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Bruce Allen has a great stump speech: “I hate the Cowboys” is how it opens, then: “I hate the Giants. I hate the Eagles. And I still hate the St. Louis Cardinals.”
Allen delivered that address at FedExField throughout June, during a series of appearances advertised by the Redskins as “A Night With Bruce Allen.” The audience at these events, held in the stadium’s club level, was made up of avowed fans whose names appeared on marketing lists compiled by Dan Snyder. They were invited to eat free finger foods and drink free cocktails, and to hear the team’s new general manager talk for half an hour in hopes that a few of them would buy up the surplus from the 91,000 season tickets the team now sells.
The gatherings aren’t dissimilar from those used to hawk time-share condos. But you’d get something like a two-night stay in Vegas or a grandfather clock for sitting through the real-estate pitch; ’Skins fans get the food and drink and an audience with Allen. At the events, Allen leaves the hard sell to others. His most blatant solicitation: “This is where the dreams are made. There’s nothing better than game day, from my standpoint, from the players’ standpoint, from the coaches’ standpoint, there’s nothing better than game day and feeling your passion for our team on game day.”
When Allen’s done talking, the Redskins sales staff takes over and tries to close some deals. In other words, the new GM is now the fluffer for Snyder’s money men.
Allen was brought here amid louder-than-ever cries from the fan base for Snyder to stick to marketing and let “football people make football decisions.” Yet since taking the job, Allen has taken on a lot of duties not normally associated with folks who hold the title of general manager. He’s a football person who’s become the most visible cog in the team’s marketing machine.
It’s a fascinating turnabout. And it’s just what the team needs.
Sure, over the long term, the Redskins could benefit best by having a GM obsessed only with duties like arranging a scouting network, watching film, checking the waiver wires, etc.—the sort of menial tasks that result in rooting out unrestricted free agents who could fill roster spots for a decade, like Bobby Beathard did with Joe Jacoby. But after 11 years under Snyder, during which the franchise’s goodwill tank leaked like a BP rig, the dire state of the ’Skins at the end of last season called for something more. It called for somebody who could make folks feel good about being Redskins fans again.
And Allen does that like nobody this team has seen in a long, long time.
The sort of rescue mission Allen is on now would normally be the owner’s job: Ted Leonsis, upon acquiring the equally woebegone Washington Wizards a few weeks ago, immediately called for a meeting with that franchise’s former players and season ticket holders. Leonsis also fired up the base by hinting in an interview with WJFK-FM that he’d go back to the red, white, and blue color scheme the players wore when the franchise, then known as the Bullets, won its only NBA title, back in 1978.
But the Redskins couldn’t take that tack. Snyder is toxic to fans of all stripes. He has to hide.
So the new Redskins GM’s job description includes Leonsis-like duties such as hosting gatherings for Redskins veterans during the mini-camp, going on sports radio shows (on Snyder’s WTEM-AM) to tell fans that the team will wear gold pants next season, and, especially, selling season tickets.
Snyder put Allen to work as a ticket pitchman right after hiring him. Allen was featured in a ticket-sales video that was posted on the team’s official website in January. “Congratulations! We really are looking forward to seeing you at FedExField!” Allen told prospective buyers, gesturing with his hands and pointing at the camera in a routine that was part used-car commercial, part Ric Flair wrestling promo. “Now, to set up your account, click the button below. Do it today!”
And now Allen occupies the lead role in club-level sales productions, which will continue through mid-July. He’s much smoother in the recent presentations than he was on the January video. Indeed, at one of his early June appearances, which was posted in its entirety two weeks ago on YouTube, Allen looks like he was born to sell the Redskins—which, of course, he was. His father was George Allen, who as Redskins coach in the 1970s taught fans to expect to win—and to hate everything about Dallas. And not just the football team, but everything about Big D (and, to a lesser extent, New York, Philadelphia, and St. Louis, other NFC East cities).
Bruce Allen’s spiel at the ticket-selling soirees was full of fabulous anecdotes from his dad’s era, like one about how the whole Allen family walked from RFK Stadium to the White House to celebrate a victory over the Cowboys. He drops names like Mike Bass and Larry Brown and Richie Petitbon, touchstones to fans of a certain vintage but anonymities to the younger generations who’ve experienced only Snyder’s reign of ineptitude. Allen leaves the team’s recent years out of his history lesson. There’s no mention of Vinny Cerrato or Jim Zorn, and Snyder only comes up once, as Allen repeats the official story that the Redskins owner grew up loving the team: “One thing all Redskins fans ought to be proud of is your owner was a Redskins fan.”
Some would say Allen’s ability as a salesman is what got him the job. It’s easy to make a case that his reputation as a football man eclipses reality. “Bruce Allen is the personification of an NFL winner,” Snyder said at the press conference late last season announcing he’d hired Allen. And a recent profile on FoxSports.com of what was called the “dream team” of football men—meaning Allen and new ’Skins head coach Mike Shanahan—said “Allen helped build the rosters that led Tampa Bay to one Lombardi Trophy and two other playoff appearances in seven seasons.”
Neither Snyder’s nor FoxSports’ claims hold up to fact-checking.
“Personification of an NFL winner”? Allen has headed up personnel departments for two NFL teams, the Oakland Raiders and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and wasn’t a winner at either. Oakland went 64-64 in the eight seasons in which Allen, working under Al Davis, ostensibly made player decisions. And the Buccaneers were just 38-42 with Allen calling the shots. Lombardi Trophy? Tampa Bay won its only Super Bowl after the 2002 season. Allen came to the team after the 2004 season. Fact is, Allen took over a franchise not far removed from a championship but didn’t win a single playoff game in five seasons.
Gary Shelton, a columnist for the St. Petersburg Times and a longtime critic of Allen and former Bucs coach Jon Gruden, cited all the bad numbers from Allen’s bio, all but saying the GM pulled a con job on Snyder.
“Didn’t [Snyder] suspect a resume with five pounds of White-Out?” Shelton wrote, adding that Allen “treated the truth as if he was afraid of going over the cap.”
According to the Redskins media office, Allen is away on vacation and unavailable to comment for this story. He should be back in town by July 10—when he is scheduled to give his stump speech again at FedExField.
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