The true magic of the NASL was that it made big time professional sports accessible on a level most other leagues had long since outgrown. I met Gary Darrell at the JC Penny's in Congressional Plaza on Rockville Pike and played penny soccer with Paul Cannell at Bloomingdale's in White Flint Mall. The thought of the Redskins or Bullets sending out players to make personal appearances such as these would have been laughable.
Perhaps the best tale of a young fan and the local heros comes from Bill Judd:
“I was just a fan, like many, that began to
follow the team at RFK when my cousin scored free tickets to the Dips-St. Louis
Stars game (1977) from the Advertiser coupon publication he delivered in Silver
Spring, MD. My uncle took three of us to the game, and we were all instantly
hooked. I also got my first look at Big Mike Ayers, who beat his drum, and got
the small crowd to cheer ''Let's Go Dips'', as he paraded around the stadium.
I wasn't able to go to too many
games (being a junior high student, I had to get lucky enough to be included
for a game by my uncle, who would go to some games on the weekends). I did
continue to follow the team during the seasons, and even went to some of the
indoor games at the DC Armory.
Then it happened. Big Mike Ayers disappeared.
I think this was in '79, and the lack of his presence really took something
away from the game day experience at RFK. So, I borrowed my cousin's tambourine
that had a drum head on it, and beat it from my seat at one of the games. To my
amazement, many fans around us joined right in, and I was encouraged to get up
and move around (actually, I think some were hoping to get some relief from the
drum beats I was pounding close to them).
After a few games of this, I was
approached by Steve Markowitz, a marketing staffer with the Dips (I loved that
round soccer ball business card he gave me when he introduced himself), who
asked to meet me and discuss joining the team as a cheerleader. I was floored.
I told him I'd call, and I then ran right to my uncle Milton Rowland with this
news, and he told me, ''You made it''. A few days later, my uncle drove me to
the Dips offices at the stadium, and we met with Steve, and Diana Mergen of the
Dips, and I was offered a position with the team for game day. I never drew
pay, but I was given free tickets to games, and was also given a Dips shirt with
a white collar. My uncle took me shopping for a Remo RotoTom drum with the best
drum head - just like Big Mike had used (the Dips reimbursed my uncle for the
I enjoyed beating that drum, and
made many friends during the time I led cheers for the team. My best memory was
from the Dips-Cosmos game that drew 53,000 to RFK, and I did my best to get the
upper and lower decks to cheer for the team.
I would return twice more to beat
that drum for Team America, and finally the second Diplomats (that moved to DC
for one season from Detroit (Express). After they folded, that was the end of
the NASL in DC.”
Judd was good enough to be recognized twice in the local press, once in The Washington Post. Thanks for sharing your experience, Bill!