"Showdown, what showdown? There's no more showdowns now! The Sugar Man has met them all and won!" screamed Earl Sullivan of Washington as he stood in the center of an estimated 1,000 cheering fans who showed up last night at National Airport to welcome home Sugar Ray Leonard.
The cheering crowd surged against a glass partition when Leonard, wearing sunglasses to cover the swelling under his left eye, walked slowly through the gate less than 24 hours after stopping Thomas Hearns in Las Vegas to become undisputed welterweight champion.
He smiled and waved to his fans, many of whom had waited for more than an hour. They wore Leonard T-shirts, held up signs and posters and chanted, "Sugar Ray! Sugar Ray!" There was no formal greeting ceremony.
"These are people who have been with Sugar Ray all along, and I really appreciate their support," Leonard said during an impromptu five-minute press conference. "I feel great right now. I am satisfied with my accomplishments because I carried out my game plan. They called Hearns the 'Hit Man,' but I was the hit man in the fight.
"When I stepped into the ring for the 11th round and heard all those people yelling, "Hearns, Hearns!" that pushed me on to come back here as the champion. I'm not a legend yet but hopefully I will be."
Leonard's plane, which had a stopover in Chicago, was nearly 30 minutes late. That didn't suit a few people who were waiting to board that plane here.
"Who's coming in anyway -- the Redskins?" asked one man.
When told by another bystander there wouldn't have been any crowd if the 0-2 Redskins were flying in, the man replied, "Well, I can understand that. I'm a Browns man and we haven't won a game, either."
The security police, ticket-takers, and other airport personnel took time out from their duties to steal a look at Leonard, his wife Juanita, son and a haggard-looking entourage. Leonard, wearing a white jogging suit and a sailor cap, took a few minutes to sign autographs and wave to friends.
His tallest fan was 6-foot-8 Larry Spriggs, a former basketball player at Howard University and a fifth-round pick of the Houston Rockets this year.
"He's a good friend of mine and I just wanted to see him before I left for Houston," Spriggs said. "I'm really glad for him."
Sullivan, wearing a straw cowboy hat and smoking a long cigar, was easily the most vocal person there.
"Hey, I'm not a fan, I'm a bettor," Sullivan said. "I bet against Sugar Ray in the (Wilfred) Benitez fight and the (Roberto) Duran fight. But I knew Hearns couldn't win. I go with the man who will win and right now this man is the best. Sugar Ray can fight, and I don't think anyone will doubt that now."