First, they spread a sleeping bag on the grass at 14th Street and Constitution Avenue, set up beach chairs and pulled out a bottle of Riunite wine.

Then, the Michel family of Springfield brought out the football, the beer, the bags of ripple potato chips, the cheese dip and the pickles.

Andy Michel, 53, is Polish-born. His wife, Shirley, 44, is of American Indian descent, mixed with a bit of Irish.

But having Irish blood made no difference yesterday, as an estimated 50,000 people jammed the sidewalks of Constitution Avenue between Seventh and 17th streets for the city's annual St. Patrick's Day parade.

"So far, so good," said Shirley Michel, as waves of green balloons and Irish jig dancers bobbed by under a blue March sky, mixing with the smell of hot dogs and pretzels and the sound of drums and fiddles.

The parade got its start in 1971, when several hundred Irish enthusiasts marched around Dupont Circle. Since then, it has become a major event, drawing elaborate floats, bands and, of course, fans.

Yesterday, people and more people lined the street. It was not a raucous bar crowd telling blarney stories and singing into green beer. This was a crowd of Irish-knit sweaters and rough tweed jackets, emerald green hair ribbons and corduroy pants in kelly green.

Norman Aronovic, 38, a private medical attendant, brought his Irish wolfhound, Merlin, to the parade. The dog wore a collar with green glitter on it. "He likes beer," said Aronovic, as a friend tipped a foam-filled cup for the 165-pound Merlin to slurp. "He's so big that everyone wants to know where his saddle is."

Rhoda Kachilo, 45, a secretary for the AFL-CIO, also brought her dog -- a 9-year-old half poodle, half Pekingese named Joey. She had him sitting on a green plastic placemat in the basket of her Schwinn Breeze and had clipped an embroidered shamrock to the hair on his head.

Kachilo said it was her first St. Patrick's Day parade, although she has lived in Washington for 17 years. "I know -- I'm so bad," she said. Kachilo wore green, a sweater with white ducks on it and Christmas earrings shaped like holly leaves. "It's about the only green I had," she said.

John Mathis, 63, a D.C. laborer, also wore green -- lots of it. He had a green derby, a green tie with a rhinestone clip, a green velvet jacket, green pants and a green-striped shirt. "I always dress special for this day," said Mathis.

"This is my first parade here," said Brenda Burtner, 24, who wore green lipstick and had a green shamrock painted across her face. "I love it," she said. "It's so Irish."

Is she?

"No," she laughed. "I'm German."

Tom Hartney, 42, a computer systems analyst from Vienna, is third-generation Irish. His wife, Diane, 41, who works with the Navy Federal Credit Union, is second generation from County Clare. They came to the parade in identical Irish sweaters purchased in County Limerick.

John F. Herrity, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, came in a green sports coat, marching down the avenue with the Emerald Society. The Maryland Gaelic Dancers and the Washington-Irish Rugby Club also were there. Along with the 1984-85 Rose of Tralee Beauty Queen, Maureen Conroy of Silver Spring.

One group that wasn't there was the Mount Vernon Guard Band from Virginia. The band was in Ireland, where band leader Fred Harris was grand marshal of Dublin's biggest-ever St. Patrick's Day parade.

O'Briens and O'Connells came to Washington's parade, as well as Kellys and Flahertys, McGuires, Mulcahys and Murphys. And Kennedys.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver was the parade's grand marshal. She wore a green skirt. With her were her husband Sargent, her son Timothy, wearing a green jumpsuit, and another son, Bobby, in a green pullover sweater. "It's just a real Irish day," she said.