Rebecca Williams had just started cooking yesterday morning when the telephone rang. "Be ready at 11:15," her son said. "We're going for a ride. Don't ask me where. Just be ready." He hung up.
Williams sighed and smiled as she put her food away. What was that crazy son of hers -- "he is always cuttin' up and carryin' on," she said -- up to now?
About 90 minutes later, she knew. Her son, Zema (Chief Zee) Williams, wearing the bright red Indian costume in which he hollers himself hoarse on Sundays each fall, had driven her to Robert F. Kennedy Stadium. Mother and son walked around inside the barren stadium, holding hands.
"My mom's never been here," Chief Zee said, looking with disbelief at all the empty seats. "She's seen me on television, but I wanted to show her what I do, where I stand, every Sunday that the Redskins play at home. And today was the best day to do it. This strike is so tough. I have nothing to do. So I thought I'd spend the day with my mom."
The stadium was eerily quiet all day, except for a few guards, a few youngsters riding skateboards in the parking lot, and a few fans who came by just to see what was going on -- including Neil and Kevin Lockwood of London who said they were stuck with plane tickets, ho- tel reservations and tickets to see the scheduled game between the Redskins and the New England Patriots. They said they were trying to make the best of a bad day by dropping by RFK.
Redskins fans around metropolitan Washington, their loud faith stifled by the second National Football League strike in five years, desperately sought distraction yesterday. It was the first of who-knows-how-many Sundays that will be football-free, or -- still worse, some fans say -- filled with games between hastily organized teams of players who crossed picket lines.
And to the fans who cheer loudest and die hardest, the strike is especially grim. They say they are lost and bored. For them, spending a Sunday without Redskins football is like being stranded in an airport a week before your flight leaves. What are you going to do with all that time?
"I guess I'll just eat," said Mike (Big Macette) McCartney, a 33-year-old Fairfax County resident who, for four years, has attended nearly every Redskins home game wearing a maternity dress and a plastic pig snout, requisite attire for a small group of large men called "Hogettes."
"I'm in real withdrawal," McCartney said. "We usually get going at 9:30 every Sunday, all dressed up, and get to the parking lot hours before the game, posing for pictures, sampling everyone's food -- the fans get insulted if you don't sample everything. There's always so much camaraderie out there, and now it's gone. I'm just walking around watching the kitchen clock and wondering, 'What are we going to do next?' "
Michael (Boss Hogette) Tolbert said the Hogettes, who formed in 1983 and have 27 active or former members, have not made plans to counter the emotional hardship of a lengthy players strike. But Tolbert, who calls himself "a very sad little piggy," said he has a few ideas.
"A few weeks ago, at the Philadelphia game, John Madden said on television that he thought the Hogettes were slimming down," Tolbert said, laughing at the CBS football analyst's remarks. "So maybe we'll go into heavy training and, uh, get into shape. I really don't know.
"This strike is ugly. The Redskins bring so much to this area. We need them playing ball. And I hate this scab game concept."
McCartney said he also will miss motorists' cheers and waves to the Hogettes, who drive together in costume to RFK. "It seems like everybody always speeds up or slows down to see us on the highway," he said. "Stuff like that is exciting."
So is listening to the Redskins' theme song, said Barnee Breeskin, a local band leader and public relations specialist who copyrighted "Hail to the Redskins" in 1938. Breeskin was the Redskins' entertainment director from 1938 to 1952.
"It's pretty grim for me," Breeskin said. "Every time the Redskins are playing, that song is playing all over the place. But now everything has stopped. I can't wait until this strike is over."
But Breeskin said he will watch the Redskins play even if games are held without the team's regular players. "If it's got a Redskin banner on it, that's what counts for me," Breeskin said.
Even among the most rabid Redskins fans, opinions are split on which side has the most legitimate argument in the dispute. And they seem especially frustrated by a choice they will have to make as early as next Sunday: When the Redskins are not really the Redskins, but for some reason are still playing, do you go to the game?
"I will drive up to the stadium, but I just can't go inside," said Chief Zee. "It's tough, but I feel like I can't damage the regular striking players by supporting the new ones. But I'll be out here, at least outside. I feel like it's my duty."
As his mother watched, and as what would have been game time approached, Chief Zee gave a brief pointing tour inside RFK. As he explained the stadium to his mother, he tried to tell her how it felt to be on the field, leading cheers.
"See, Mom, that's where the visitors come up, and I just stand there like this," he said, frowning with his arms folded.
"I know; I told you I see you on TV," Rebecca Williams said.
"And right here is what we call The Wild Bunch section, Mom," Chief Zee said. "Boy, we get this place rockin' something terrible on Sundays, but not today. Not today . . . . "
He beat the aluminum bleacher with his fist five times.
The echo reverberated around the stadium.
Staff writer Ed Bruske contributed to this story.