It began in rain. It ended in rain. It was a lovely flood. The Redskins may have played out their Super Bowl dream under a sunny Pasadena sky. But for the fans the season began in a storm at the first home game and ended--four days after the Redskins had made chum of the Dolphins in the Super Bowl--in the streets where a madly cheering mob celebrated, oblivious to a chilling downpour.
And when the schedule begins this September, there's no telling how high the fever for another championship will run.
Most football fans like to believe they are more faithful, more enthusiastic, more vigilant than the unfortunates forced to live and cheer in cities other than their own.
But what makes Washington and its relationship with the Redskins a little different is that the town is unanimous in its passion for the football and fractious about everything else.
Every Redskins game played in RFK Stadium since the middle of the 1966 season has been a sellout. At least 10,000 names fill a list of people waiting to buy a season ticket. When the Redskins open a ticket window on Monday mornings preceding home games, the 250 ducats on sale have a half-life of about five minutes.
"In 1963 I just walked in off the street and had my choice of tickets," said Avery Cousins, a retired attorney from Annandale. "A few were gone, but you pretty much could get what you wanted. I took three seats under cover in the end zone.
"The Super Bowl was really something. When you were with them as losers and then they win, you can't ask for more. Did I get crazy? Well, as much as I do I did."
"For a long time my son went with my husband. So I stood in line," said Cousins' wife, Virginia. "But in the past five or six years, I go and wouldn't miss it for anything."
Harry and Belinda Dixon live an otherwise harmonious life in Northeast Washington. Both attend every Redskins game, but Belinda has, by D.C. standards, a dirty little secret.
"I like the Redskins but they're not my main team," said Belinda, a secretary at the State Department. "My team is the Cowboys. My husband loves the Redskins. He'd fight for the Redskins. The only reason he doesn't fight me is that I'm his wife, thank God."
Before Coach Joe
Gibbs closes off practice to the public in August, a few hundred fans each day come to Carlisle, Pa., to watch the Redskins prepare for their autumn travails. Fans drive two hours for autographs, for snapshots; mostly they come to anticipate the months ahead.
In the meantime, tokens of affection arrive in the mail and the deluge is unending. Cakes, by the baker's dozen, arrive in boxes addressed to specific players or the team as whole.
Sweaters, blankets, mittens and scarves hand knit in the team's colors come in the mail, and so do hand-drawn pastel portraits of the players and requests for autographs.
Last year's Super Bowl drive inspired an especially lyric outpouring, an endless sheaf of poems in celebration of the Redskins, in denunciation of the Cowboys, Dolphins and other common foes. With the song "Hang Down You Head, Tom Dooley" clearly in mind, Redskin fan Alfred Pong composed his paean, entitled "The Ballad of Tom Landry": Hang down your head Tom Landry, Hang down your head and ride, Hang down your head Tom Landry, Poor boy you're bound to die .. .
810 Pong, an engineer for the Veterans Administration and a resident of Silver Spring said, "I don't have season tickets, but a friend and I waited from 1 in the morning until late in the afternoon the next day for tickets to the Dallas play-off game. I think I wrote the song because I was inspired by Landry in that American Express commercial. I was tired of him winning for all those years."
When the Washington Federals, Washington's team in the new United States Football League, began its season last March, owner Berl Bernhard had hoped that the enthusiasm for the Redskins would be so great that it would literally overflow through the turnstiles and into Feds games at RFK Stadium.
"In the beginning there was such limitless fervor for the Redskins, there was a football mania in this town, and we tried to keep it going," Bernhard said. "But when we started to lose, we found the Redskins thing was less helpful, even harmful. I suspect people started to think, 'Hey, this isn't the Redskins.' We weren't able to keep up the frenzy."
Not even close.
By season's end, the Federals could barely fill a quarter of RFK Stadium.
As the Federals discovered, the attraction of a team is not easily duplicated. Part of the Redskins mystique is power. On a typical game day, Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke will fill M6 and M7, his mezzanine boxes, with a collection of Washington figures that is as disparate as it is influential.
Present and former governmental figures such as Paul Laxalt, Edmund Muskie, Eugene McCarthy, Byron White, Linwood Holton and John Warner and media celebrities such as Art Buchwald and George Will crowd the box.
"It's a real Washington potpourri, isn't it?" said Laxalt. "I go to every game I can. One day the Senate was still in session and John Warner and I kept racing back and forth between the Senate and the game. It was the Giants game and Mark Moseley hit that record field goal. Wouldn't miss that.
"Occasionally we talk politics. We're political animals. I think we've even settled a few important issues up there. But if the game is exciting it's all football, no politics."
Perhaps no fan emerged as triumphant in the Super Bowl season as Sam Legard, the owner of a little barbeque restaurant in Purcellville, Va. Encouraged by customers Art Monk, Mark Moseley, Russ Grimm and Perry Brooks, Legard served up a hundred pounds of ribs to the Redskins at their practice field, Redskins Park, after every game.
Legard cooks his ribs over a 1,500-pound cooker and had every intention of dragging the monster out to Pasadena.
"We were a good luck charm by then," he said. "There's a real strong feeling between people when they get together and eat. It's a magical bond."
It appeared as if the bond would snap when the 22-foot Explorer trailer that Legard had borrowed from another fan broke down in Berryville, Va. Indeed, the jalopy seemed to fail every time it was fixed, and by Thursday of Super Bowl week, it looked as though the Hogs would be ribless.
But an airline flew Legard, the cooker and 11 others to the game for free.
"It was outstanding P.R. for the airline, and I guess it was for me, too," said Legard. "I guess it was meant to be. Someone upstairs thought the Redskins deserved everything we could bring them."