They are the sons of their fathers and mothers, to be sure, but they are also the sons of Spokane (spo-CAN, please, so as not to rhyme with cocaine). If they are the city's claim to fame, then the city has staked a claim on their fame, as well. When you get right down to it, Spokane is a city of 177,000 Fred MacMurrays, each one boasting of My Three Sons.
"I think we have three of the classiest athletes around in you, John Stockton and Ryne Sandberg," says a middle-aged man at the Spokane Youth Sports Bingo Hall, where Rypien is signing autographs at a card show. "Could you sign that To Brad, from Mark?"
The city has 13 high schools, and Sandberg graduated from one of them (North Central, class of '78), Stockton from another (Gonzaga Prep, class of '80) and Rypien from a third (Shadle Park, class of '81). So practically everyone in town knows a famous athlete, or at least knows someone who knows one.
Take this guy, for instance, the guy at the head of the line of autograph seekers, this bald guy who is no taller than a tackling dummy. He is describing to Mark—who goes 6'4" and 235 pounds—the time when he sacked Rypien in a high school football game, just decked him, over at Joe Albi Stadium on the northwest side. Must've been Mark's senior season at Shadle. Remember that? "Remember!" says Mark, wincing as he vividly recalls a sack that never happened. "My ribs are still hurting from that one...."
Of the three boys, Rypien is the youngest and the newest to fame. He cannot yet say no to anyone asking for anything. Can I have an autograph? Would you swing by the hospital? Could you say a few words to the school kids? Remember that time I sacked your sorry butt? To everyone, he says, "You bet."
He signs 1,200 autographs in 10 hours over two days at the card show, lining his pockets with nothing but ink stains. He is, bless him, not getting paid for this. Rypien's brothers, Tim, 28, and David, 24, more or less volunteered Mark for the event, and now they fear for his future as a quarterback. "I hope he doesn't get carpal tunnel syndrome," says Tim, eyeing the long, slow-moving line. What is Mark doing up there? He's chatting with people? Posing for Polaroids'? Asking Mrs. Riggs how her daughters are doing? He'll never get through this....
"He loves Spokane," says Tim. "He loves coming back here, whether he had a bad year or he won the Super Bowl. There's more to life for Mark than making money and being a jerk to people."
Fame still has that new-car smell to him. Though Rypien was drafted by the Redskins out of Washington State University in 1986, he spent his first two seasons in D.C. on injured reserve, missed much of 1988 with a shoulder injury and sat out part of 1990 with a sprained left knee.
Before he was a Super Bowl MVP, Mark Rypien was a two-time football team MVP at Shadle, a baseball team MVP there, a two-time basketball team MVP and MVP of the state high school basketball finals in Seattle. Lord knows he can spell MVP by now, but whenever someone asks Rypien to affix the letters to his signature on his 8 x 10 Redskins glossy, he politely refuses. "I'll sign it World Champions," he says, invariably winning over his marker-wielding stalker. "How's that? There you go. Now let that dry, so it doesn't smear...."
World Champions. It's really only in the last year or two that people have been following him down the cereal aisle at the Safeway near his home in Reston, Va.—where he lives with his wife and two daughters—to see whether Mark Rypien goes for the Cap'n Crunch or the Count Chocula. And it has only been since January, when he threw for 292 yards and two touchdowns in the Redskins' 37-24 dismantling of Buffalo in the Super Bowl, only since he informed the world of his plans to vacation in Orlando, only since he chatted up David Letterman in New York...only since then that he can no longer go anywhere unrecognized.