It did not start with the Super Bowl and it has not ended with the Super Bowl. What the Redskins are doing to Washington, DC’s residents is becoming a sociological phenomenon.
Of course, all the ingredients for regular hoopla were there. At the start of the season almost no one expected the Washington Redskins’ football team to win the playoffs, much less the Super Bowl. Each step toward stardom found this group of largely free agents labeled “underdogs.” Yet, they won every game but one in the regular season. Then, they won the Big One at Pasadena, coming from behind to finish like a speeding locomotive. And, then, the city of Washington exploded with love, admiration, and vicarious and delirious happiness.
No sooner did Joe Theismann run off the field holding the game’s final football when tens of thousands of Washingtonians went into the streets, by honking car, by motorcycle and by foot. All barriers collapsed. Rich and poor, black and white, young and old, foreigners and natives, the reserved and the uninhibited sang and danced, hugged and shouted together.
To see it is to believe it. An Iranian cabdriver stops in the middle of 20th and L Streets, gets out of his cab and starts jumping up and down on the roof of his car yelling “Redskins, Redskins.” Several American youths joined him on his car. They jump off, and high five it, and hug in a mass dance and fall to the ground. A joyous crowd of 2500 gathers at the corners of 19th and M Streets in the downtown business district, some with painted faces and more doing the Redskins victory dance and Fun Bunch antics.
The Georgetown section of Washington was so impossibly crowded that the police sealed off further traffic, fearing that ambulances would not be able to reach people who might be injured.
The police were having a great time themselves, waving their billy clubs, draping Redskins colors from their antennas, flashing their lights and sounding their sirens briefly in celebration.
One man in his late Twenties exclaimed: “I always wanted to know how it must have felt on V-E day (the end of World War II).” A popular Washington television newsman, Jim Vance, spoke with emotion from Pasadena of his bliss in mingling with some of the 25,000 Washingtonians at the Rose Bowl. If only some of his spirit could linger on, he hoped and mused. Back in Washington, his TV colleague said that the victory brought the powerful and the powerless together.
Almost as quickly as a Mark Moseley kick, the politicians waded into the aura. Ronald Reagan met the team at the airport and jokingly wondered out loud whether he should change his name to Riggins. Congressman Frank Wolfe (R-VA) said the Congress could learn from the Redskins who demonstrated the success of teamwork. There were more such observations before and after the clamorous Wednesday parade for the players up Constitution Avenue in what is turning out to be a weeklong blast of “we’re number one!”
Some overly serious people and cynics may ridicule this as a puerile spectacle. Imagine grown businesses rushing to place exhortatory and congratulatory full, half or quarter page notices in the very expensive Washington Post. Why the opiate even reached them!
The serious people and the cynics miss an important point. The Redskins’ celebration spoke billions of words and feelings by people weary of all those things that separate and depersonalize and divide and alienate and hide them from one another, for no constructive reasons.
Sure professional football is a business with very rough edges. And sure it would have been more profound if some other community event of courage, faith, charity or beneficence had been so charged. But the Redskins will do as a reminder to us that modern society has so much to recover and discover about its own people as people. And an integrated football team embraced by friendly integrated street crowds together symbolized a piece of that discovery, at least when compared with the last time the Redskins were Number One–forty years ago.