SAN DIEGO, JAN. 31 -- They came from Alexandria and all over the Northern Virginia area. They'd probably be Washington Redskins fans in other times. But tonight, with Alexandria's own Tony Lilly playing safety for the Denver Broncos -- the same Tony Lilly who wore a Redskins uniform when he competed in the NFL punt-pass-kick competition half a lifetime ago -- they came to root for the Broncos.
Not only did his team get destroyed for the second straight Super Bowl, this time 42-10, but time after time, the homefolk saw Lilly racing forlornly after Ricky Sanders, Timmy Smith, or some other Redskin streaking for the goal line.
There's no sense in blaming Lilly, a safety, for specific troubles or missed assignments in tonight's game because there was enough blame to go around. The Broncos were beaten so often, so badly, that the coaching staff didn't even know which defensive players were at fault.
"We have to see the films," was the answer offered by just about every coach and player unfortunate enough to be affiliated with the Denver defense.
On Washington's first touchdown, Lilly started a familiar chase scene. Doug Williams threw for an 80-yard score to Sanders. Denver cornerback Mark Haynes was responsible for the receiver in man-to-man coverage. But Lilly was the last man to have a shot at catching Sanders and he couldn't.
Two series later, Lilly gave chase again, with barely time to catch his breath from the previous outbreak. Redskins running back Smith went 58 yards, the last 10 or so after flying past Lilly on the Redskins sideline.
On the next Redskins series, Williams hit Sanders again, this time on a 50-yard pass. Lilly chased in vain again. "I think we all bit on the run fake, and they just caught us," Lilly, a Woodbridge High School graduate, said.
Before too long into the second half, Lilly took himself out of the game, reluctantly, because he suffered what he later called, "a hip-flexor" injury. "I was hurting the team too much to stay in the game," he said. "The best thing for me to do was come out."
This actually could have been the day that Lilly reclaimed, for good, his starting free safety spot. He started seven of the first eight games, but lost the job in late November. Injuries in the Denver secondary forced veteran Mike Harden to move to strong safety, putting Lilly back as the starter at free safety.
But this defensive performance was not the kind of thing to put anyone in the frame of mind to talk about job security. The only good news was that nobody else in a Denver uniform played well enough to make Lilly worry.
"We just never knew what the Redskins were going to do after they went ahead," he said. "We had to worry about the play fakes because Smith had burned us so much. And that gave the receivers extra time to get open, which they took advantage of. It was just a really bad situation to be in."