The caller was not just another fan curious about Washington's Save the Caps effort.
John Ziegler, the president of the National Hockey League, was on a telephone at National Airport. It seemed the limousine driver dispatched by the Capitals had picked up George Allen but forgot all about Ziegler.
He was in town to prove that the NHL hasn't really forgotten the Capitals during their summer-long campaign for solvency. Ziegler, along with Allen, Wes Unseld and other "personalities," were called in to man ticket hotlines at a media event staged by WRC-TV last night.
The Capitals have less than 10 days to fulfill conditions set for their continued operation. Failure to sell 7,500 season tickets and sell out the team's first 10 home games could mean, according to team owner Abe Pollin, the club would be sold and moved, merged with another team or disbanded. But Ziegler said yesterday the NHL isn't even considering those alternatives.
"If faced with that kind of problem, it'll be addressed at that time," he said. But at this point nobody has even contemplated those possibilities. Ziegler said the league has had not discussions regarding "what to do about the Caps because we are operating on the basis that they are going to operate."
"Even so you can't force a person to spend his money," Ziegler said. "With Abe (Pollin) working publicly since last spring, we always felt the investment capital would arrive."
That investment capital should arrive by way of the wallets of four local businessmen. They have said they would purchase 50 percent of the team provided the Prince George's County amusement tax is reduced and the required number of season and individual tickets are sold. A fourth condition, reduction of Capital Centre rent, was satisfied more than a week ago.
"We look at all this (the Capitals' efforts)," said Ziegler, "and just figure Abe will be successful."
Last night's hockey party may not have been the biggest social success of the season, but more than a handful of fans turned up. Munching popcorn, they applauded Pollin and Unseld.
"Don't ask me anything about hockey," said Unseld. "I've never even been on skates."
Sportscaster George Michael, emceeing in a tuxedo, drew a chorus of boos when he said to Pollin, "Now really, Abe, Hartford; I'm not going to buy tickets to see the Hartford Whalers." Pollin merely smiled and said: "We hope fans will come to see the Capitals, not just Hartford."
Actually, Pollin needn't worry about at least two other games. Yesterday, Peoples Drug Stores and the Mid-Atlantic Coca-Cola Bottling Co. guaranteed the Toronto and New Jersey games, respectively. Also, the Prince George's Chamber of Commerce guaranteed the remaining half of the Minnesota game, previously halfway guaranteed by Time-Savers.
All told, the Capitals have guaranteed sellouts of eight games, courtesy of area businesses.
And tickets are moving. So far, 4,920 season tickets have been sold, and 70,162 individual tickets have been sold for the first 10 games.
Members of the Oakland Seals fan club, in town for the NHL fan club convention, were buying individual game tickets to be donated to the Special Olympics.
"We live 3,000 miles away and can't come here for a game," said Tom O'Connell. "We don't want to see Washington lose the Caps like we lost the Seals."
Indeed, memories of forgotten franchises hung above the stage last night. A poster lettered "Do not let this happen to the Capitals" had logos of the Kansas City Scouts, Atlanta Flames, Oakland Seals, Colorado Rockies and Cleveland Barons X'd out (Kansas City became Colorado, which became New Jersey; Oakland became Cleveland, which merged with Minnesota, and Atlanta went to Calgary).
Ziegler seemed almost eager to head for the phone bank. "When's the last time you sold anything over the phone?" someone asked him.
"This is it. First time," he said. "If they depend on me for ticket sales they're in trouble."