They came with their Bibles, their footballs, their Polaroids, their autograph albums and their veins.
More than 500 people, 20 of them Redskins, went to Washington Hospital Center yesterday to donate blood in honor of Harold McLinton, the former middle linebacker critically injured in a hit-and-run accident Wednesday. If all he needed were a transfusioin of goodwill, Harold McLinton would have gone home yesterday.
But McLinton, whose lower left leg was amputated Saturday night, ramained in critical but stable condition, unaware of the outpouring his condition had inspired. McLinton's high school coach, Charles Williams, drove from Atlanta just to give blood. So far, there have been 800 donors, 400 yesterday.
The fans mingled with the players, often unsure of their identities, approaching anyone who seemed big enough for an autograph. "You're Art Monk, aren't you?" one fan asked, handing a football to Joe Jones for his signature.Jones nodded, signing his name, and adding his number, so that the fan could identify him later.
Jeris White arrived, and Janice Williams, 22 gasped. "When I saw how cool he walked, I knew he was a Redskin," she said.
Some of the fans said they came because McLinton was a Redskin, and that was enough. Others said they came because in a town where football players are considered very special people, McLinton was more special than most. "It was my duty to come," said Maria Osborne, a 22-year-old student at UDC. "I met him once at the Hecht Co. I gave him my Diet Pepsi. I told him he didn't have to pay me the 35 cents if the Redskins won. He just smiled.
"Usually ball players sign autographs and say, 'Here,' and go away. They donT want to talk to you. Harold would talk to you. He was a very nice person. He is a very nice person."
Lawan Thompson, 18, of the District, who has McLinton's type O positive blood (and his autograph at home on a wall) met him three years ago when he came to talk to the students at Langley Junior High School in the District. "He talked about the Redskins and he talked about drugs," she said. "He talked about the right things. He cared about kids. When my mother told me they needed O positive blood, I said, 'I'm going down to help.'"
Carrie Zack of Alexandria, who admits only to being older than 21, came with her snapshots and her poems dedicated to her heroes. "In a town of VIPs," she said, rolling up a sleeve, "the only ones I care about are the Redskins. You can keep your congressmen and your movie stars."
For the players, who arrived with their bodies battered and their egos bruised after four losses in their first five games, the experience proved an unexpected tonic. They could not help but be moved by the treatment their former teammate was receiving from his fans.
"I knew the fans were good in Washington," said Mike Nelms, "but I didn't know they were this good. They're obviously willing to give up a lot more than a ticket," he said, nodding towards the donor beside him.
Across the aisle, a fan named Bobby Smith stood at the head of the couch where Dan Nugent nervously awaited his turn. "How you feeling?" Smith asked.
"Bruised," said Nugent, a first-timer at blood donations.
"Well, your arm's going to feel pretty bruised tomorrow." Smith replied.
"Thanks a lot," said his hero.
Mortified, Smith began recanting. "No, no, really, it's not that bad. Honest." He held out his arm as evidence that even a mere mortal could survive.
Of course, so did Nugent. When he was done, he said he was not surprised by the turnout, yet he could not help being moved by it. "The fact that he isn't an active player, that he wasn't an all-pro," makes it even more impressive, he said.
"I said before: it's because he's a Redskin. I'd like to say, they'd do it for me, too, because I'm a Redskin. But really, it's because of the type of person Harold is."