It wasn't until evening two days after the Redskins' Super Bowl victory in Pasadena, Calif., that safety Mark Murphy and his wife, Laurie, finally found themselves returning home.
But when they turned their car onto their quiet street in Sterling, where they have lived for three years, high beams from parked cars suddenly spotlighted their approach, porch lights flashed, horns blared and neighbors--their voices already hoarse from cheering--cheered some more.
The Murphys had come home to a hero's welcome and impromptu block party. And they were tickled to death.
"It was great, just terrific," said Murphy last week from his home. "My whole neighborhood has just been terrific. It was a wonderful thing to see them all out."
Twenty-seven Redskins make Northern Virginia their full-time home, and a dozen more live there during the football season. It is, of course, a practical choice to live there, they say, because the Redskin training center is in Herndon. But in the process, they have found themselves becoming Northern Virginians--and that is just fine with them and their neighbors.
"The people are generally very nice, and I don't mind signing autographs or talking with them," said running back Otis Wonsley, who lives with wide receiver Charlie Brown in a Sterling town house. "They are our fans, and they've been dedicated."
Neighbors, in turn, have equally nice things to say about the Redskins.
"They are two of the nicest, most easy-going people you would ever hope to meet," said the Murphys' friend and neighbor Jane Sutton, who taped a sign reading "On the 7th Day God Created the Redskins" on the door of the Murphy house after the Super Bowl.
"When we go out with them I'll see people look and nudge the kids up to ask for his autograph. He always obliges, no matter how busy he is."
Even neighbors who don't know the players personally are excited about having them as neighbors.
This week, schoolchildren in Sterling are busy painting banners and the high school marching band is brushing up on "Hail to the Redskins" in anticipation of a community parade Saturday for Brown, Wonsley and Murphy, the three players who live in Sterling.
"We're just real proud of them, like everyone else," parade organizer Cheryl Miller said. "We know they represent the Washington area, but we think of them as hometown heroes who have made good."
"I'm very impressed by how nice the community has been," Wonsley said. "This is a mostly white neighborhood, and I thought there would be some hesitation. But they have been helpful, supportive--just nice people."
In Vienna, where quarterback Joe Theismann lives on a secluded street with his wife, Cheryl, and their three children, neighbors say Redskin Fever runs rampant, but so does respect for the Theismanns' privacy.
"I think the family appreciates not being bugged or hassled when they come home," Betty Friedl said. "Of course, Joe is a celebrity," she said. "But around here, he's also a neighbor to us."
Her son Jay, 14, and Theismann's son Joey, 11, both budding athletes, have been friends for four years, she said. Joey frequently watches Jay play on Oakton High School's freshman football and basketball teams, while Jay attends Joey's football league games, Friedl said.
Jay Friedl flew to Pasadena to see his neighbor lead the Redskins to a 27-17 victory over the Miami Dolphins.
The usually sedate neighborhood exploded after the game. Friedl emptied a Freon-powered boat horn into the night, and residents deserted their houses to exult over the win.
"My whole family ran outside and screamed," said Mike Kirkland, 15, a freshman at Oakton High School, whose family lives next to the Theismanns.
In Arlington, Desiree Monk, 22, wife of injured wide receiver Art Monk, is expecting her first child in five weeks. Through it all--the injury, the pregnancy, the separations brought about by the football season--she said she has found support among neighbors.
"It's been difficult sometimes with all the media and the attention," she said last week. "Art was on TV a lot as a commentator, and people saw him without his helmet, so he is easily recognized. But the neighbors have always been very helpful and maybe even a little protective."
Just last week, for example, Monk was mobbed when he ventured to a store to buy a set of Super Bowl mugs.
Despite the players' prominence, however, area police say they have had no problems with people trespassing or lurking around the homes of Redskins.
"People know enough to leave them alone," said Walter Bishop, Herndon chief of police.
"The only lurkers we get are the little children," said Desiree Monk. "They sneak up, stare at Art, then run away."