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Michael Westbrook cut a depressed and depressing figure when the doors on his silly/gorgeous Lamborghini swung openverticallyand he stepped into the Jack Kent Cooke Stadium parking lot three hours before kickoff.
Nothing about Westbrook hinted that this would be his finest day as a Redskin. Wearing a sweat suit and a frown, he stared only at his feet and the fresh pavement on his way to the locker room. He walked past several players who’d been caught by autograph hounds. None of the hounds blocked Westbrook, however. Out of uniform, the willowy and physically graceful Westbrook looked more like a dancer than a football player, but these early birds surely recognized himhis picture has appeared in newspapers and on local TV more than anybody else’s ever since he did you-know-what to you-know-whom. Nonetheless, fear or good taste kept the signature seekers away. No teammates made an effort to catch up with him, either. So Westbrook entered the stadium alone and lonely.
By game’s end, of course, everything but the look on his face was different. Almost everybody in Raljon wanted a piece of Westbrook then. One play, and everybody but Westbrook was ready to let bygones be bygones. The receiver, for whatever reason, doesn’t appear ready to drop the past.
Just seconds after he made the game-winning catcha grab so athletic that only three or four guys in the entire league could have made itsome of the same teammates who clearly hadn’t wanted¼ to be seen as a part of his entourage only a few hours earlier now raced each other to the end zone to pile on top of him. (Stephen Davis didn’t jump on the burgundy and gold heap; after the touchdown, the victim of Westbrook’s televised beating joined another mass, a prayer circle in the center of the gridiron.)
Westbrook’s relationship with management underwent a miraculous thaw, too. Norv Turner joined the end-zone pile with a huge smile. Charley Casserly waited for the suddenly former black sheep in a runway outside the players’ showers, then corralled him there. The general manager, in a suit and tie, put his hands on the wide receiver’s wide shoulders and whispered something in his ear. Westbrook, nude and wet, looked uncomfortable with the encounter but at least feigned attention.
A stadium security guard who was stationed by Westbrook’s locker told all reporters that the player wouldn’t be doing individual interviews; instead, he’d be making a group statement in a room across the hall after he got dressed. No other Redskin got a personal sentinel or hired help to hold off the press.
At his locker, Westbrook made it clear he was in no hurry to accommodate those members of the media who’d followed the guard’s directions. Newborn babies can dress themselves quicker than Westbrook did.
But most reporters, even those on deadline, waited and waited some more for a chance to question the day’s unquestioned star. They almost didn’t get one: When he finally arrived at his own press conference decked out in a handsome new business suit, a gloomy Westbrook read a brief, wholly synthetic statement dedicating his big catch to John Kent Cooke, his teammates, and the Redskins’ fans. He’d mentioned those very same parties and used the same somber tones a few weeks ago at his last press conference, the one called so he could apologize for all his wickedness. Though this conference was called to discuss what should have been a happy matter for the player, after reading the statement he announced that he wasn’t talking to the media. Just as he did at his last press gathering.
Westbrook changed his mind and went back to the podium when a Redskins PR man yelled, “Take some questions!” at him from the back of the room, but the boycott threat sufficiently stymied the press. Only softballs were lobbed his way. If there was any unpleasantness involving Westbrook during training camp, it wasn’t mentioned. (For reporters, the only levity in an otherwise tense and unpleasant assembly came when Westbrook named Cardinals defensive back Aeneas Williams as somebody he’d “been beating bad all day.”) After being asked essentially nothing and responding in kind, he left the interview room and headed for the parking lot.
Everybody Westbrook passed along the way tried to get a word or an embrace in. A reporter from WHFS got a huge brushoff. A Washington Post columnist gave a long hug. Gus Frerotte’s wife yelled, “Thank you,” apparently for the much-needed boost the receiver gave her husband’s paltry QB rating with his touchdown catch.
Westbrook tried to creep past Turner, who was lingering just inside the stadium exit with his family, but stopped when the coach spotted him and yelled his name. The two hugged, and Turner, seeing his team’s hero so melancholy, looked to be on the verge of uttering something soothing or profound. But after noting that he and Westbrook were hardly alone, Turner instead just told the player to go back to Redskin Park and wait for him there.
Fans in the parking lot also wanted access. But Westbrook blew them off just as they’d blown him off in the morning. With the help of three security people, he avoided making any more stops. At 5:30 p.m., he got back into his Lamborghini.
“Why you actin’ like you dropped a ball to lose the game?” yelled a middle-aged guy wearing a ragged T-shirt from the Redskins’ 1987 championship team. “You won the game! You caught the ball! Man, you got an attitude problem!” Westbrook ignored the taunt.
The guards cleared a path out of the lot just for Westbrook. He touched the gas pedal and shot out of the lot, but before he’d traveled 20 yards, the sleek receiver ran smack into the same traffic jam so many fans got caught in. The burgundy-and-gold-clad passengers in the minivan looked down on the sulking superstar stuck behind them with nowhere to go. The Lamborghini’s chassis sat six inches off the ground, but its driver, even after the best day of his career, seemed to be riding even lower than that.Dave McKenna