The biggest disappointment and most conspicuous absence in the Sheraton Washington ballroom last night: The Fridge wasn't there.

William (The Refrigerator) Perry, the Chicago Bears' 300-some-pound defensive tackle/sometimes running back and the recipient of a special Timmie Award because of his "versatility on the football field," didn't make the Touchdown Club's 51st annual awards dinner.

But Perry's heralded teammate Walter Payton showed up, eventually, and stole much of the limelight that had fallen upon Manute Bol. The 7-foot-7 Washington Bullet received a thunderous round of applause and spent the better part of the early evening signing autographs and posing for pictures.

More than 1,600 were on hand to honor high school, college and pro athletes and teams plus a handful of special guests, area native Goldie Hawn included.

Hawn, star of a new film entitled "Wildcats" in which she plays a football coach, was to present Wildcats jerseys to Payton, Perry and New York Jets quarterback Ken O'Brien. But the actress saved her witty remarks for Payton, who flew here by private jet despite being a little ill with flu.

"In addition to being the best running back in the history of the NFL," Hawn said, "Walter's cuter than Eric Dickerson."

Payton thanked Hawn for her glowing introduction before pledging to give the city of Chicago a Super Bowl championship.

"You did good, Goldie," Payton said before departing immediately back to the airport. "I hope you have a little running back (referring to Hawn's pregnancy). The most exciting thing about being here was meeting Goldie Hawn. I was overwhelmed by the brotherhood and down-to-earth people here. Now we have to win that big one."

Begging for equal time, Billy Sullivan, owner of the Bears' Super Bowl opponent New England Patriots, said his "team is not planning to go to New Orleans to lose."

Penn State was honored as NCAA Division I-A college football team of the year and its Joe Paterno as coach of the year.

"Hey, I don't suffer from any illusions of grandeur," Paterno said. "It's nice to be part of this affair and be honored, but I'm realistic enough to know who really won the award . . . Maybe on another night [than Jan. 1, when Oklahoma defeated Penn State and displaced the Nittany Lions as No. 1] it might have been different . . .

"Sorry I have to run but I have 10 kids on campus waiting for me. Important as this award is to me, those high school athletes mean more."

Other out-of-towners honored included the Cincinnati Bengals' Eddie Brown, University of Miami quarterback Vinny Testaverde and Oklahoma lineman Tony Casillas.