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Faithful followers of Washington’s once favorite professional football franchise would be wise not to mark May 25, 2019 on their calendars as any sort of day to celebrate.
That infamous date represents the 20th anniversary of the sale of the Washington football team to Daniel Snyder by the estate of the late Jack Kent Cooke. The $800 million price was an American sports franchise record and was approved that afternoon in Atlanta by a unanimous 31-0 vote of his now fellow owners, many of whom gushed over their new 34-year-old colleague.
It was a virtual love fest as my Washington Post colleague Mark Maske and I stalked a swanky Georgia hotel lobby soliciting reaction from owners like New England’s Robert Kraft.
Kraft described Snyder as “passionate about the game. You don’t have to worry that the new steward of the franchise has anything on his mind but winning…I have a bias for owners who are passionate and will put winning on the field above everything else.”
Fortunately for Kraft, he’s had a far better feel for hiring Hall of Fame head coaches and quarterbacks than he ever did in evaluating ownership talent. Plainly put, Snyder’s tenure as steward of this once proud franchise can best be described by a phrase I’ve been using for most of the last 20 years:
The Daniel Snyder Reign of Error (also co-produced in recent years by team president Bruce Allen).
A 2018 season that held so much promise at 6-3 has disintegrated into disaster, with four straight losses, including last week’s embarrassing 40-16 blowout by the New York Giants. Even worse, fans are staying away in droves, the once massive season ticket waiting list has dwindled to zero and good seats are always available to watch a very bad football team that may not win again this year.
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Yes, crippling injuries have played a major role, but errors still abound. How about that whopper last month when the team signed linebacker Reuben Foster, already suspended by the league for charges of domestic violence.
The Foster signing is simply the most recent part of a distressing pattern that never seems to end under Snyder. Start with the dismal overall record of 138-178-1; no Super Bowl or conference title game appearances, one NFC East division championship, a 2-5 playoff record and five winning seasons.
Then move on to eight different head coaches—including $25 million spent to acquire the Bumbling Ball Coach, Steve Spurrier, and elevating the even more inept Jim Zorn to that job. Then add the ridiculous signings of big-name, over-the-hill busts like Bruce Smith, Deion Sanders, Dana Stubblefield, and Adam Archuletta, who took the millions and ran right to the hot tub; the firing of general manager Charley Casserly, who helped build the ’92 Super Bowl championship team, and eventually hiring incompetent Vinny Cerrato; the firing of Marty Schottenheimer after a single 8-8 season that started out 0-5.
Need more? How about some really despicable stuff?
Remember the totally classless firing of promising general manager, Scot McCloughlan, in March, 2017. The team anonymously trashed him in a Washington Post article on the way out by claiming he had a drinking problem while on the job (he insisted he did not). Why not try to help him instead of showing him the door?
On his very first day of ownership, Snyder vowed never to change the team’s racist name. Sadly, he’s kept that promise while countless other pro franchises and colleges have change their monikers and dropped their offensive logos.
Cantankerous old Jack Kent Cooke made the same declaration during his own tenure. And yet, one former long-time Cooke executive told me a few years ago that JKC was prepared to change the name in the late 1990s, the better to monetize the profits he knew would follow. Sadly, Cooke’s health deteriorated at about the same time, and it never happened.
The day Snyder bought the team, he told reporters that it was “the most wonderful thing that’s ever happened to me. I’m a fan, a huge fan. It’s that simple.I’m not focused on the money, I’m focused on the opportunity and the dream. …You want to win, we want to win, and we’re going to deliver that.”
Sadly, over these last 20 years, it’s so obvious he clearly has focused on the money, and delivered nothing in return, once even suing season ticket holders.
I once wrote in The Washington Post that, “Snyder has taken advantage of his fan base for years with outrageous prices, screaming boobs on the public address system, surly parking attendants and in-stadium ushers and clearly one of the worst fan ‘experiences’ in the league for anyone who braves the maddening traffic to get there.”
The day he bought the team, Snyder graciously, we thought, praised the previous ownership that had produced three Super Bowl championships in the previous ten seasons.
“It’s because of their [Cooke] stewardship that the [‘Skins] have become such a storied franchise,” he said that day. “We really appreciate everything they’ve done and we hope to continue with that.”
Here’s how much Snyder appreciated the Cookes. Within a year, he sold naming rights to the stadium Cooke built and turned Jack Kent Cooke Stadium into FedExField. Over the nearly 20 years since he’s owned the team, not once has Snyder asked Cooke’s son, John Cooke, the former team president who tried and failed to purchase the franchise himself, to join him in the owner’s box to watch a game.
How lucky for John Cooke.
Leonard Shapiro retired in 2011 after 41 years as a sports reporter, editor, and columnist at The Washington Post.
Photo by Keith Allison on Flickr, used under the Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0 license.