Two days before Robert F. Kennedy Stadium would explode with the excitement of the Redskins' season opener against Dallas, a group of fans gathered in its empty parking lot to pay homage to the team in an unusual fashion.
"Claim Jumper," "Night Tripper" and "The Thunder Goddess" were names of some of the 28 vans in a caravan that assembled at RFK Saturday morning. The vehicles, belonging to members of Washington-area van clubs, later formed a colorful procession to Redskin Park in Herndon to present an award to the team.
It was a day for boastful banter, lighthearted mockery and Texan-taunting.
"We know Dallas will be here, we want them to know we will be here," said Bennie Smith, a Metrobus driver who belongs to the "R3B Van Club."
"That means Ronnie, Billy, Bennie and Buck. All of us are super Hogs. Especially me," Smith said.
The celebration was originated by The Last Episode, a group of District-born musicians that honors entertainers for their "contributions to the community and the betterment of mankind," said Fred Outten, a songwriter and manager of the group, who organized the procession.
The Last Episode, formed in 1963 when Richard Collins and Clarence Monroe, former Dunbar High School students, began performing in talent shows along with Aubrey Swann, who attended McKinley Tech, and Jimmy Faisan, of Spingarn. Outten joined in 1971 and Jeff Hardy, who completes the group, in 1972. The combo has performed elsewhere on the East Coast and plays in local hotels.
Outten said he organized the caravan "because we wanted to do something different." Since its inception in 1980, the group has given its Humanitarian of All Mankind award to the Bee Gees, Sugar Ray Leonard, Stevie Wonder, Richard Pryor and Jersey Joe Walcott.
"It's our way of saying 'Thank you, Redskins,' " Outten said of the latest award.
Among the van clubs in Saturday's caravan were The Capitol City Vanners and The Metro Van Association from the District, the Pleasure Riders Van Club from Arlington and the Calvert County Vanners.
At about 11:30 a.m. the vans, with pompons waving from their roofs and windows, cruised slowly behind a police escort past public garbage cans emblazoned with the burgundy and gold Redskins colors on East Capitol Street. They drew confused stares and occasional cheers from pedestrians as they continued west on Constitution Avenue, across Memorial Bridge and onto I-66 west to Herndon.
Outten presented a plaque to Redskins assistant general manager Bobby Mitchell, a recent football Hall of Fame inductee, as the group gathered around and chanted, "Hogs, Smurfs, Hogs, Smurfs."
The plaque was engraved with the words of a song about the Redskins written by Outten. He said The Last Episode will record the song this month and donate its earnings to Children's Hospital and "some minority adoption homes."
Although it was an overwhelmingly partisan event, a few non-Redskin fans managed to infiltrate.
"I'm here because I lost money on the 'Skins last year when they beat Dallas, and I'm going to get it back," said Ronnie Graves, inciting a rash of boos and hollers. "Dallas wins more consistently. Every 20 years the Redskins win. That doesn't matter to me."
Three Dallas fans bravely voiced their support shortly before the vans left RFK. "Everywhere you go, you get crazy people Dallas fans ," said Joe Adams, owner of the shiny green "Claim Jumper" that led the caravan.
"I'm a Los Angeles Raiders fan," said Dolores Ryans, a corporate consultant in the District and a friend of Outten's. "I moved here in February from Alaska, where they only have two stations, which carry Raiders games and Dallas games. All I know about the Redskins is they won the Super Bowl."