Bud Whittaker, 6-foot-4 and 265 pounds, his forearms padded and massive paws ercased in elastic bandages, paced the sidelines as menacingly as any National Football League behemoth. The reddish Fu Manchu moustache that reaches to the tip of his chinny-chin-chin framed a fearsome scowl.
He wore a ski cap, baggy navy-blue cutoffs over gray sweat pants and a baby-blue team jersey with his name across the back in iron-on letters. It was 23 degrees outside and he exhaled in great white puffs.
"Gotta stop 'em, gotta stop 'em," he muttered fiercely at his teammates out on a frozen, goalpost-less field marked off in 20 yard intervals with orange traffic cones.
Whittaker, 36, who once had a tryout at tackle with the Boston Patriots, is manager and offensive lineman for the Daddy's Corner Inn touch-football team. In real life, he is a Rockville taxidermist, and with his game face on he looks as if he would like to stuff and mount opposing rushers. Forget about deer; bring me the head of that red-dogging linebacker.
Last Saturday, Dabby's upset undefeated Brothers Athletic Club, known in the trade as a "perennial powerhouse," to give both team 10-1 records in the Montgomery County recreation department league. That virtually assured Dabby's the "AA" title that Brothers had never lost; they only had to defeat a 6-5 team, Sheraton-Silver Spring, generally known as "the Cops" because of its nucleus of Montgomery County policemen.
The next morning, Dabby's lost to "the Cops."
But there is a chance for redemption this weekend in the playoffs that conclude a 13 week fall season, which included 73 teams in AA, A, B, and C competition. With some 1,500 participants, the Montgomery County league is the largest for touch football in the Washington area.
"This is the big push for the Super Bowl, just like in the pros," said safety Mike Pincus an attorney from Olney who is the oldest of Dabby's players at 39, and runs five miles a day to stay in shape for AA competition in his 13th year in the league. "Only, instead of $5,000 per man, we're playing for about five beers."
Saturday afternoon, Nolte FIeld in Silver Spring. In subfreezing temperatures, Pincus wears a turtleneck under his jersey, a knit Redskin cap, gloves and short pants.
There are 30-odd spectators, mostly furrily-attired family or girl friends of the players or scoots for Sunday's opponents in quilted team parkas.
And, of course, Vince Dabby, who with his brother, Joe, underwrites the cost of uniforms, equipment and supplies, and the $250 "franchise fee" that is applied toward fields, game balls, three officials per game and administrative expenses of this self-sustaining (no tax money) league.
"Other sponsors interfere, but not Vince," said John Davis, 37, organizer and coach. "He doesn't tell me how to run it. If I need 50 bucks for footballs, he writes a check. He's never given up on us. We've got the greatest sponsor and fans in the world. They go with us everywhere."
Right now, the world's greatest sponsor and fans are jubilant because their heroes are upsetting the dynasty that is Brothers, "national champions" the last two years by virtue of winning a double-elimination, invitational tournament for the best teams on the East Coast in New Jersey over Thanksgiving weekend.
Seldom beaten, the Brothers are down two touchdowns bu driving, "DEE-fense, DEE-fense, Pincus. Remember the point spread," screams Dabby's receiver, Kevin Walsh, 27, a teacher of fifth-graders in Baltimore, as he smears on more glare-cutting eyeback. No, there are no betting pools on these games, but "point differential" (sound familiar, wild-carders?) decides the title if these teams finish with identical records.
A Brothers receiver gets free in the end zone on fourth down, but a perfectly thrown spiral slides through his hands. "That's the same combination of bad turf and sun we had in the first half," bellows Bud Whittaker.
The referee signals to each team, "Two minutes left." Dabby's leads by seven points but the Brothers have the ball. TD and a one-point conversion pass would give them a tie and the title, a two-point conversion run would mean outright victory.
Brothers calls as fancy a play as you can run with a seven-man team, the quarterback taking the snap 20 yards deep and immediately rifling the ball to a back, who looks downfield for a deep receiver.
"Double pass," shrieks the Dabby's bench, and cornerback Richie Myers is off like the wind. He is scholarly looking; with wire-rim glasses and unkempt hair sticking out of his stocking cap in all directions, but he plays with the recklessness of an Eddie Brown. Despite the two broken ribs he suffered in a game just before the New Jersey "nationals," he dives and makes the interception.
On the next play, Conrad (Stoney) Stonebanks, Dabby's veteran QB - a 32-year-old Silver Spring eletrician, he has been making sparks fly in this league for 12 years - eyes his favorite receiver, Frank Russell. The former Maryland end, who got a long look from the New York Jets this year, grabs a touchdown pass. The game ends: Dabby's 34, Brothers 26.
The world's greatest sponsor and fans go wild and spill onto the field. Slapping, bear-hugging and soul-shaking everyone in sight, Bud Whittaker whoops, "Mr. Dabby better be buying the beer tonight. This one's sure gonna taste good."
