Max The Wonder Dog (able to sleep on a couch and throw up on a rug) was startled. He and I walk together every night toward Connecticut Avenue where it is usually quiet, save for an occasional drunk who thinks my dog is his best friend and not mine. But Sunday night horns were blaring, people were hanging out of car windows, a man was yelling in the middle of the street and a passerby, somewhat old and somewhat dumbfounded, said in a British accent that he had neither heard nor seen anything like it since what he called "the second war." We won that one, too.
But Max The Wonder Dog knew nothing of the Redskins' victory and so he lowered his back, shifted into slink and looked at me, puzzled, not to mention scared. It was then that I told him about the Redskins and how these things are important. They tend to knit cities into communities.
You can make too much of these things, of course, and already that has been done. Coach Gibbs, for instance, thanked God for his victory, never considering that on the 50th anniversary of Hitler's rise to power in Germany, the Ultimate Coach either had, or should have had, more weighty matters to consider. In addition, people were still dying in Beirut and in Guatemala and the White House was insisting that it was unfair of the press not to distinguish between things the president is told to say and things he says on his own--like the inequity of the corporate income tax.
All of this was too complicated for Max The Wonder Dog, and so I concentrated on fandom. I told him that Washington is a peculiar city. Although an old city, it is really relatively new. Its growth has come just recently and most of the people in the area have come from somewhere else. They do not have institutions in common. They do not even share the central city, Washington, as people, say, in Chicago share that city. They did not grow up there, go to school there or even travel there to visit grandma.
And to be perfectly truthful (I cannot lie to my dog), most people did not choose to live here. They might have chosen to work here--say, for the federal government--but they did not choose Washington for its climate or its cultural life or because of the view it affords of the mountains. The climate, especially in summer, is inexcusable; the sea is too far away (and too warm in the summer) and the mountains, when you get to them, are really nothing more than hills, and invariably represented in Congress by someone named Byrd.
But the Redskins--ah, the Redskins--that is something the entire area has in common. This was told to me years ago by a guy who worked for United Way. And since football is merely a substitute for combat ("kill, maul, bomb, blitz") we can all get behind the team, much like Londoners did in the real blitz.
Max The Wonder Dog seemed to understand this, but then we came to the matter of John Riggins. He was the hero of the game, but he has the demeanor of a Hessian--a mercenary. He plays neither for Washington nor for the team, but for himself, and he has for weeks answered every question put to him with an eye on the upcoming contract negotiations. If the money is not right, he will play somewhere else next season or, as he has done in the past, no place at all. The fans ignore this, however, and consider Riggins their hero. Max could not understand this.
But Riggins, I said to Max, really explained the sudden outburst of civic pride. Riggins is violence personified, big and strong, which is the way Washington itself wants to be seen. A city that works with its head, and that has an inferiority complex as a result, wants to be seen as brawny--that it could fight. In other words, Max, after all these years of being a sissy city, we have finally punched someone out. It was that simple.
Max looked quizzically at me--me, who abhors violence, me, the Gandhi of Woodley Park--and he lowered his back even more. We walked home, me exulting in the sheer delight of violence by civic proxy, Max knowing that things have forever changed. Since Sunday, I have the momentum. If he throws up one more time, I'll blitz him.