Washington Football, Inc.
Washington Football, Inc.
21300 Redskins Park Drive
Ashburn, Virginia 20147
Telephone: (703) 478-8900
Fax: (703) 729-7605
Web site: http://www.redskins.com
Employees: 100 (1998, est.)
Sales: $151.8 million (1999)
NAIC: 711211 Sports Teams and Clubs; 71131 Promoters of Performing Arts, Sports, and Similar Events with Facilities
Washington Football, Inc. is the corporate entity that owns the Washington Redskins, a National Football League (NFL) franchise that dates back to 1932. After it moved to Washington, D.C. in 1937, the team built a solid fan base that has followed it with persistent loyalty through even its bleakest years. The Redskins have always been privately owned—both individually and by investment groups or other individual or majority-share owners—most notably by Jack Kent Cooke, who gained sole control in 1988. Two years after Cooke’s death in 1997, a group of investors led by Snyder Communications’ CEO Daniel Snyder purchased the team and its home base, Jack Kent Cooke Stadium. Snyder and his group renamed the stadium FedEx Field. The rich legacy of Redskin football itself insures that at least the team’s name will stick, despite efforts by some Native Americans to force the owners to change it. The history of Washington Football, Inc. cannot really be divorced from the Redskins’ fortunes on the gridiron.
1932-1969: The Marshall Era
George Preston Marshall (1897–1969), a native of Grafton, Virginia, was heir to a successful laundry business in Washington. Before he decided to sell it in 1948, he had nurtured it from two units into a very successful, 57-outlet chain.
Marshall had a showman’s flare. In fact, he had tried to carve out a theatrical career in New York beginning in 1914, but he never met with success. Frustrated, he turned his talents to promoting entertainment, and that soon took him into the sports arena. In 1932, with an appetite for more direct involvement in professional athletics, Marshall and three others bought an available National Football League (NFL) franchise—the Boston Braves—for just $1,500.
Marshall and his fellow investors had no real luck in Bean Town, however. They could not get sports writers to give their team sufficient coverage, nor could they begin to fill Fenway Park when the team, renamed the Redskins, moved there in 1933. In Boston, even success on the field did not seem to help pique interest all that much. For example, in 1936 head coach Ray Flaherty led the team to the NFL’s Eastern Division title. The accomplishment did not raise attendance much, however; nor did it stop the decision in 1937 to move the franchise to the nation’s capital. In 1935, the Redskins played to fewer spectators in their last home game than they would draw at their first practice in Washington, D.C. two years later when they relocated there.
By the time the Redskins got to Washington, Marshall had become an outspoken figure in professional football—an incessant talker and ballyhoo artist whose love of spectacle led him to mount legendary half-time extravaganzas. He was a notable character, and something of an eccentric. He loved trains and refused to drive cars, although he did have a chauffeur drive him to games. At the games, invariably, he would wear a raccoon coat. He was also a notorious tightwad, paying his players as little as he could—even stellar players such as Sammy Baugh. He loved football, though, and he repeatedly insisted that football was the real national pastime, not baseball, which he loved to debunk.
Sadly, Marshall also participated in the racist practices which were common in the NFL at the time. For twenty-four years, he refused to sign a single African American player. Because he had become the sole owner of the Redskins in 1935, he was able to get away with the practice. Besides, his team had tremendous support from fans in Washington and the surrounding area, and even from supporters in the upper tier of South-eastern states. In fact, Marshall promoted the Redskins as a regional team, and in the late 1930s developed a strong rivalry with the Chicago Bears that was fraught with sectionalist undertones. That was during the Baugh dynasty, when the Redskins played in Griffith Stadium, which boasted a seating capacity of only 36,000.
The Baugh era was one of the Redskins’ greatest. In a six-season period ending in 1945, the Redskins won 2 NFL championships and 3 Eastern Division titles while compiling a winning percentage of 73.5, the best in the franchise’s history. The team’s fortunes soon began to wane, however, and Baugh continued to pile up impressive individual statistics but never again played on a championship team. He retired in 1952, after 16 seasons with the Redskins.
Aging stars and poor recruitment plagued the Redskins in the 1950s and 1960s. In fact, during those two decades they managed winning seasons in just three years: 1953, 1956, and 1969. It was a poor statistic, considering that many of the team’s players and coaches ended up in the NFL Hall of Fame: Vince Lombardi, Otto Graham, Sammy Baugh, Sonny Jurgensen, Charley Taylor, and Bobby Mitchell.
