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Just one anchovy.
Due to the Skins’ ineptitude, Papa John’s franchisers have had to give out just one free pizza topping during the first three weeks of their latest football promotion.
Coming into the season, Papa John’s hoped to capitalize on its status as the newest “official pizza” of the Washington Redskins. Its retailers cooked up a scheme in which customers who phoned in for a large pie on the day after a Skins game would receive a free topping and a free 20-ounce soft drink for every touchdown the team had scored in its most recent tilt. One Skins TD, one free topping and one free Coke. Two TDs, two free toppings and two free Cokes. And so on.
An early moral of the Marty Schottenheimer era: There’s no such thing as free pepperoni.
Before Rod Gardner caught a 26-yard pass from Tony Banks in the second quarter against the Chiefs in Sunday’s game, Washington had actually gone 11 quartersall the way back to the first half of the final game of last seasonwithout a touchdown. They didn’t get into the end zone again against KC. So after three weeks, each more dreadful than the last, the Skins have been outscored 112-16.
“We’ve had the same stack of 20-ounce Cokes stacked up in our window for a while,” a local Papa John’s manager tells me.
Plenty of vendors with contractual ties to the Redskins are reeling this season, which is shaping up as the worst and most tumultuous in the franchise’s history. (Who actually believed we’d ever lament Terry Robiskie’s cup-of-coffee tenure as head coach?) And not only because the team is playing so poorly: The Federal Aviation Administration’s recent anti-terrorist ban on all flights near stadiums means that all those banner-towing prop planes that once cluttered up the airspace above FedEx Field are grounded until further notice.
But the omnibus debacle that is the 2001 Skins has taken a palpable toll, too.
Over at American Service Center, a Mercedes dealership in Arlington, Schottenheimer took over as the celebrity spokesmodel shortly after letting cornerback Deion Sanders scamper out of town.
In the odd and unintentionally hilarious radio spots he recorded for ASC, Schottenheimer the pitchman declares that he doesn’t have time to lead a marching band because his Skins coaching duties make it impossible for him to hold that or any second job. As Sanders, Larry Centers, and Jeff George (the best fall guy since Lee Majors) can attest, however, the real-world Schottenheimer believes there’s nothing wrong with a coach moonlighting as general manager. As soon as he assumed control of a team that appeared just a head coach and a kicker away from the playoffs, Schottenheimer the GM began gutting the roster as if it were a HUD home.
Fitzgerald Auto Mall, a chain of car dealerships in Maryland, has also suffered under Schottenheimer. Fitzgerald actually stopped running TV commercials that featured George last weekend, a few days before the QB was scapegoated and cut by Schottenheimer. Rather bizarrely, the dealership resurrected commercials with former Skins QB Brad Johnson, who now wears a Tampa Bay uniform.
It sure appears, however, that no Redskins sponsor is getting less bang for its buck than Papa John’s. The Louisville-based franchiser, which claims more than 2,600 restaurants worldwide, became the team’s official pizza provider only after a very public squabble between the previous titleholder, Domino’s, and Skins owner Dan Snyder.
The alliance had been fruitful for Domino’s, at least in terms of publicity. Domino’s’ Skinscentric promotion, which was also linked to scoring, had the company offering $1 off any pizza for every Washington TD. So when the Skins scored seven times in their 50-21 bombing of the Giants in the second game of the 1999 season, that meant $7 off every pizza ordered that Monday, meaning those that listed for $6.99 were given away. Delivery orders were so backed up that customers formed lines outside Domino’s outlets in hopes of picking up free pies.
A Washington Post report at the time said that the campaign and the scoring binge inspired a fivefold increase in Monday sales for Domino’s and cost the company as much as $2 million in its first month. The 1999 Skins ended up scoring 443 points (the second-highest total in the NFL), finished with a 10-6 record, and gave Norv Turner his only playoff win. Before adding up the profits and losses, Frank Meeks, the main Domino’s franchisee in the D.C. area, termed the promotion the most successful in the company’s history.
The relationship turned ugly that off-season, however. Snyder launched a misguided and ultimately disastrous binge of high-profile free-agent signings, including those of Bruce Smith, Sanders, and George, then tried to gouge several cents from supporters for every penny he shelled out. He demanded a bigger piece of the pie from Domino’s, tearing up a reported $80,000 per year contract that still had two years to go and demanding $800,000 per year instead.
Rather than fork over the 900 percent increase to retain its sponsorship role, Domino’s abdicated, and Papa John’s stepped in and commenced the free-toppings promotion. In the team’s first year with the new official pizza, the Skins scored only 281 points, which ranked as the 24th highest total, and ended up with an 8-8 record, good enough to get two head coaches, Turner and Robiskie, fired.
And things have only gotten worse. Much, much worse. After the Kansas City blowout, the Redskins can boast about having both the worst defense and the worst offense in the NFL. And nobody around these parts is buzzing about the steal of a deal you can get from Papa John’s.
Even so, Ed Jacobson, who owns four Papa John’s franchises in D.C. and Maryland, says he’s not sorry about how the Skins affiliation with the pizza producer has panned out thus far. “We haven’t gotten the results we wanted quite yet,” he says, “but it’ll work out. Even if it doesn’t, we’re not fair-weather fans.”
The weather isn’t likely to improve anytime soon. Next up for the Skins is a visit to the Giants, who in Week 2 held the same Chiefs without a single touchdown.
Come Monday, expect to pay list price for your pie. Dave McKenna