They came in a van -- not a bus -- and they left in one piece.

What was once the Washington Redskins replacement team is now simply the Washington Redskins, a merger that went rather smoothly yesterday.

A Redskins zealot's wildest dreams came true -- Jay Schroeder throwing deep to Anthony Allen; Neal Olkewicz standing next to Dan Benish in the defensive huddle. Coach Joe Gibbs never told them to be nice to each other; they just were.

The 17 new replacement players blended in yesterday, and -- honestly -- they had an inkling that would be the case. At their celebration party Tuesday night, regular running back George Rogers was a surprise guest, and he even toasted them with a glass of champagne. In a way, Rogers broke the ice that night, and all that was left for yesterday was a few cold stares.

Such as Dean Hamel staring at his supposed friend, Lionel Vital.

Hamel, a defensive tackle, roomed with running back Vital in 1985. In fact, Vital says Hamel used to be able to cook a mean steak for dinner.

Yesterday, though, Hamel tried having Vital for lunch.

Vital was running around end one time, and Hamel gave him an extra shove out of bounds.


"That was my way of saying hello, know what I mean?" Hamel said later.

"Listen," he continued, "one time, I thought I'd hit him, but I hit {running back} Reggie Branch, instead. I said, 'Oh, sorry, Reggie.' But, oh, yeah, I was gonna chase Lionel down."

When Vital crossed the picket line way back when the NFL strike began, Hamel yelped: "Hey Lionel! Remember me? I was your roommate!"

Well, Hamel admits he isn't exactly treating Vital like an ex-roommate. They didn't speak yesterday.

"I've loosened up a little from before, though," Hamel said. "In a way, {Vital} was right {for crossing} because it gave him another chance. But I'm still not sure if I should talk to him. I roomed with the guy for a year and a half, and I thought he should've honored us. I'm from Detroit, man, which is a union town. My dad worked in the auto industry. But I guess there's no hard feelings."

Vital said he was generally uncomfortable with the surroundings yesterday. "Guys would look at you and then turn their eyes away," he said. "This isn't easy. You can feel the vibes."

He said he will not seek Hamel out and won't ask to be his roommate again.

"I like the guy," Vital said. "I mean, I guess if I run into him, I will {say something}. But you get hurt if you seek people out and end up getting rejected. It's best to just let it happen."

The Redskins gave replacement players their own lockers, although they each had to share. Basically, the replacement players were squashed into the corners of the locker room. For instance, Vital shared with running back Tim Jessie.

There wasn't much elbow room.

"As long as I've got a seat," Vital said.

Some of the regular Redskins were forced to sit next to them, which could've caused a scene. Quarterback Mark Rypien, for instance, sat next to replacement center Eric Coyle, but he was nice enough to say, "Hey, bud."

"I've said hello to a lot of them," Rypien said later. "As long as they don't get in my locker."

In the morning, the replacement players were keeping a list of who had said hello and who hadn't:

Wide receiver Derrick Shepard said receiver Clarence Verdin congratulated him on his 73-yard punt return against St. Louis.

Coyle and guard Darrick Brilz each said Rypien, Dexter Manley and Monte Coleman came up to say, "What's happening?"

Tight end Joe Caravello reported no conversations.

Tight end Craig McEwen said Dwight Garner, Rypien, Rogers and Kelvin Bryant congratulated him on his game against Dallas.

Allen said Bryant, Verdin, Ricky Sanders, Rogers and Doug Williams came by to say: "What's up?"

Of course, some of them missed their old replacement teammates. Allen, for instance, got phone numbers and addresses from a bunch of them at Tuesday night's party.

"You never know when you'll be in their neck of the woods," Allen said.

Benish said: "Shoot, a lot of them want us to go on and win the Super Bowl for them."

When it was time for practice, it was easy to see who was a replacement player and who wasn't.

The replacement guys mostly wore numbers in the 90s. Allen was No. 99; wide receiver Ted Wilson was No. 91; Shepard was No. 90.

And most of them practiced with the scout team. Just a week ago, they were the Redskins; now they were imitating the New York Jets.