The faces looked familiar. There was columnist Carl Rowan on the dance floor. Erstwhile politicians Sargent Shriver and Eugene McCarthy were chatting animatedly with friends, while two current politicians, Mayor Marion Barry and D.C. Del. Walter E. Fauntroy, greeted supporters from elections gone by. Sonny Jurgensen, the football hero of Sundays past, headed for the bar for another drink.
It seemed at first blush just another Washington party, in Georgetown, maybe, or on Capitol Hill. Instead, the site was the ballroom of a high-rise hotel in Southern California. And the collective preoccupation, instead of politics or government or law, was the Washington Redskins' shot at winning the Super Bowl.
Not everyone whose name is a household word in Washington is on the West Coast this weekend for Sunday's Super Bowl XVII clash between the Redskins and the Miami Dolphins. But more than a few--the officials and business executives who don't move in and out of the nation's capital every four years with each new occupant of the White House--have taken up Los Angeles residency for the weekend.
D.C. City Council Chairman David A. Clarke flew out at his own expense. Thomas J. Owen, board chairman of Perpetual American Savings & Loan, was on the West Coast on business and is staying for the game.
And Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke made certain that many of his friends--people like Rowan, McCarthy, Shriver, Barry, Fauntroy, restaurateur Duke Zeibert and car dealer John Koons Jr.--will experience the Super Bowl in fine style.
He chartered a DC10 to fly them here, along with the wives of his players, the Redskinettes and families of the team's office staff. Then he put them up for the weekend at the team's headquarters here, the Westin South Coast Plaza Hotel, and handed them $40 game tickets as well.
The National Football League, pleading a touch of penury after this season's 57-day players' strike, canceled its usual pregame bacchanalia. But Cooke stepped in to fill the breach, inviting 500 friends to a Friday night feast of roast beef, seafood Newburg and lasagna.
There was a 3-foot-high ice sculpture of the Super Bowl trophy gracing the buffet, and in case anyone forgot the team's colors, burgundy and gold mums served as a centerpiece on each table. A 10-piece band provided the entertainment, including a crowd favorite, "Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys." (Animus is supposed to be focused on the Dolphins this weekend, but old antagonisms die hard.)
The Washington personalities were not the stars of this show, however. Redskin players mingled with the crowd, assuring everyone that the real Super Bowl trophy would be coming back to Washington.
The crowd favorite was running back John Riggins, whose attire most days consists of Army fatigues and a T-shirt. For Cooke's party he upstaged everyone, poking his way through the crowd in top hat and tails, swaggering with the aid of a black cane.
Women scrambled to attach themselves to his arms while their husbands snapped scrapbook pictures.
"He's cool, isn't he?" Fauntroy exclaimed.
"I thought it was a masquerade party," Riggins joked.
Shriver said he was both "surprised and not surprised" that the Redskins managed to reach the Super Bowl this year. "I think there's a combination of unusual and extraordinary things that have put them there," he said. "It's almost magic to take as many young players as they have and make them into a cohesive team."
Rowan said, "This team says talent is where you find it," noting the large number of free agents on the team.
Barry surveyed the scene and said that the Redskins are "a unifying force for the whole Washington area. I love it."
Tonight, about 3,000 cheering Redskins fans rallied at a downtown Los Angeles hotel at a gathering sponsored by Washington radio station WMAL. The boisterous crowd sang chorus after chorus of "Hail to the Redskins" and cheered wildly as Washington supporters paraded banners and posters around an exhibition hall.
"Skins Eat Fins," one sign proclaimed, while another said, "Dolphins Make Hog Chowder." Many of the fans sported Redskins T-shirts, hats and a wide assortment of buttons that vendors have sold all week here.
Henry (Lenny) Lancon, a Wheaton construction manager, displayed a banner of a pig lunching on a dolphin. "I love the Redskins," he declared. "They bring everyone together. You are not a Washingtonian unless you love the Redskins."