It wouldn't be fall without the Redskins. And it wouldn't be the Redskins if they didn't show up for a round of smiles and handshakes at Children's Hospital.
Two of the best-known members of that football juggernaut dropped by the hospital on a recent Monday night to take part in a live TV show. Dozens of Children's patients were on hand -- as was my associate, Michelle Hall. Her report:
What do kids, bright lights, cheers and Redskins bring to mind? The Redskins Sidelines show, of course, televised live on WDVM-TV from Children's Hospital.
The hospital's atrium was abuzz with activity and excitement on the evening of Nov. 12 as patients peered about wide-eyed, each hoping for a glimpse of a real live Redskin or two before the show began. Volunteers helped hospital staff assemble the children, many of whom watched from beds, strollers or parents' laps. Patients walked around unconcernedly, wheeling IV stands before them.
The atrium, the center of cultural and recreational activities at Children's, is an open, high-ceilinged area stretching the full five floors of the building. Plants, artwork and brightly-colored furniture in shades of yellow, orange, blue and green add to the cheerful atmosphere.
As the atrium filled after the dinner hour, anticipation built and a festive feeling prevailed. Every child who could leave his room, approximately 100 in all, came down to hear Joe Theismann, Joe Washington, Glenn Brenner and Sonny Jurgensen talk football.
Kids wearing pink hog noses and grasping plastic Redskins cups perched in big white beds. Even stuffed animals joined in the spirit of things; a certain mutt named Snoopy appeared more hog than dog. Redskins banners and silver balloons bearing get-well-soon wishes and pictures of Mr. T flew from traction bars suspended above beds.
As the kids waited for the big moment, they offered predictions. Mark, a self-proclaimed "big Redskins fan," said the team will go to the Super Bowl, as did Nick, who exclaimed, "I can't wait until the show gets started!" Kenny, too, was quite sure the Redskins would win the big one. Duane went a bit farther: "They'll probably play, I think, the Dolphins." You heard it here first.
John Riggins and Theismann emerged as favorite Redskins in an informal poll taken among members of the audience. Theismann works hard to deserve the honor. According to Lee Ann Slayton, the evening and weekend coordinator of volunteers at the hospital, "he makes appearances at different times of the year and he makes sure the Redskins do good things for Children's Hospital."
Finally, it was nearing 7:30 p.m. -- air time. A floor director came out to warm up the children. They responded with cheers and hurrahs to the queries, "How many of you saw this weekend's game?" and the ever-popular "How 'bout those 'Skins?" Boos met mention of the Cowboys and Miami. And the show began.
The best part of the evening for many kids was the question and answer period. Theismann squirmed under such inquiries as, "Why are so many of your punts blocked?" and "Why'd you get sacked so many times?" To the latter, he replied, "It's easy if you just stand there and hold the ball."
Undaunted, Theismann spent a few minutes after the show visiting the rooms of the children who were unable to come downstairs for the broadcast. Theismann maintained his reputation in another area, as well, by keeping lips sealed in the presence of the press. Perhaps he was distracted by the presence of companion and fellow autograph-signer Cathy Lee Crosby.
One edition of Redskins Sidelines has been broadcast live from Children's each of the last six years. In addition to promoting the hospital to Sidelines viewers, the show is "good public education," Slayton said. "Lots of folks think children who are in a hospital are tucked away somewhere, and here you see that they're children first and sick second.
"They get excited; they ask questions; they want to get involved. And it doesn't matter that they've got an IV or their head is wrapped up or they had surgery or they're in traction . . . . It's entertainment for the kids and they really love it!"