When a man from General Electric's Dallas outpost called the Washington office yesterday, the fellow who answered said, "Hello, this is Bob Johnson in Washington, D.C., home of the Eastern Division-champion Washington Redskins."
When Al Cordon's wife wondered aloud what they'd do now that the Redskins won't occupy their Sundays, Cordon was briefly baffled. "Oh, my God," he said, "we might have to go back to church."
The players are serious, the owners are serious but so far the fans seem unimpressed by the harrowing implications of the NFL strike. They seem to be approaching the mess that threatens America's game with all the respect of a hurricane party, and the lights haven't even gone out yet. Some fans are even threatening to rake leaves on Sunday.
What will they do?
Bill Brener of Great Falls says he might have to go to art museums, "or maybe I'll talk to my wife." Sgt. W.E. Jones of the Metropolitan Police says he'll play golf as long as it's warm. When winter arrives, "I'll just get a nice martini and find someone new to cuss out."
Duke Johnson says his customers at Duke's Shoeshine Parlor, 13th and U Streets NW, aren't talking much football, except for the Redskin lovers. "They cry when they lose. Now with the strike they're sayin', 'I might save me some money.' "
At "Addie's End" of the Touchdown Club bar, named after Bob Addie, the late Post sportswriter, the diehards still congregate daily to hoist a few and talk football. They enter through a hallway lined with the photos of former club presidents, including ex-Redskins Cliff Battles, Slug Witucki, Joe Tereshinski and Reds Krause.
They take it seriously. So seriously, for example, that when Dick Illoway's wife took him to the ballet, he was most impressed by Baryshnikov's hang time and the company's bench strength in replacing an injured ballerina.
At the TD Club, they're mortified by a football strike, right?
"I figure the owners and players deserve each other," muttered GE's Johnson through a fog of cigarette smoke. These are strong sentiments from a man who bought his Redskin season tickets in 1958 and has missed one game in the 24 years since.
Johnson recognizes that the players have a point in their negotiating demands. "Sure, and I want 55 percent of GE's profits, too," he said.
Redskin fans interviewed yesterday tended to side with the players in the labor dispute, although most agreed the language of their 55 percent money demand was ill-advised. "They said the wrong words by demanding a percentage," said Brener, who runs a building maintenance company. "If they just said, 'We want more money,' there could be a compromise. Now it's a matter of principle."
Vincent Brown, who runs a downtown carry-out and played college football 15 years ago, figures the players don't get credit for the risks they took in building professional football to its preeminent place in American sport. "Everybody talks about the owners taking risks. When the league started out, the players were out there too, playing for next to nothing . . ."
"Who should get the money?" asked Dick Lee of Takoma Park. "Should we let the super rich (owners) get super richer, or give it to the guys who are doing the work?"
Almost all fans agreed there will be a gaping hole in their lives come 1 p.m. Sunday. They laugh now, but they know they won't be laughing then.
Said Joe Califano, a former secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, "I haven't been this disappointed since the Dodgers left Brooklyn."
"It's like a railroad strike," said Redskin fan Bill Matthews. "They're crippling the spokes. A team that you cherish, if they go on strike, they're ruining what you've got."
The rhythm and pace of autumn Sundays is shot. For Califano and Johnson, for Brown, Brener, the Illoways, Lee, Sgt. Jones and thousands of other fans around Washington and the nation, life will change a little this weekend. The drumbeat of the NFL is silenced, for now.
Johnson probably put it best: "I think I'll just shoot myself in the foot," he said.