How many kids in this city grow up hoping to one day become a Washington Redskin?
How many do?
"I was that way," Ken Jenkins was saying yesterday. "I got in fights in the halls in high school because of the Dallas Cowboys. I worshiped Larry Brown and Charley Harraway. Larry Brown was my absolute idol. He was the toughest running back I ever saw."
On injured reserve with the Philadelphia Eagles, Jenkins stood in the end-zone stands at Super Bowl XVII in January 1983, madly beckoning John Riggins to the goal line on his 43-yard fourth-quarter run that beat the Miami Dolphins.
Growing up in Wheaton, he helped his father make an extra buck stripping and waxing floors on Sunday afternoons in offices in suburban Maryland. They always brought a radio.
"Run the buffers, listen to the score," Jenkins said.
He was a fan, and still is. The only difference is, now, he gets paid to be one.
"The fanaticism here," he says of Washington, "is something to behold."
The way Jenkins' life has gone the last couple days, it's as if he ran 95 yards into a city's heart last Sunday in the Redskins' 30-23 victory over Pittsburgh.
As of yesterday morning, the Redskins' kick returner, fifth in the NFC in kickoff returns and fourth in punt returns, had done two radio shows and one TV show, and was scheduled for a second. But he had to run. He didn't want to be late for a luncheon.
He smiled. He loved it. In many ways, every step of his opening kickoff return and his 197 total yards Sunday left him farther from the personal wasteland of doing well, but not doing great.
"That was a long time coming," Jenkins said.
In a 2 1/2-year, three-stop career, he had not had a kick return so long. It's a Redskins record: the longest kick return that didn't go for a touchdown. But it set up the Redskins at the three-yard line for a 7-0 lead in the first 96 seconds of a game they desperately needed to win.
The team said the return was the difference in the game. Yet perhaps the best reactions came from his family back here.
His mother had to take a blood-pressure pill to calm down. His 27-year-old sister Roxanne, who runs a dance studio in the District, called home crying because she missed it.
And his father told him "he jumped up and down and ran all the way down the field with me," Jenkins said.
"No more floors on Sundays," said the son. "He keeps his Sundays free now."
Jenkins, a 26-year-old business administration graduate (in four years) from Bucknell, has not been a football player someone absolutely had to have.
Out of Landon, a private school in Bethesda where his father sent him to be pushed academically, he had no scholarship offers.
He applied to Bucknell, got in and received a grant that didn't increase with inflation. He played football and did well (he was third-team college-division all-America as a junior), but didn't expect anything from it.
He pictured himself managing a bank somewhere by his mid-20s.
"When I played sports, I was just playing 'em to get developed," he said. "I had no goals to go to the pros. I did it just to play."
As luck would have it -- and there's a healthy dose of luck in Jenkins' life story -- a scout and a coach for the Eagles took notice when he ran back two kickoffs for touchdowns in a scrimmage.
An undrafted free agent, he had an offer to join the Redskins, but turned it down because all-pro Mike Nelms still was around.
So he signed with the Eagles, negotiating his contract.
"I did a pretty good job," he said. "I got more than the minimum, but, for the next time, I got an agent."
After starting as the seventh running back in camp, he worked his way to the second-to-the-last preseason game before breaking his toe and spending the 1982 strike season on injured reserve. He came back in 1983 and was cut. For four weeks, he waited at home, hoping another team would call.
He called his mother during that time. "I can't believe I've got to prove myself all over again," he said he told her.
"Son," she answered, "you are going to work the rest of your life anyway, so you might as well get used to it."
The Detroit Lions finally picked him up. He played most of two years there, a little as running back, a lot as return man, and caught the Redskins' eye with a 43-yard punt return in their '83 game.
"You're a good special teams player," Redskins special teams coach Wayne Sevier told Jenkins, the Lion.
As Jenkins later told Redskins running backs coach Don Breaux, "You know where I want to be anyway."
New Detroit Coach Darryl Rogers wanted Alvin Moore, who played for him in college, to run back punts and kicks this season.
So Jenkins was on the streets again, picked up a week later by the Redskins, who were not satisfied with Michael Morton. Ironically, Jenkins became Nelms' replacement.
"When I heard the Redskins were interested in me, I lit up," he said. "I was just getting used to playing away from home, and then I came back. When I told my Mom, she said she was so glad I could play for someone like Joe Gibbs.
"I said, 'Mom, how do you know about Joe Gibbs?'
"She said, 'I always watch his show.' "
Now Gibbs is talking about her son. Jenkins has not fumbled in a regular-season National Football League game. The Redskins love his rampaging, up-the-middle running style, which he says he learned in Wheaton Boys Club ball in 1969 and hasn't forgotten. That and 4.5 speed will get you far in pro ball.
But Jenkins only wants to go far on the field. Otherwise, he is right at home. At home.
He was speaking of his sudden success. "It's worth nothing unless you have someone to share it with," he said. "And I do."