200 guests, Redskins cheerleaders, Redskins marching band, the Hogettes and a laser show. ("It's a good night," said Hogette "Big Georgette." "The Skins are going to start winning in about two days. I thought so last week, but this is definitely the start of a long run.") The tablecloths were (need you ask?) burgundy and gold. Robert Wuhl, the star of HBO's sports comedy "Arli$$," provided the entertainment.
But the real stars of the night were legendary players such as Billy Kilmer, Mark Rypien, Sam Huff and George Starke. The 70 Greatest Redskins -- 67 players and three head coaches -- were selected earlier this year by a panel headed by Shaw. "That blue-ribbon panel was less blue and more burgundy and gold," he told the crowd.
The party started at the elegant VIP reception, where guests nibbled on crab, shrimp, oysters and fresh pasta. Snyder was in an expansive mood. His wife, Tanya, sported a tiny beaded evening bag -- an exquisite crystal Redskins helmet by Katherine Baumann.
A trimmed-down Jurgensen smiled broadly and passed out his own brand of Dominican cigars. "I remember he had that belly," said dinner patron Mel Estrin. "But he was the best there was."
Kilmer posed for photo after photo. Rypien, wearing two Super Bowl rings, introduced his two teenage daughters to his old teammates. "It's a special night," he said. "Something like this shows the class this organization has." The former quarterback even offered to add himself to Snyder's current roster. "If he wants a crumpled-up 40-year-old who still thinks he could play," Rypien said with a grin.
Another quarterback controversy? "Why not?" he laughed. "Let's throw it into the mix."
Missing from the festivities: John Riggins, who showed up four hours late. And most of the current players, who are preparing for this weekend's game against the Indianapolis Colts.
The honorees will be introduced at halftime tomorrow night at FedEx Field; last night, they were brought to the stage through little tunnels, just like at the stadium.
The speeches were short and sweet. "The greatest Redskins players were characters -- each and every one of them," said Allen, and men of character as well. Snyder praised the players and the fans, and gave a vote of confidence to Spurrier. "He'll bring us the championship in the future," Snyder promised.
Guests spent most of the night schmoozing with the players and bidding in the silent auction, which featured signed jerseys, helmets and balls autographed by the players. The top draw in the live auction was a 2000 Springer Softail Harley motorcycle hand-painted by artist John Cassatto and driven onstage by Skins minority owner Fred Drasner. The team also raffled off a special-edition burgundy 2003 Chevrolet Trailblazer decorated with the team logo.
Insurance executive Donald Sigmund looked around the room and beamed. He was born in 1937, the same year the team moved from Boston to Washington.
"I was in the stadium in 1938; my father brought me," he said. "I came tonight to express my appreciation for all the wonderful years of enjoyment that they brought us.
"I feel blessed. They brought me the best of times."