Dabby's Corner Inn, at University Boulevard and Georgia Avenue in Wheaton, is a pleasant neighborhood bar and grill with a sports motif: Dabby's football and softball stars on one wall; autographed Redskin portraits and schedule on another; pennants, plaques and trophies all around. Two elevated TVs. Two dartboards. A hand-made ceramic stein inscribed, "To Vince, from All of Us."
Amid all the football memorabilia are brass rubbings done in England by waitress Neta Mansfield and photos of Vince Dabby's charitable work for retarded children. The Special Olympics is his pet project, and he annually cruits his sportsmen to help out.
"We're more like a brotherhood," said Whittaker, who actually looks kindly when he takes off his arm bandages and puts on his glasses. He signs the game ball that is passed around and looks for all the world as if he should be defending "gusto" in beer commercials. "We've been together five years and have come all the way from C league to AA, which is as high as you can go."
Whittaker surveys his men and tosses ringing tributes around like flip-top cans. "Stoney called and threw a great game. He's been struggling because he's had operations on both knees. Both knees," he repeats his voice rising. "He's had to endure some kind of pain to come back and do what he did today."
These guys play hurt and without Xylocaine. In the same game that Myers cracked his ribs, 11-year veteran tight end Rick Beall broke a finger and Bill Cockshott pulled a hamstring.
Wayne Davis, John's brother, has broken his collarbone two years running. Others throb and limp on. "I broke my thumb in Jersey, took an awful shot to the throat and, worst of all, got a terrible hangover one night," says 6-2, 240-pound offensive lineman Greg Martin. (SECTION) uch adversity just pulls the squad closer together, said Johnny Davis: "We fight among ourselves, but nobody outside gets between us. This is a team. I've had guys quit jobs so they could make practice. Right after New Year's we start practice again, in the snow or at the Boys Club. For the fall league, we start in July. Twice a week, and everybody shows up."
When they make the movie version, Pat O'Brien should play Davis, master of the coaching cliche. Martin calls him "George Jr.," and, like George Allen, he makes shrewd trades while keeping a seasoned "Over-the-Hill Gang" at the skill positions. "We recruit youth every year, but I like to young learn from the old."
Bill Druhan, relegated to special-teams duty by a ripped-up knee, said, 'Just like in any kind of football, the offense may win games but the defense wins titles." He installs burglar stay with the guys who have been with me in the past," Davis says. "The alarms for a living and, naturally, is the defensive coach.
"We're all finesse; you don't brutalize anybody in touch football," said Greg Martin. He was afraid that subtlety might give way to overconfidence in the final game against the Cops, but others disagree. "No way we can lose tomorrow," said Whittaker. "No way."
Sunday morning, Veirs Mill Athletic Field, Silver Spring. "The Cops" build a lead and a lead one of Dabby's loyal fans, Sarge Timmins, stomps his foot like Rumplestiltskin on Dabby's sideline. "Come on, this is the worst you've played this year," he grows.
"The Cops" are ahead, 28-20. "Ten minutes left," receiver Walt Sizemore says, glowering at his mates. 'Get your heads up, get 'em up. There's still time." He catches a square-in from Stonebanks on the next series, but the conversion fails: 28-26.
With 1:40 left, Dabby's gets the ball back. A surge of hope. Stoney hits Russell with two quick completions. He goes to him again, but Tommy Salb, a construction worker among the Cops, intercepts and runs it back for a TD,. He spikes the ball as time expires: Cops 34, Dabby's 26.
The entire Dabby's team and the world's greatest sponsor and fans simultaneously experience a colossa sinking feeling. "Dammit, we play a beautiful game against Brothers and now this," spits pass-rusher supreme Jose Davis. In a final gesture of frustration, Whittaker rips off his arm pads and hurls them down in a heap. Pincus, in his shorts, looks as blue as his jersey.
Coach Johnny Davis, stunned but Rockne-like to the end, raises his bowed head. "Awright, on the field and shake hands," he orders through his exasperation and rage. No one responds. "I said on the field and shake hands," he thunders. "They played a good game. We win with pride and lose with pride."
Back at Dabby's, the throng is smaller and more subdued than the previous day. "Bad Day at Black Rock," said loyal spectater Ed Cockshott. "Anybody got a razor blade? asked Richie Myers. "It's a game of highs and lows, isn't it?" philosophizes Whittaker, drinking coffee instead of beer, as if to self-inflict the ultimate penalty. "Unreal. The highs are DEE-licious, and the lows are the pits."
Angela (Me-Moo) Davis, John's little daughter, climbs into Whittaker's hugh lap. "I've got a loose tooth," she says.
"You do? The tooth fairy will come and give you some money," Whittaker says hugging her gently.
He turns to Ray Lawson, who is nicknamed "Teddy Bear" for the tattoo on his forearm and his bear-like hairiness and build. "We may loosen a few teeth next weekend, he says to the ex-motorcycle king, now a taxi driver, sho says he's "the churchgoing type - I always go by a church on my way to games. "The only solace is that we'll probaly see both the Cops and the Brothers again in the playoffs. Are we gonna be some kind of nasty."