One of the many pleasures about being on the eastern end of Long Island at this time of year is that I’m not bombarded every time I turn on a radio or a TV with talk of The Washington Redskins.
To be fair, Washington has improved as a sports town since the arrival of The Nationals, because a baseball team—even a bad one—gives people something to talk about and write about every day from March to October. This year, with signs of hope and the arrival of Stephen Strasburg, there has been interest in the Nats that goes beyond the hard-core baseball fans. Even the usually Redskins-obsessed sportstalk radio hosts in D.C. are willing to talk baseball on occasion.
That’s a major improvement. I still remember going on vacation to Boston in September of 1978. That was the year, of course, of the classic Yankees-Red Sox race that culminated in the Bucky Bleeping Dent one-game playoff won by the Yankees. Being in Boston that week was thrilling. Reading The Boston Globe every morning was fabulous. One Sunday afternoon a friend of mine and I drove to Salem and Gloucester. Along the way we switched back and forth between the Red Sox game and the Yankees game—picking up the Yankees signal on a Connecticut station. I think BOTH teams won in extra innings that day.
When I went back to Washington I walked into sports editor George Solomon’s office. He asked how my week off had been. “It was great,” I said. “The baseball writing in Boston is SO good. You know, it’s sad, you can’t really be a good sports town without a baseball team to write about.”
George went ballistic, told me I didn’t know what I was talking about and banished me from the office. I went back to my desk, picked up the sports section and counted EIGHT Redskin stories. There were brief wire stories on the Yankees and Red Sox. Case closed.
How important were the Redskins then—and now? My friend Terry Hanson was the publicity director in those days for The Washington Diplomats, the NASL soccer team—which was my first beat at The Post. Needless to say ANY publicity from The Post was a big deal for the Diplomats. The Diplomats offices were in RFK Stadium, a few yards away from the press box that was used for both soccer and football. It was just a little bit more crowded on football game days.
One morning Terry was in his office when his secretary came in to say George Solomon was on the phone. Terry practically jumped out of his chair. Maybe The Post wanted to do a long story on new coach Alan Spavin? Whatever it was, this was BIG—the sports editor of The Washington Post was calling HIM.
Hanson picked up the phone. George was almost breathless. This really was BIG he thought. “Terry I need a favor,” George said.
Trying to sound cool, Hanson said, “Well George, if I can arrange something, I’ll certainly try to help. What is it?”
“The Redskins play their first exhibition game tonight. I need to be sure our phone in the press box is working. Can you walk out there and check it for me?”
It was at that moment that it occurred to Hanson that George had probably never HEARD of Alan Spavin.
Even though I’ve lived in Washington since graduating from college, I’ve always felt somewhat adrift because I’ve never been able to wrap my arms around the local teams. I have come to like and enjoy the Capitals even though the Islanders will always be my hockey team—unless they move to Kansas City because the politicians on Long Island refuse to cooperate on a desperately needed new building—and I enjoy any success the Nats have unless it involves beating the Mets. I’m ambivalent about the Wizards because the last time I really cared about the NBA, Willis Reed and Walt Frazier were still suiting up for the Knicks.
Nowadays, with the internet and TV packages, someone like me can easily keep track of the Mets and the Islanders even while living in DC. What’s different being here (Long Island) versus being in DC is simple: the Redskins. Being in DC there is no escaping from them 12 months a year. They are a monolith and they know it, which is one reason why owner Dan Snyder can treat the media with disdain 90 percent of the time and get away with it.
Snyder came onto my radar—sadly—yesterday when I was in my car after hosting Jim Rome from a studio in Southampton and flipped on WFAN, expecting to hear talk about whether the Mets were going to trade for a starting pitcher. Instead, for some reason, the hosts were interviewing new Redskins coach Mike Shanahan.
I was about to hit a button to change the station when one of the hosts asked Shanahan about his decision to go work for Snyder. Look, there are about eight million reasons (a year) why Shanahan went to work for Snyder. Nothing wrong with that. Of course Shanahan wasn’t going to say that so he reverted to the old, “you know no one wants to win more than Dan Snyder,” line.
Almost all owners want to win. Some don’t have the kind of money Snyder has but they all want to win. Snyder wants to win for Snyder; for his ego and for no other reason. Clearly he has no respect for his fans because he has gouged them every chance he’s gotten since day one and last year, when they finally turned on him after 11 years of mis-management, he had his security people treat them like suspicious-looking characters trying to board an airplane.
The Redskins will be better this year—they pretty much have to be after last year’s 4-12 debacle. Donovan McNabb is a clear upgrade at quarterback; they finally drafted a left tackle and made improvements in the offensive line and Shanahan is an upgrade at coach. It finally occurred to Snyder that being the most hated man in Washington wasn’t really a good thing and he has been trying to rehab his image this offseason—staying in the background during free agent signings; talking to the media on occasion (almost always at a charity event so people HAVE to mention that a billionaire is doing charity work as if that somehow makes him a good guy) even jettisoning his long-time pit-bull PR guy who loved threatening the media members with banishment from Redskins Park if they didn’t behave properly.
I know if the Redskins start to win this fall, people in DC will jump back on their bandwagon so fast it will make heads spin. George Steinbrenner went from constantly booed to canonized in New York not so much because he changed—although he clearly did—but because the Yankees became winners. Snyder has none of Steinbrenner’s charm OR his sense of humor. But if his team wins this fall, few in Washington will care.
Maybe I’ll take another vacation in Boston in September.
John's new book: "Moment of Glory--The Year Underdogs Ruled The Majors,"--is now available online and in bookstores nationwide. Visit your favorite retailer, or click here for online purchases