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The WaPo Finds Beckham

Note: This was written by the Style section's Marissa N. Newhall. Some version of this will appear in tomorrow's paper, but we're being all forward-thinking now and sharing our most important news with you as soon as we have it.

It's 11:34 p.m. in D.C. Do you know where David Beckham is?

He's not at Play Lounge near Dupont Circle. William Dennett, a financial planner from Arlington, sips an Amstel Light and checks his watch, scanning the patrons undulating on the dance floor.

"I think people are starting to realize," Dennett says, that Beckham won't be making an appearance.

Not everyone appears to share Dennett's pessimistic sentiments. A tall, blonde gentleman in Beckham's trademark number seven English national team jersey sits in a corner with a companion, sipping champagne and looking expectant. A sudden burst of whistling and shouting punctuates the DJ's pulsing remix of "Heaven is Place on Earth" and legions of heads turn toward the door. Could it be? ... No, it's not. The room's palpable anticipation rockets up another notch.

Play's intimate, guest-list only bash was one of at least three D.C. events billed as after-parties for Thursday's soccer match between DC United and the LA Galaxy, home team of British soccer star and recent U.S. import Beckham -- known just as well for his winsome physique as for his soccer skills. Indebleu in Chinatown hosted a second party, billed as "mostly D.C." and not overtly advertising a Beckham appearance. A third party at Lima on K Street -- sponsored by the Web site of D.C. United defender Bobby Boswell -- was heavily promoted, with 450 expected guests as of Thursday afternoon. All three claimed some degree of star clout (Play's event was co-hosted by the girlfriend of an LA Galaxy player), promising guests their night would be well worth the price of admission.

But which party would Beckham choose? Would he show at all? Or would he ditch his teammates in favor of partying with Beyonce, fresh from her Thursday night performance at the Verizon Center and also out on the town?

It's now 12:10 a.m. and Beckham Watch continues. Rain pours outside and the music thumps on. Still no sign of Becks. Dennett says he's not disappointed. Since he likes Play Lounge for its fun, young crowd, he would have been there with or without the promise of celebrities.

12:35 a.m. Spirits seem to flag as the bathroom line snakes around next to the bar. Daniel Olanrewaju, an eye doctor from Silver Spring, says he loves soccer but could care less about Beckham -- Barcelona is his team. Back near the dance floor, the Beckham-jerseyed lookalike sips more champagne, looking unimpressed. Some people check their watches, looking ready to leave.

And then, around 1 a.m., it happens so quickly almost no one notices: A side door by the dance floor opens. Several athletic-looking men shuffle in quietly with burly bodyguards and some Play bouncers. The group is ushered swiftly to a roped off area and the bodyguards position themselves to block the new arrivals from public view.

The dance floor clears and the bar is abandoned. Patrons stand on chairs and crane their necks to get a look. General confusion sets in. There's the Galaxy's Cobi Jones, as well as Chris Klein, Abel Xavier and DC United's Marc Burch. And that other guy, in the jeans, baseball cap and thin gray sweater -- "That's Beckham," Olanrewaju asserts cooly, and he's right.

In mostly quiet reverence, clubgoers form a fortress around the players and their bodyguards, watching them mix drinks and chat with a few lucky ladies and gents allowed inside the ropes. Several variations of "BECKHAM IS HERE" are hastily texted on open cell phones, triumphant electronic emblems of, thankfully, picking the right party. Beckham is escorted across the club to the bathroom, shaking hands and smiling along the way. The palpable anticipation has turned to palpable astonishment: Why hasn't anything exploded? Or the planets realigned? David Beckham is here!

The footballer retreats to his alcove and the drama subsides. Later, a few people turn to the man in Beckham's national team jersey. Was it worth the wait?

"That's not him," he says, shaking his head in disbelief and returning to his bottle of champagne. Indeed, being in the presence of a superstar is difficult to grasp once one realizes celebrities, too, are only human.

The surreal moment of Beckham's entrance lasts through the remainder of the party, spilling out into the rainy D.C. streets with frantic phone calls to friends ("Beckham was there and we tried to say hi to him once and we made eye contact with him twice!"). Yet some people remain nonplussed.

"I would hate to be him," Olanrewaju says. "He can't just sit down and have a good time."

By Dan Steinberg  |  August 10, 2007; 2:25 PM ET
Categories:  D.C. United  
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