The striking Washington Redskins pulled onto Redskin Drive in Mercedes-Benzes, BMWs, Volvos, Blazers and Broncos to set up their picket line yesterday morning. Ten had arrived by 8:55 a.m., when player representative Neal Olkewicz began distributing picket signs. By 9 a.m., the time the picket line went up, 20 strikers were there.
Two hours 15 minutes later, when the team's "picketing practice" was over, 46 players had come and gone. Nine other Redskins never showed up: quarterbacks Doug Williams and Babe Laufenberg, defensive end Dexter Manley, running back George Rogers, cornerbacks Vernon Dean and Barry Wilburn, linebacker Kurt Gouveia and tight end Glenn Dennison. Defensive tackle Dave Butz wasn't there, either, but his wife Candy said her husband had an all-day commitment in Harrisburg, Pa., that was arranged six weeks ago. It was not known why the others didn't participate.
"It's just hard to get some guys out of bed," Olkewicz said, smiling. "As far as I know, all the players are strong supporters of a strike. It's not a sign that they will cross the picket line."
The Redskins, who cast a unanimous voice vote Monday night to go out on strike, spent a peaceful, uneventful morning picketing in front of Redskin Park. They were a curiosity. Fans came to collect autographs. Some spectators even put on signs and walked the line. There were more onlookers than there were strikers. Some of the employes at Potomac Automotive Warehouse across the street put up a sign that read: "Play Football Not Footsie." The players jeered and one of the workers tore down the sign, but it reappeared minutes later.
Olkewicz said the Redskins picketers will be back this morning, presumably between 8 and 9 a.m., awaiting the arrival of a bus that will carry the Redskins' new team of free agents into Redskin Park for their first day of meetings and practice. As of yesterday afternoon, the Redskins had reached verbal agreements with about 55 players, General Manager Bobby Beathard said.
Olkewicz said he did not expect any violence today as the new players enter the park to practice. Redskins officials said they, too, didn't expect any problems, but took precautions yesterday and will take them today, just in case.
A half-dozen police officers sent by Fairfax County patrolled Redskin Drive and set up cones in the street to give the media and the fans more room to watch the picketing. Forty-five police officers were stationed in a nearby office building in case of trouble, according to one source.
Four security guards hired by the Redskins watched the Redskin Park grounds, the field and the offices. The guards and their replacements said they will work around the clock.
At lunchtime, the crowds of spectators grew, but the pickets were gone and there was nothing to see. Nothing, except for the sight of Manley, a Redskins robe over his head, running out of the building into a waiting car with shoes and other items in his hand. There was no explanation for Manley's presence other than that he simply forgot to clean out his locker Monday.
The players who walked the picket line were intent and disciplined as they first began their duty, then seemed to grow bored, tired and hungry as the morning wore on. Some wore sunglasses and held cups of coffee as they walked. Several brought headsets. Running back Timmy Smith came with a boom box. Several wives arrived with donuts and juice, forming a makeshift buffet on the hood of Mel and Karen Kaufman's light blue Mercedes.
"It's a first for us," said injured kicker Jess Atkinson, who walked on his crutches for several minutes before teammate Steve Cox found him a chair so he could sit and prop his cast on a fire hydrant.
"It's not the conditions we're used to," Atkinson said. "We're on the outside now . . . It's not a good situation. No one likes it. But to me, the whole deal is about a free market. I'd imagine every fan in his or her daily life would say they believe in a free market, except in this case. They're with the owners because we're taking their football away. Well, we're taking our football away, too."
The players seemed to enjoy the novelty of their action, but they also were quite serious. Evidence was the picket signs they wore: "On Strike to Honor a Commitment to NFL Players Past, Present, Future," said one. "Justice on the Job, Freedom of Choice Denied NFL Players," said another. "NFL Players Concerned About Safety, Artificial Turf," said a third.
Linebacker Rich Milot, wearing fatigue pants, said he didn't think "players expect to have total free agency . . . To me, it looks like the owners want us to protect them against themselves."
Defensive end Charles Mann lamented the fact that fans seem to be siding with the owners. "The owner makes $700 million a year," he said. "Then he wants people to go and build him a stadium. He's not going to pay a penny for that stadium. He's not going to pay a penny into our pension fund. That's ridiculous."
Owner Jack Kent Cooke, who arrived at Redskin Park just after the picket line broke up, said he sees free agency as "a cause that has very little substance.
"I wonder sometimes if this strike isn't being called to perhaps teach the owners a lesson," Cooke said.
The Redskins owner added he harbored no grudges against his players. "I have great affection for Redskins players," he said. "I just can't get it through my noggin what they are striking about."
Offensive tackle Wally Kleine, the team's second draft pick, has not played a game for the Redskins, but was one of the first players to arrive.
"From Notre Dame to the Redskins to out on strike," Kleine said.
Some players acknowledged that what they were doing "seemed strange."
Said Olkewicz: "It will be even weirder when they bring guys in to take our place. And especially when I see someone out there with my number on."
Guard R.C. Thielemann, in the midst of the second strike of his career, didn't seem happy as he trudged along the sidewalk in front of the park.
"The coaches want us to be playing," he said. "The owners want us to be playing. We want to be playing. Why aren't we playing?"
At RFK Stadium in Southeast Washington, work crews were busy preparing the playing field following heavy rains last week and a soldout rock concert Sunday by the group U2. But it was still unclear whether stadium operations would be affected by the strike, as other union groups still had not taken a formal position on the players' action.
Some union officials said they were disappointed that the players had not yet asked for their support.
James Dalrymple, general manager of the D.C. Armory Board, which operates the stadium for the D.C. government, yesterday said he planned to have the stadium ready for a scheduled Oct. 4 game between the Redskins and the St. Louis Cardinals.
Potentially hardest hit by the strike are about 600 vendors who earn extra money selling items at Redskins games.
Minor Christian, president of the Food and Beverage Union Local 32, which represents the vendors, said union executives had not decided what to do about the players strike. Christian said he was disturbed that player representatives have not consulted with vendors about honoring the players picket line, unlike the NFL strike five years ago.
"I am sympathetic to the struggle and certainly we support them," Christian said. "But I think they owe us the courtesy of sitting down with us and letting us know what the situation is."
Washington Post staff writer Patricia Davis and special correspondent Steve Berkowitz also contributed to this report.