Ethel Kennedy didn't show. Neither did Joe Califano, Art Buchwald, or any of the other regulars. RFK Stadium just wasn't the place to be yesterday for the National Football League Players Association all-star game.
In the upper reaches of Section 525, Row 27, Mike Almassy, 14, and Kelly Moore, 12, held hands among the cobwebs that have gathered since the football strike began 27 days ago.
In the mezzanine, where the powers that be weren't, thoughtful observers of the first NFLPA all-star game -- and there were only 8,760 of them -- pondered the question: who occupies the owners box at a game that has no owners?
"I think they should drape it in black crepe for the owners who caused the strike," said Allynn Howe, a union man who came to show solidarity with his striking brethren.
Instead of crepe, there was Ted Turner, an owner in baseball and basketball, who is showing his solidarity with the striking football players by televising the games on the Turner Broadcasting System.
"I just wanted to even up the odds between the owners and the players," he said. "The whole power structure was against them, the bigs against the smalls. I like to see myself like the guy who rode into town and saw the outlaws trying to take advantage of the farmers and the ranchers and threw in with them. I'm willing to be deputized. It's like 'High Noon.' No one helped Gary Cooper, either."
Turner was ebullient, showing off his NFLPA T-shirt, with the words "union-supported" over his No. 82. "To me this is just like a dream come true," he said.
So what if he gave a party and nobody came. "Everyone put the kabosh on this," he said. "We showed 'em, just by showing up. We'll blow 'em away in the ratings," he said. "Talk about a hoot. We'll be okay. We're digging in. See how they dig in. Then bam, they hit 'em."
Not everyone else was quite as enthusiastic, including those who attended. "They don't want it bad enough," said Charles Lampkins, 16, who plays for Groveton High School in Alexandria. "I don't hear much pop down there. Maybe once in a while. Other than that, they play like us."
Some came because their coaches gave them tickets. The Pittsburgh Steelers, who were scheduled to play at RFK yesterday, were not in evidence but the Rockville Steelers were. "A lot of them don't have fathers," said Steve Custis, one of the coaches accompanying 35 boys. "We thought it would be a good experience for them."
Usher George Benear came to work. "Trying to," he said.
Other workers came to show support. The United Food and Commercial Workers union bought a block of 1,850 seats. Walter Devlin, a member of the Communications Workers of America, Washington, paid his own way. "Players are used like computer monsters," he said.
Ricardo W. Nickens brought the members of his 120-pound boys' football team. He says he loves football more than his wife and his daughter. "Any time you can come home on a Monday night after a hard day and they've got Archie and Rhoda on TV, then it's a low-key thing in my life."
He shrugged. "It's like a ghost field," he said. "Look around you. If the Skins were there, it would be in the air. The sun would come out and you would see Art Monk flying down the sideline. You'd hear the crowd scream, and you'd absorb it all like a sun ray."
Shadows crept across the field. The chill made the place seem even emptier than it was. Thoughtfully, the public address announcer suggested that everyone move to the sunny side of the field. "That's real nice," Ted Turner said.
He played football once a long time ago but quit after his sophomore year in high school. He only weighed 135 pounds at the time. "Looks the same to me as the real stuff," he said.
"Game of the month," someone said.
"The only game in town," he said, smiling.