Mitchell, who came to the Redskins in a 1961 trade with the Cleveland Browns, was the first African American to play on the team. Marshall had finally relented, not from a change of heart—he was a bigot to the end of his life—but because Interior Secretary Stewart Udall threatened to block the Redskins from playing in the new D.C. Stadium that the federal government had paid for. Later named RFK Stadium, the facility could seat 54,000 fans, which was a compelling reason for Marshall to accede to Udall’s demands that he integrate the team.
Some apologists have argued that Marshall’s racism was based more on policy than anything else. He had worked diligently to make the Redskins the south’s team, and many claimed that his racist business practices were simply products of catering to the views many held in the South regarding integration. He had even instructed his coaches, whenever possible, to draft players from southern universities, and he saw to it that the Redskins’ games were broadcast over a network of radio stations in several southeastern cities. Clever strategy perhaps, but it was still believed that he himself held racist views, regardless of the above. For example, when Marshall died in 1969, his will included a provision that none of the funds he provided for child welfare were to go to integrated programs.
Despite Marshall’s bigoted views, his fellow NFL franchise owners admired him. They voted him into the NFL Hall of Fame as a charter member, not just for his celebrated halftime shows and broadcast innovations in radio and television, but for his genuine contributions to the game, including the revision of some of its rules.
In one sense, the Marshall era ended in 1964, when effective control of the Redskins passed from Marshall to Edward Bennet Williams, a Washington attorney. Although Marshall still owned 52 percent of the organization’s stock, he was suffering from heart disease, an aneurysm, diabetes, and emphysema. Williams and two others—Leo DeOrsey and Milton King— were named permanent conservators of Marshall’s estate, and when DeOrsey died in 1965, Williams became president of the Redskins. This occurred despite the fact that Williams’ share of the ownership was considerably less than the 25 percent owned by the franchise’s future majority owner, Jack Kent Cooke.
Although the change of guard brought no immediate change in the Redskins’ fortunes on the field, Williams tried to restore some of the team’s lost glory with some surprise moves. One such move was a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles that brought veteran quarterback Sonny Jurgensen to the team in 1964. In 1969, Williams also talked the great Vince Lombardi into coming out of retirement to coach the team. Jurgensen, although compiling impressive statistics, did not manage to quarterback the Redskins to a winning season until Lombardi took over the coaching reins. In 1969, with 7 wins, 5 losses and 2 ties, the Redskins achieved their first winning season in 13 years.
1970-1990: On the Path to Glory
Hopes for a new winning dynasty dimmed, however, when cancer took the life of Vince Lombardi in 1970. For Jurgensen, Lombardi had been the ideal coach, and he felt the loss greatly. Jurgensen played under Lombardi’s regular successor, coach George Allen, until he retired in 1975. Despite being plagued by injures and playing hurt, he continued to set NFL records until his retirement, leading the Redskins into the playoffs each year and into the Super Bowl in 1972. The team had returned to its winning ways.
Allen worked hard to rebuild the Redskins in the early 1970s. Its offense clicked with Jurgensen’s passing, but its defense was one of the most porous in the NFL, and too often it gave up more points than the offense could score. Allen set out to rectify the problem, trading for veteran players who became known as “The Over-the-Hill Gang.” The defense quickly improved and helped the team to consecutive winning seasons.
After Jurgensen’s retirement, Allen built the offense around Billy Kilmer and his backup, Joe Theismann. However, Allen’s tenure at Washington came to an end in 1977, when he and Williams, who disliked Allen, failed to come to a contract extension agreement. Williams hired Jack Pardee as his new coach and Bobby Beathard as his general manager. By that time, the Redskins’ offense was being led by Joe Theismann and the hard-charging and hard-living fullback, John Riggins.
When the Washington Redskins elected to seek a partner for our stadium name, our goal was to join forces with a globally recognized brand that understood the potential power of the relationship. FedEx was always our number one choice and clearly meets that goal We also sought a partner that shares our long-term vision of what the Washington Redskins stand for in the community. There will be many examples of these standards in the years to come.
Throughout the 1970s, the franchise posted a 91-52-1 record—its first winning decade since the 1940s—and made the playoffs five times, landing in the Super Bowl once. Yet the best was still to come in the 1980s, when, under the control of Jack Kent Cooke and the coaching of Joe Gibbs, the team managed to get into three Super Bowls, winning two of them.
Cooke’s management of the Redskins began in 1979, when, in a $42 million divorce settlement, he sold the Los Angeles Lakers and his interest in other professional teams and moved from California to Virginia. At the time, he owned 85 percent of the Redskins’ stock, and since he no longer owned other professional teams, he was able to take direct control of the Redskins as majority owner.
