More than 75,000 jubilant fans turned the Mall into a Super Bowl of celebration yesterday, cheering and clamoring for Washington's triumphant football team in a gleeful, but peaceful, lunch-hour tribute.
The Mall was awash for several blocks in bobbing placards, screaming fans and Redskins flags whipping in the wind. Some D.C. government offices emptied. Scores of schoolchildren played hooky. A few hardy federal workers took to rooftops for an aerial view of the ceremonies and speeches, which were carried from a huge stage at Third Street NW via towering loudspeakers. Police came out in force -- more force, it turned out, than was needed to handle the party that unfolded.
It was an afternoon when the nation's political capital had little use for politicians. D.C. Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly, who came to proclaim this "Redskins Day" in Washington, spoke speedily, as some in the crowd booed and impatiently chanted, "We want Joe. We want Joe."
They soon got their wish. Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs strode to the microphone on the 13-foot-high stage to send back some of the adoration enveloping his team.
"I really wish each and every one of you had been there with us," Gibbs told the fans. "It's the home-field advantage that got us this Super Bowl."
Star receiver Art Monk echoed his words. "You're the reason why we're here," Monk told the crowd. He was answered by thunderous cheers.
The Redskins showed up minus some of their biggest names -- including quarterback and Super Bowl most valuable player Mark Rypien, who had flown after the game from Minneapolis to Hawaii for this Sunday's Pro Bowl game.
Did this deter the fans?
"I don't care if one of 'em showed up," said Tommy Clark, of Fredericksburg, Va. "I'd still be here."
"I love the Redskins," shouted 12-year-old Chad McKnight, who had come from Reston at 7:30 in the morning to earn his front-row spot on the Mall. "They're my team." A few feet away, two girls in pink hog noses screamed until they were hoarse, and one fan waved a placard, "Joe Gibbs for President."
For all the boisterous adulation, the celebration was smaller and more subdued than those following the team's past Super Bowl victories. In 1988, the last time the Redskins won the Super Bowl, a parade and rally on Pennsylvania Avenue drew hundreds of thousands of fans, some of whom swamped the Redskins' buses and surged past barricades around the speakers' platform.
Authorities, adamant that there be no repeat performance, limited this year's celebration to a rally and erected fencing 75 feet from the stage to keep the crowds at a safe distance. A force of about 500 D.C. police officers and a large contingent of U.S. Park Police officers, including 21 on horseback, were on hand.
No arrests were reported, and none of the eight ambulances at the scene was used.
The crowd size -- 75,000, according to U.S. Park Police, and 100,000, according to D.C. police -- fell far short of predictions, which had included a figure of 1 million. Metro did not need to go on the all-day rush-hour schedule it had planned.
Police Chief Isaac Fulwood Jr. speculated that several factors contributed to the smaller turnout.
The federal government, unlike in 1988, did not give workers time off for the rally, and two television stations broadcast the events live, he said. Also, fear of a massive turnout might have kept people away, he said.
But what the crowd lacked in size, it made up in spirit.
There were infants bundled into burgundy-and-gold carriages, and toddlers hoisted on adult shoulders. Two-year-old Dustin Bradley came for his first Redskins rally.
He was a little confused. "Dallas Cowboys," he yelled, as he waved his Redskins pompon. His father, Gene Bradley, was appalled: "That's his mother's doing."
Buttoned-down Washington let loose and reveled in this moment.
Edward Ledbetter, a 52-year-old vendor from Southeast Washington, mugged for photographers in his red-and-white feathered headdress.
Randy Martin, 25, a bartender from Arlington, came in his gold cheerleader's skirt and army boots.
And Robert E. Lee, a carpenter from Annapolis accompanied by his three children, came on stilts.
In 1988, he said, he almost got "trampled."
"But I've got protection now," he said.
Some people couldn't make it all the way to the rally, but they were in there trying.
Robert Robinson, a D.C. parking-meter man, smiled as he bopped toward the corner of Sixth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW. With a camera in one hand and his book of parking tickets in the other, he steadily made his way toward the Mall.
Showing his hidden spirit, he removed his official cap to reveal a Redskins hat and peeled back his uniform coat to show off a burgundy jacket.
About two dozen Labor Department workers watched from afar, munching popcorn and soda on the department's roof.
At the National Gallery's East Wing, a gaggle of fans viewed the zaniness from a high balcony.
Ruth E. Jones, who couldn't get away from her Labor Department office, saw the rally as more than a celebration of the Redskins' 37-24 victory over the AFC champion Buffalo Bills. "At this time of recession, I think we need a boost for fans to throw off some of the burdens and pressures they're faced with," she said. " . . . This is a temporary relief."
Thousands of children and teenagers flooded the Mall, apparently flouting the decision by public school officials to remain open on Redskins Day. David Palmer, 15, and two fellow ninth-graders from Johnson Junior High School in the District proudly showed off their suspension notices at the rally.
They said they got them yesterday when they blithely announced at school that they were leaving to see the Redskins.
Some of the other youngsters were legal. First-grade teacher Judith Potter took her whole class from Watkins Elementary School on Capitol Hill to the Mall, a line of tiny fans waving handmade paper pennants and clutching their lunchboxes.
"The children and the town need somebody positive to look up to," Potter said.
Some of the fans got closer than they ever dreamed to their heroes.
Linebacker Wilber Marshall strode out to the fence that separated the fans from the stage. He reached out. He shook hands. He threw a pair of autographed receiver's gloves into the gleeful group.
A happy accident gave some other fans a thrill when Redskins center Jeff Bostic, one of the invincible Hogs, missed the buses that carried his teammates away from the rally.
Ecstatic fans surrounded him, begging for autographs. Angel Dickens, of Mount Pleasant, got him to sign her T-shirt. She clutched it to her face and announced, "I'll never wash this shirt again."
The celebration didn't end with the rally, either. At the opening of last night's National Symphony Orchestra performance, conductor Mstislav Rostropovich began the program with a fully orchestrated rendition of "Hail to the Redskins."
Staff writers Steve Berkowitz, Gabriel Escobar, Stephen C. Fehr, Mary Ann French, Sari Horwitz, Richard Justice, Nancy Lewis, Mark Maske and James Ragland contributed to this report.