There are football fans and there are Redskins fans.
And then there is Marty Blackburn.
Marty Blackburn doesn't cook Sunday dinner, she watches the Washington Redskins play football. Her Sunday best consists of football jerseys and T-shirts that say, "Love Those Hogs" and "I Hate Dallas."
She risks speeding tickets on Monday nights to get home in time to watch Channel 7's "Redskins Sidelines," starring her idol, John Riggins. Blackburn would rather meet Riggins than have dinner with Ronald Reagan.
And now, Blackburn will drive to the games in the Car of the Ultimate Fan, a birthday gift from her indulgent husband Charles (Blackie). The car is a rebuilt 1968 Oldsmobile Toronado that is painted in 'Skins burgundy-and-gold and emblazoned with every possible emblem and symbol of the team. These include a Smurf wearing a Redskins helmet, a Hog in mud, the team helmet on both doors and, painted across one door, "Official Redskins Fan."
Blackburn really wasn't much of a football fan, she said, until she moved to Dale City from Minersville, Pa., in 1961 and saw the Redskins play on television. "It was during the end of Sonny Jurgensen's reign as quarterback, she remembers. "Billy Kilmer would be in and they'd be losing. Then they'd send Jurgensen marching down the field and they'd win. It was wonderful. I fell in love."
Over the years, she has transferred her affections to running back Riggins. Why? Appalled at the question, Blackburn gasped, "Why . . . because he's exciting, that's why. He's just so exciting to watch."
During the season, Blackburn can be found in one of two places on Sunday afternnoons or Monday evenings -- in RFK Stadium or in front to her television set. In either case, she'll be wearing one of her football jerseys with the number 44 on it -- Riggins' number -- and cheering with zeal. "Even if they lose," she said. "They're my team."
Given these facts, it wasn't hard for husband Blackie Blackburn to figure out exactly what would please his wife for her 42nd birthday. Too excited to wait, Blackie Blackburn gave his wife the surprise a week early.
So what were Blackburn's first words when she saw her wondrous gift?
"Where's John Riggins?"
Not being a jealous man, Blackburn called artist Neil Madden, who had done the hand painting, and asked him if he could add Riggins' likeness by Sept. 7, Mrs. Blackburn's actual birthdate. Madden agreed to try. The service adviser at Stohlman Oldsmobile in Alexandria, Blackie Blackburn said he "bribed" one of the mechanics to allow the artist to use his stall for the job. Bright and early Sept. 7, a likeness of John Riggins, the number 44, and the "Fun Bunch" adorned the car.
"Now," said Blackburn, "I'm afraid to drive it."
"What if I got a dent in it?" she moans. "I'd die." The restoration and paint job cost more than $3,000, her husband noted.
She will drive it, though -- to the games. Blackburn attends every home game she can. Sometimes, friends give her their season passes to use, other times she just grabs her 17-year-old son, Mike, or a girlfriend and gets there as early as possible. "I like to watch the team run onto the field -- I envy all the young kids that have the nerve to ask for autographs," she says.
Blackie Blackburn has saved a week of his vacation to drive the car to Louisiana if the 'Skins go to the Super Bowl this season, he said. According to the Blackburns, everyone that sees the car is "amazed." After the Redskins were humbled by the Dallas Cowboys last week, offers to purchase the automobile dropped from a previous high of $5,000 to $175. "Maybe I should quit my job and just paint and sell these things," said Blackie Blackburn.
Despite a 14-year devotion to the Redskins, Blackburn does not own a season pass, nor has she ever asked for the autograph of one of the players.
"You have to be on a waiting list for 10 years to get one," she said about the season pass. "That scared me off. Now I realize that if I'd put my name in 10 years ago, I'd have it by now."
As for autographs, her husband is the one who has been close enough to a Redskin to ask. "They come into the dealership," said Blackburn, "and he'd call me and tell me about it. 'You mean you didn't get his autograph?' I screamed when he told me Greg Williams had been in. So Todd Liebenstein came in next -- and he got his autograph for me." Blackburn said she did see Joe Gibbs at a preseason game once and "I asked him for his autograph myself."
Mike Blackburn, who had the body of the car painted by Ken Kelly while his parents were on vacation, likes to tell of another surprise he and his father planned for his mother. They couldn't get tickets to the Super Bowl in 1983, so Mom had a big party, he recalled. "The rec room was all done up in burgundy and gold and she had signs like 'You are now entering Indian territory,' and red-and-yellow balloons everywhere."
Mike and his father bought a pair of piglets the morning of the party and the little porkers confounded guests the rest of the day by running from room to room squealing.
To Marty Blackburn, the only things worse than watching her favorite team lose is missing a game. She remembers when Washington was playing Dallas in December, 1984. A secretary at the State Department, Blackburn found herself on the island of Fiji during the big game fidgeting in the American Embassy there and trying to decide, with a watch she'd kept on Washington time, when to call home and check on the score. "Somebody at the embassy heard about my interest in the game and announced the score. I don't know how he got it," she said. "But the best part was coming home and discovering that a friend of mine had taped the game for me."
Her husband teases her by cheering for Redskin opponents, Blackburn says. But "he really is a Washington fan at heart." Would anything make her give up a game? How about an invitation to the White House?
"That would depend," she said, on whether it was a demand or a request. "I'd really rather be watching the Redskins any time."