At Triples nightclub, they called it a regular football night, though everyone knew there was nothing regular about it.
For black Redskins fans, particularly, last night was a time of enchantment, a night that began so sweetly it defied description. Doug Williams, the Redskins' first black quarterback, was starting. He would satisfy thousands of unfulfilled dreams, simply by walking onto the field, even though the Redskins eventually lost the game.
"It's special because Doug Williams is starting in front of a national television audience," said Edward Williams, a 24-year-old avid Redskins fan. "We have some other black quarterbacks . . . but you never get to see them in this part of the country. Tonight everyone all over the country gets to see a black quarterback lead a team. It might change a lot of opinions."
Even trouble with the big screen couldn't dampen spirits at Triples. About a hundred fans gathered at the club at 3714 Branch Ave. in Marlow Heights to cheer the home team in its game against the Los Angeles Rams, to watch Williams, with one swift motion of his arm, throw the Redskins into history.
There was a fair chance that those too young to recall had at least been told that the Redskins were the last National Football League team to integrate (in 1962); that the quarterback is considered a leadership position; that until the last decade that position has been almost the sole domain of white superstars in the NFL.
It was during the Redskins' last game that Williams replaced Jay Schroeder, benched because of a slump. Last night the Redskins also started Raleigh McKenzie, who is black, as center. This is also considered a leadership position and has also traditionally been held by white players.
"It seems an almost hurtful situation that in the 1980s we're still being subjected to decisions made based on the color of one's skin," said fan Anthony Thomas. "For it to be significant that we have a black quarterback tells us we're still obsessed with racism."
One fan thought all the hoopla over Williams put unfair pressure on the quarterback. "I'd just like to see him do well, and for the public to give him a chance to prove himself," said a gray-haired man who did not want to be identified.
"I think we should be able to accept him as a quarterback first, and then as a black quarterback. It is so important that he gets a fair chance so that young black children can think of a quarterback as something they can grow up to be."
At Triples, the mood was understandably frenzied. After all, these were longtime Redskins supporters.
"I've stuck by the Redskins even when I thought they were rednecks," said fan Barbara Grant. "No way in Washington, D.C., could Gibbs get away with not using Doug Williams. Even the white fans like Doug. We all just want to win."
Edward Williams, who said he has been a Redskins fan since birth, has watched attitudes change in this city. "There was a time people didn't think blacks had the mental capacity, but they always thought they had the athletic ability. Having Doug Williams as a quarterback sets the tone for this city and lets everyone know how far we've come."