Friday night, the broad-shouldered older men will pay tribute to a size 26 waist, lightning hands, and the speed, dazzle and glory of the young athlete in his prime when 23 football players selected from 118 high schools in the District, Maryland and Virginia are given Outstanding Player of the Year awards by the Pigskin Club.
The sports club, one of the oldest of its kind in the country, will also present special awards for outstanding achievement to former Urban League president Vernon Jordan, U.S. District Judge John Sirica, and B. Doyle Mitchell, president of the Industrial Bank of Washington.
"We're about more than sports," said Robert Reed, the club's chairman of the board. "We honor people who have made a contribution to the human community, be it in law, medicine, diplomacy or civil rights."
But a love of sports, and particularly football, is what brought the Pigskin Club into existence in 1938 in the Northwest home of the its first president, Charles Fisher. A football fanatic, Fisher played for Howard University's Bisons throughout undergraduate school and medical school beginning in 1914.
"Now, I'm not a jealous man," said the club's oldest living member, 92- year-old Cato Adams, "but I envied Charlie Fisher as a hustling high school quarterback back in 1908. He was small, chunky and as bad as they come."
Adams, although a friend of Fisher's, couldn't join the Pigskin Club during its first 15 years because he was not a college letterman in football.
"I was baseball," said Adams.
This policy, set by founding members, brought about the situation that exists today with a membership of over 700: the Pigskin Club is top-heavy with professionals. Doctors, lawyers, judges, educators, businessmen and sports figures dominate the organization.
"We had to liberalize the rules to grow with the times," said current club president John Posey. Potential members may now qualify if they merely have "an active interest in sports." Now politicians qualify, along with bus drivers, auto mechanics, mailmen and anyone who can arrange sponsorship by two members and pay the $60 annual dues. The Pigskin Club is not all-black but it is all-male.
"I don't know what would happen if a woman applied," mused Posey.
"There are things men enjoy that should be left for men to enjoy," said Posey's wife Teresa.
"I belong to women's organizations and, more to the point, though I'm not a member of the Pigskin Club, I feel a part of it," added Mary Reed, wife of the club's chairman of the board.
Wives and female guests are invited to at least three of the club's yearly functions: the spring picnic, the trek to the Redskins' summer camp in Carlisle, Pa., and the annual awards dinner.
The dinner is the climax of the club's annual endeavors. Work, time and money go into ensuring that the club's reputation for spotting talent early and rewarding it continues unsullied. Awards are given to football players and coaches at all levels of the game: professional, college and high school.
The Pigskin Club Honor Roll of award recipients reads like a who's who in sports. Baseball great Jackie Robinson won the club's award in the early '40s during his football days at UCLA. Roger Staubach accepted his while quarterbacking for the U.S. Naval Academy. Jim Brown got his while at Syracuse. But club president Posey is proudest of the local high school selections.
"Traditionally, the longest and loudest applause goes to the 23 youngsters we select for our dream team," said Posey.
An offensive team, a defensive team and a punter/kicker are picked by the club's 22-member selection committee. It is charged with the task of winnowing the best from this year's 900 applicants from schools within a 140-mile radius of the District. High school principals and coaches and officials of various local sports leagues flood the committee with nominations.
Twelve committee members study the statistics, eight scout the games, and two visit the schools, family and friends of those nominated.
"Statistics alone don't sway us," Posey explained. "We get a complete profile of the individual, his values, his hobbies, what he plans to do in life. Then we make a decision."
Roosevelt High football coach Jim Tillerson, selected three times by the club as its coach of the year, praised the committee's painstaking process: "The youngsters are motivated by all of this interest. This concern shown by the club often makes the difference as to whether they go on to college to pursue a sports career."
After 24 years, the club discontinued its scholarship program in 1974 after a recipient failed to notify his school of a $600 grant. "Our legal people advised us to stop it because of possible conflict with NCAA rules," said Reed.
Asked whether his club favors black players, Posey said: "Our club was founded on the slogan "democracy in sports" at a time when we couldn't join any other sports clubs, so today we select whoever is good. Sometimes there are more blacks than whites, and other times, more whites than blacks. Good is what we're interested in."
Women, too, have been honored -- among them, tennis great Althea Gibson and track star Wilma Rudolph. This year, another barrier dropped when the predominantly white and older Touchdown Club joined forces with the Pigskin Club to cohost a goodbye bash for the Washington Star's sports department.
"It was a grand affair with each club splitting the cost right down the line, but we cheated a little bit by having Posey at the rostrum at the exact moment Mayor Barry, a Pigskinner himself, entered the room," said Reed.
With Barry, former mayor Walter Washington and other political luminaries as members of the club, the organization is surprisingly nonpolitical. "Oh no, no, no, no. Politics is a dangerous business. We are strictly a sports club," said Reed.