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When They Were Champs: The '78 Bullets

(TWP file photo)

To help us get through the slow-as-Jansen summer blogging season, each Thursday until Skins training camp begins I'll post a little something from The Post archives concerning a past DMV championship moment. Since we're starting in the week the NBA title was decided, I figured I should start with June 9, 1978, and this highly entertaining story from that day's A1. Memories and requests for future championship moments are welcomed.

Largest Dulles Crowd Welcomes Bullets; NBA Champions Serenaded by Two 'Fat Ladies' at Dulles
By Betty Cunniberti and Blaine Harden, Washington Post Staff Writers

Approximately 8,000 people, including at least two fat ladies, gathered at Dulles Airport yesterday to give an emotional welcome to the National Basketball Association champion Washington Bullets.

The area's first major professional championship team in 36 years returned from a victorious seventh game in Seattle to be greeted by the largest crowd ever at Dulles.

Security officer Carl Day, obviously more dizzied by the crowd's enthusiasm than its size, said, "I would have been insulted if they hadn't shown up. This is what the Bullets played for."

The button-wearing, sign-bearing fans of all ages were treated to a glimpse of the players and little more. Cheers drowned out the brief speeches broadcast by a largely ineffective public address system.

Bullet Coach Dick Motta wore a T-shirt bearing the motto he made famous throughout the area: "The opera isn't over 'til the fat lady sings," a slogan he employed to encourage his underdog team and its fans.

The Bullets' advertising agency brought a "fat lady" to the airport, a 27-year-old Betty Clark, clad in a plunging yellow gown, a Wagnerian horned hat, sword and shield.

But when the first members of the charter flight walked into the gate area, roar spread through the airport. Clark stepped to the microphone and sang "God Bless America." When the fat lady finally sang for the Bullets, no one could hear her.

The reception became even more complicated when Barry Silberman, the director of operations at Capital Centre, walked into the terminal with Bullet owner Abe Pollin wearing a silk shirt, plastic breasts, tennis shoes, a Bullet jersey, a blond wig and horn-rimmed glasses.

Silberman is not fat, nor is he a lady. But he did sing for the Bullets Wednesday night in Seattle, and decided to give an encore performance at the airport, thus giving the Bullets more than enough fat ladies for the occasion.

Not everyone at Dulles was buoyant over the celebration. Don Meck, chief of operations at the airport, said the timing of the team's arrival "couldn't be worse. They're coming right in the middle of our peak." Meck said he found out on Wednesday afternoon that the Bullets would be landing at Dulles, rather than Baltimore Washington International their usual airport. His reaction, he said, was unprintable.

Parking lots normally overflow during the peak periods so Dulles officials opened additional lots far from the terminal and allowed Bullets fans to park free.

The crowd dispersed at approximately 5:45 p.m., creating a massive traffic jam, complicated by the rush-hour flow.

The longer the Bullets milled about the airport, the louder and pushier the crowd became. The 20 Virginia State Police called in to assist 35 airport police had to lock arms and brace themselves to hold the crowd back from the Bullets.

Linda Bobb, a medical secretary from Laurel, fainted and was trampled in the rush. She was treated at the airport and released with no apparent injury. It was the only such reported incident.

Officials feared a serious accident when fans began climbing onto the tops of two marquee overhangs to get a better view of the Bullets. The marquees are built primarily to display flight times not to hold any great weight. The people were asked to get down, but only a few complied.

The only damage to the airport occurred at the marquees, where some flaps, which announced flights were ripped off as people grabbed onto them to climb up and down.

Dexter Davis, the airport manager, said "There was no malicious 'damage'.

There were signs and banners stating every imaginable thing ("Happiness is stuffing a Sonic"), but the biggest cheer went up for Elvin Hayes, the veteran star forward.

"E! E! EEEEE!" the fans squealed.

"His foot I saw Elvin Hayes' foot," screamed one woman.

Hayes was emotional and somewhat at a loss for words.

"It's just a tremendous feeling," said Hayes, "to know you're the best in tennis shoes."

Most of the players weaved through the crowd to a bus, as fans grabbed at hats, hands, hair - anything they could reach. Awaiting Kevin Grevey and Mitch Kupchak, who were a cap with Mt. Rainier painted on it, was an $18-an-hour limousine. Inside the lush Lincoln, rented jointly for them by a Washington discotheque and clothing store, the bar was stocked with champagne.

Psychotherapist Erma Caldwell of Reston brought her son, David, to see the Bullets, and one can only assume she was wearing a fat-lady T-shirt because her blouses were in the laundry. "Look at me," she said. "I never thought I'd do something like this."

For Terry Cooksey, who almost got fired after missing two Sundays of work to attend the games at Capital Centre, the championship is "a community thing.

"It's amazing the closeness, the way it's brought people together. Nobody watched that game Wednesday by themselves."

Bob Nash, a meat-cutter from Oxon Hill, said he hasn't slept since the game ended Wednesday night and doesn't plan to until Sunday. Nash said he was 5 years old and holding his father's hand at Griffith Stadium 36 years ago when the Redskins won the last championship for Washington. "The wait," he said, "has been painful."

Some fans were disappointed to have completely missed the Bullets. The charter flight landed a half hour early, because of a tailwind. There were quite a few out-of-towners who had no idea what they had gotten into.

"Some team won something." one confused lady said to another.

When the Bullets' bus finally pulled out, Mike McCleary sighed and popped another beer-can tab.

"There just isn't anything like it. Nothing like the Bullets,' he said.

What about the Redskins?

"Oh, yeah," he said. "Well, almost nothing."

By Dan Steinberg  |  June 18, 2009; 12:29 PM ET
Categories:  Media , Wizards , Yester Look  
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Next: New York Media Responds to Nats Loss


Thanks Dan, great stuff.

Posted by: jacktrickard | June 18, 2009 12:44 PM | Report abuse

Man, how times have changed...a crowd of 8,000 people, and only two fat ladies?

Posted by: EdTheRed | June 18, 2009 12:56 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: Barno1 | June 18, 2009 1:17 PM | Report abuse

Awesome stuff, Steinz. Is "1978 NBA Champions" still on the team's stationery?

Posted by: gocaps2 | June 18, 2009 1:47 PM | Report abuse

my first favorite team. thansk Steinz!

Posted by: bottomfeeders10 | June 18, 2009 2:22 PM | Report abuse

this is great.

I was 9 years old. everyone was excited when Elvin Hayes was in our neighborhood, having dinner at a friend's house.

link to an mp3 of Bullets Fever can be found here:

Posted by: malcolmyoung1 | June 18, 2009 5:37 PM | Report abuse

"Some team won something." LOL

Great article about a great day. Thanks!

Posted by: jake177 | June 18, 2009 9:32 PM | Report abuse

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