As they rode through the Virginia suburbs yesterday, Redskin players talked about how the rain would dampen the enthusiasm of fans during the upcoming Super Bowl parade. Then the team buses crossed the Potomac River and made their way toward the District Building.
And everywhere the players looked, there were people cheering.
"When I saw all those people as we got near the District Building, I got really emotional," safety Mark Murphy said. "I got teary eyed. It's hard to put into words how any of us felt at that moment."
Even after the parade had ended and the players were being feted at a reception near the Capitol, the Redskins still couldn't believe what they had seen along the parade route.
"Amazing" was the word they used most.
"It was amazing, absolutely amazing," tackle Joe Jacoby said. "You figured that the rain and all would keep people away. We were unhappy that there couldn't have been a better day. But if the sun had been out, how many people would have shown up?"
An estimated 500,000 fans stood in the driving rain to cheer the players and celebrate the Redskins' Super Bowl victory over Miami Sunday. It has been 40 years since Washington has been able to celebrate a National Football League title, 40 years since this cosmopolitan city could go just plain bonkers over its football team. The scene is something the Redskins say they will never forget.
"I saw the parade they had for Miami and that was okay but this one was amazing," defensive end Dexter Manley said. "No one has fans like we do. I thought winning the Super Bowl was the greatest day of my life, but this one is just as great. I couldn't be any happier than I am right now."
The Redskins had been scheduled to ride in open convertibles, one to a car. The rain kept the tops on the cars, and the size of the crowd kept the players in their two team buses.
"When we saw how many people there were, it was decided that the best thing to do was to keep the players in the buses," said team spokesman Charlie Taylor. "We didn't want to risk anything by having them in cars."
People pushed as close as they could to the buses during the 12-block parade route. The players waved and shook hands by reaching through opened windows. Fans tossed confetti champagne bottles and beer cans, both open and closed.
As they looked over the crowd, the Redskins saw fans waving from federal office buildings. They saw banners and signs of all descriptions. They saw people ignoring the rain and refusing to wear a coat over their Hog shirts. They saw nothing but happiness, even as the rain poured harder.
"We started rocking the bus ourselves but after a while, the people were rocking it for us," Manley said.
Tight end Don Warren: "It was a fantastic scene, something you couldn't imagine if you tried. There were people everywhere, on top of buildings and street signs and light poles. When you see that many people, anything could happen. You feel powerless; they could overthrow the world if they wanted to."
Linebacker Mel Kaufman: "I was afraid that someone might get hurt or run in front of the bus and fall underneath it. I knew this town was crazy about this football team, but not this crazy. With the rain, I don't think I would have gone out.
"There isn't one scene or anything that sticks out in my mind. Just the people, so many different people. I tried to look at each one of them if I could, to see them as individuals. You like to thank each one of them if you could. What they did for us was something."
Defensive tackle Darryl Grant: "This was a first-class reception, no doubt about it. I was overwhelmed. It was unbelievable. It gives you a real feeling about how much this team means to the city."
Jacoby: "I wouldn't want to think what it would have been like if we had been in cars. You know they didn't mean any harm. They just wanted to get close and tell us how they felt."
Fifty-three Redskins, including those on injured reserve, took part in the parade. All the coaches and staff attended, even Dan Henning, the assistant head coach who was hired as Atlanta's head coach earlier this week. Among the few players who didn't show up were the five Redskins in the Pro Bowl Sunday and fullback John Riggins, who came home from Los Angeles Tuesday night and forgot to change his watch to Eastern Standard Time. He overslept and missed the parade.
If he had been riding in one of the buses, he would have seen a sign depicting a blank check made out to Riggins, who became a free agent yesterday, and signed by owner Jack Kent Cooke. He also would have heard the crowd chanting for him during the opening festivities at the District Building.
Thanks to a local television station, which sent a limousine to his Virginia home, Riggins got to the reception just as the team buses were leaving. Undeterred, Riggins entered the hotel and walked to the reception room, with photographers and television cameras following him.
His entrance brought cheers and autograph seekers. He finally moved to the podium, where he spoke briefly.
"I don't think there is any other place I'd want to play for than this one," said Riggins, the MVP of the Super Bowl and undoubtedly the most popular man in Washington yesterday. "I'm fired up right now to play another one."