The real battle of the titans: Which of our local editors could be the most persuasive about why his or her National Football League team (or one of them) is on its way to hoisting this season’s Super Bowl trophy? With two to choose from, Gotham’s Randall Lane has the playbook advantage. Boston’s Josh Passell, however, has that not-so-little-thing called incumbency. (That means his team won the Super Bowl last season.) And DC’s Karen Feld? Well, she’s as tenacious as the Congressional Budget Office in making her case.
Win or lose, Washingtonians are committed to the Redskins. The team, celebrating its 70th anniversary season, has sold out its games since the 1960s. “There’s at least a generation wait for season tickets,” says Redskins Senior Vice President Karl Swanson. Those lucky enough to secure tickets must sign a contract agreement that the tickets will remain in their immediate families; they are willed to children and hotly contested in divorce settlements. “My ex-wife wouldn’t sign the divorce decree unless she got the tickets,” says former Redskin (and Giant) linebacker Sam Huff, named one of the Redskins’ 70 greatest players and now a radio broadcaster for the team.
Former newsman Bernard Shaw says he regrets not standing in line at old RFK Stadium to get on the waiting list in the late 1960s when he first came to D.C. My salvation now is Dan’s friendship,” says Shaw, who is a regular guest in Daniel Snyder’s coveted box at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland. Other friends who have been tapped for those prime seats include newscasters Chris Wallace and Chris Matthews, and newsmakers such as former National Security Advisor Sandy Berger, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of Defense Bill Cohen, Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld, columnist and former congressman Jack Kemp, Rep. Connie Morella, and astronaut and former Sen. John Glenn.
“A seat in the owner’s box is more prized than a seat in the Gallery for the State of the Union [address],” says Virginia’s Sen. George Allen, son of the late former Redskins coach of the same name and another frequent guest in the owner’s box. The VIPs snack on lobster and champagne, but the mood, Allen says, depends on how the team is playing on the field. He’s glad the team isn’t like the Senate: “No one would play on the line; no one would play center; they’d all be quarterbacks. The kickoff would be late and the game would go on and on.”
When Snyder bought the team in 1999, he spent money on players who wouldn’t play together. “Snyder increasingly understands what Washington is about — power, not money,” says former magazine publisher Bill Regardie. “It’s about having three Pro Bowl linebackers on one team.” The clear, precise management style of Snyder is similar to that of a powerful politician. “There is an understanding that the job will be done,” says Regardie. “just as the president will accept no excuses, neither will Snyder.”
Fans and insiders alike are optimistic that after a several years of mediocrity, the team under new head coach Steve Spurrier will make this season’s playoffs. But Snyder is the key, with his passion to win and determination to assemble the best available players to do it.
Whereas the late team owner Jack Kent Cooke, known for his eccentricity, would wine and dine you, Snyder’s style is all business, and insiders say he prefers a coach, like Spurrier, who will stand up to him and speak his mind. Spurrier, who keeps a copy of philosopher Sun-Tzu’s book The Art of War on his desk, promises an imaginative and flamboyant offense, while on the other side of the ball, new assistant coach/defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis will keep the game close.
Let’s hope so. The Redskins are such a unifying force in D.C., with the fan base crossing party lines as well as social strata, that the mood of the city each Monday invariably reflects what happened on Sunday.