TO THOSE STILL not caught up in the sport, it may sound like a bulletin for birdwatchers, but the North American Chinaglia Aficionado was seen by tens of thousands here last Sunday -- and therein lies a good local story. It is an impressive tale of how Washington won a sporting event, lost a bad rap and drew a huge crowd. And it goes beyond the playing of soccer, which is what the remarkably talented Giorgio Chinaglia (that's "Kee-nal-ya") did for the New York Cosmos against the Fort Lauderdale Strikers in Soccer Bowl '80. New York won that championship, but long before that Washington -- with a vigorous campaign involving people from all around the region -- won the game for RFK Stadium and then succeeded in drawing 50,768 fans to the event.
Ever since Robert Short packed up his Washington Senators and took off with much bad-mouthing of the city as a poor sports town, on too many days of the year RFK Stadium has been quiet enough to hear a french fry drop. But last year, John Carbray, then-general manager of the Washington Diplomats, and a group of community leaders began talking about bringing Soccer Bowl '80, which is soccer's answer to football's Super Bowl, to RFK.
Mayor Barry, enthusiastic, huddled with Joseph Riley, then-president of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, and other business and labor leaders. Taking cues from Florida's Orange Bowl Committee and similar sports-hustling civic groups around the country, the group established a non-profit corporation of prominent local people to promote the stadium. Mayor Barry flew to New York and pleaded with North American Soccer League officials, who were considering Vancouver for the game, to hold off for a month.
They did -- and the group went to work. Stephen I. Danzansky, the Diplomats' president, worked tirelessly on the project; local firms chipped in free legal advice, accounting, advertising, office space and other services to bring in the Bowl. Elected leaders in the surburbs joined Mayor Barry in the effort. The committee also guaranteed sales of 40,000 tickets, which tipped the scales and won Washington the nod. When the game was over, league officials were lavish in praising the handling of the event and Washington as a sports town.
A percentage of Sunday's healthy gate now goes to the community's sports authority, which already is looking at other possibilities -- maybe an Army-Navy game or a special football event. That's good news, not only for the money this new venture may produce, but for civic spirit it has generated.