Cooke set much store in Beathard’s strategies and usually supported him, often over the objections of Jack Pardee, who feuded with Beathard. In early 1981, after the Redskins compiled a poor 3–7 record, Cooke fired Pardee. The team’s performance was partly explained by the loss of its running game—the result of a breakdown in negotiations with Riggins—but Pardee paid the price. With the urging of Beathard, Cooke hired Joe Gibbs, the unheralded offensive coordinator of the San Diego Chargers. Gibbs became the 17th head coach in the franchise’s history. At the same time, John Cooke, Jack Kent Cooke’s son, began serving as the franchise’s executive vice-president and took charge of the day-to-day operations of the Redskins.
Gibbs inherited a team that needed some mending, but one that also boasted some very talented players, including Art Monk, one of the game’s greatest wide receivers. He also cajoled Riggins into returning to the team, although he harbored the hope that he could trade “fruitcake” Riggins at the first opportunity. But Riggins bargained for and got a no-trade clause, which meant that he could not become a pawn in Gibbs’ rebuilding game plans. As it turned out, Gibbs later credited Riggins with having made him famous.
After a shaky 1981 season, the Redskins hit their stride, particularly the offensive unit. In 1982, the tough charge and blocking of the offensive line, “The Hogs,” gave the team the aggressive lift it needed to win, reversing its poor showing of the previous year. It crowned its “miracle season” with a 27-17 victory over the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl XVII. Another trip to the Super Bowl followed in 1983. Although the Redskins lost to the Oakland Raiders, it was a record year for the team. The Redskins had piled up 541 overall points, which remained a NFL record at the century’s end. Joe Theismann also had the best season of his career, passing for 3,714 yards and 29 touchdowns. Riggins, too, logged his best year, running for a team record of 1,347 yards, a mark that lasted until 1996.
Although the Redskins continued to win, by the end of the 1985 season it was clear that some more rebuilding of the team was necessary. The Redskins had a 10-6 record and missed the playoffs that year, in part because of injuries to Theismann and the diminished running ability of Riggins. Age also took its toll, ending the playing careers of both men.
Over the next couple of years, Jay Schroeder quarterbacked the Redskins. In 1986 he led the team to a 12–4 record but failed to get to the Super Bowl when the team’s nemesis, the New York Giants, shut them out in the conference championship game, 17–0. In 1987, however, Schroeder was hurt in the first game of the season and was replaced by his backup, Doug Williams. Competition for the starting position followed. After a players’ strike delayed the showdown, Williams emerged with the laurels and led the team to a 42–10 championship victory over the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl.
The last couple of years of the 1980s saw some important changes for the Redskins. Among other things, in 1988 Jack Kent Cooke gained sole ownership of the franchise after buying the outstanding 15 percent share from co-owner Williams. At the time, Williams was dying of cancer. The following year, Bobby Beathard resigned, ceding his general manager’s job to Charley Casserly. The team was also undergoing some changes—not all good—and in 1988, faltered after Williams suffered acute appendicitis. The Redskins went on to record their only losing season in Gibbs’ 12-year tenure as head coach.
The Redskins rebounded the next year, however, when Mark Rypien won the starting quarterback job from an unhappy Doug Williams and led the team to a 10-6 mark. It was not good enough to get the team into the 1989 playoffs, but it offered a new promise that would be fulfilled two years later when the Redskins once again slugged their way into the Super Bowl.
- Franchise is formed as Boston Braves, with George Preston Marshall as main proprietor.
- Team is renamed the Boston Redskins.
- Marshall becomes sole owner of franchise.
- Under head coach Ray Flaherty, team wins NFL Eastern Division title.
- Franchise moves to Washington, D.C., becoming the Washington Redskins, and Sammy Baugh joins team.
- Marshall finally integrates his team in a trade that puts Bobby Mitchell on the Redskin roster; Jack Kent Cooke buys 25 percent of team.
- Conservators of Marshall’s estate headed by E.B. Williams take control of franchise.
- Marshall dies; Cooke becomes principal owner of Redskins stock but NFL cross-ownership rules prevent him from managing the franchise.
- Coach Vince Lombardi dies and is succeeded by George Allen.
- John Cooke becomes executive vice president and Joe Gibbs replaces Jack Pardee as head coach.
- Jack Kent Cooke gains total control of Redskins.
- Redskins win Super Bowl XXVI by beating the Buffalo Bills, 37–24.
- Coach Joe Gibbs retires.
- Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke dies.
- Group led by Daniel Snyder of Snyder Communications buys team and Jack Kent Cooke Stadium.
1990-2000: From Glory to Hope in a Transitional Decade
1990 marked a winning season, but the Redskins once again failed to make the playoffs. The talent was certainly there, but personnel changes made in the final years of the previous decade had left the team fragmented. Gibbs needed something to make them gel. That “something” was unwittingly provided in 1991 by the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, Buddy Ryan, who unmercifully taunted the Redskins when his players badly mauled the Washington team in an early season game— what became known as the “Body Bag Game.” Gibbs used Ryan’s well-publicized jeering to motivate his team and draw his players together. The result was a trip to Super Bowl XXVI and another national championship, claimed in a 37–24 victory over the Buffalo Bills. It would be the team’s last hurrah of the decade, though.
A year and half later, Gibbs retired, prompting both extensive roster changes and a shakeup of the coaching staff and the management. The team, with the loss of many veteran players, had actually entered a transitional stage before Gibbs’ departure. His retirement just sped the process up and resulted in a couple of feeble seasons—the likes of which had not been seen since the 1960s. In 1993, under new head coach Richie Petitbon, the team went into a tail spin, finishing with a miserable 4–12 record. It never fully recovered.
Petitbon was replaced by Norv Turner, an established coach who offered the promise of being able to rebuild a team that seemed to have run out of good players. It was a tough assignment. In 1994 during his first season as head coach, Turner watched his team play its way to a dismal 3–13 record. From that nadir, there was some upward progress and some excitement, particularly after running back Terry Allen joined the team and quarterback Gus Frerotte won the starting role from Heath Shuler. In 1996, with an exciting run of seven straight victories, the team eked out a 9–7 winning season. Hope briefly returned.
But the next year, when Jack Kent Cooke died, the hope gave way to concern for the franchise’s future. Cooke succumbed to a heart attack on April 6, 1997, never having seen a game played in the stadium he was then building. He had become almost a legend—famous for his brash profanity and bullying manner. He was a shrewd man who loved the game, and his loss simply put rebuilding on hold.
Then, in 1999, a group of buyers headed by 35-year-old Daniel Snyder, CEO of Snyder Communications, purchased both the team and the new Jack Kent Cooke Stadium from the Cooke family. The price tag was $800 million. Although John Cooke remained with the organization as its president, Snyder took active control of the organization. He renamed the new stadium FedEx Field, annoying some of the Redskins’ fans. But he also won their respect when he did not cave in to pressure from Native American groups to change the name of the team. He also encouraged Vinny Cerrato, the director of player personnel, to buy the talent to build a new Redskin dynasty— another dynasty of winners. By the end of the decade, the refurbishing had begun.
Always on the plus side during attempts to rebuild was the tremendous support of the Redskins’ fans. Throughout the Redskins’ history, even in their most dismal slumps, Washington’s fans kept their diehard loyalty. As a result, the organization cultivated excellent community relations and a deep-rooted philanthropic involvement in its host city’s welfare. For example, in 1999, with the sponsorship of the Arthur Anderson Foundation, Washington Football, Inc. organized the Washington Redskins Leadership Council. The council was made up of about 60 community leaders whose mission it was to determine how funds donated by the Washington Redskins could best serve the Greater Washington community. That kind of commitment went way beyond a public relations stratagem; it underscored the strong and persistent bond between Washington’s citizens and their adored Redskins, something few NFL teams can match and most can only envy.
All of the franchised National Football League organizations in the NFL’s two conferences (American and National), especially those located in east coast cities.
Denlinger, Ken, and Paul Attner, Redskin Country: From Baugh to the Super Bowl, New York: Leisure Press, 1983.
Elfin, David, John Keim, and Rick Snider, Hail to RFK!: 35 Seasons of Redskins Memories, Washington, D.C.: 21st Century Online Publishing, 1996.
Epstein, Noel, ed., Redskins: A History of Washington’s Team, Washington, D.C.: Washington Post Books, 1997.
Haggerty, James J., “Hail to the Redskins:” The Story of the Washington Redskins, Washington, D.C.: Seven Seas Publishers, 1974.
Loverro, Thorn, Washington Redskins: The Authorized History, Dallas: Taylor Publishing, 1996.
Schaffer, Athena, “NFL Redskins Owner Cooke Dies at Age 84,” Amusement Business, April 14, 1997.
Slattery, David, The Washington Redskins, Virginia Beach, VA: Jordon & Co., 1977.
—John W. Fiero