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This year’s Redskins should be taken at face value. Or less.
NFL legend has always held that Skins season tickets are in such short supply that they become the focal point of divorce and estate settlements, and that passes to the Dallas game are harder to find than a bone marrow donor. Well, no more. There are still tough tickets in town, like if you want to see Springsteen or the Backstreet Boys or Cabaret with that Superman woman in something naughty. But if it’s Redskins tickets you want, the only waiting list you’ll have to deal with is the one stocked with people trying to unload their inventory.
Saturday’s Washington Post sports section had a bevy of reports about the Skins’ victory over the Buffalo Bills, leaving the team undefeated and atop the standings of the NFC’s Eastern Division for the preseason. But a few pages away, the contents of Classifieds told another story, this one about the team’s standing in the community. In those pages, Skins tickets for the upcoming season appeared about as desirable a commodity as Halloween candy in November.
“Redskins…All at cost,” advanced an Arlington vendor. “[F]our aisle seats, face value,” rebutted Rockville.
“[F]ace value or make offer,” begged Bowie. “[L]ess than face value,” whined Woodlawn. “[S]ix at 50 yard line, below cost,” beseeched Bethesda.
“Buy 3, get one free!” extended Easton.
When contacted, each vendor gave a different excuse for getting rid of the tickets— “Money for college,” one seller told me. “Just got some extras this year,” said another.
A period of severely depressed ticket values has been brewing ever since Jack Kent Cooke Stadium opened in what is once again to be known as Landover. From Day One, commuters resented having to give up a smooth commute along a route that featured monuments and the Capitol and museums in favor of a slow drive-by of nothing but P.G. County blight, of strip center after strip center full of check-cashing outlets and fried-food vendors and liquor stores. New owner Daniel Snyder will be doing the dead guy’s memory a favor when he takes his name off this disaster.
But, clearly, it’s more than the cruddy stadium. Given all the good will the franchise built up in its decades downtown, if the team had lost just a little less since Norv Turner’s arrival, fan morale and the street price of tickets would probably have stayed sturdy. But by the latter stages of each of the past two seasons, you could show up at JKC Stadium on any game day and just hold up a $10 bill on your walk to the stadium entrance, and scalpers would chase you down. And now, for the first time in the team’s history, fans are jumping off the bandwagon before the season even starts. There were, officially, 20,000 empty seats at the Bills game.
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Snyder, though a self-described Skins devotee, has instigated some portion of the sell-off. He has, after all, been acting exactly like Peter Angelos lately. First, he assisted in the breakup of the Skins’ much-beloved radio team. In renegotiating a new preseason television contract for the team and taking the game telecasts from WJLA-7 to WRC-4, Snyder made sure he had final approval over all announcers, according to the Redskins. “I’ve got the best,” the owner said in introducing the new TV lineup of George Michael, Sonny Jurgensen, and Michael Wilbon. Snyder’s now got the sportscaster on the highest-rated news program in the city and the busiest sports columnist from the local paper of record under his wing. So much for avoiding conflicts of interest. (And so much for play-by-play: How many on-air mulligans does George Michael get? Without his highlight packages to hide behind, his carelessness is breathtaking. Could he call Norv Turner “Joe Gibbs” any more often? Would somebody tell him that not everybody who returns a kickoff or punt for the Redskins is “Brian Mitchell”? And on and on and on….Nobody in the history of broadcasting has ever been able to pack so many errors into a single sentence and hold on to his job. Is everybody at WRC just afraid to tell him the truth?)
But far worse than fostering ineptitude, the formation of the new TV lineup caused Jurgensen to abandon fellow Hall of Famer Sam Huff and genuine play-by-play man Frank Herzog, his radio boothmates for the last 18 years. Just for their work behind the microphone, Sonny, Sam, and Frank are as revered by Skins fans as anybody to ever wear a Redskins uniform. Would a real fan screw up that combo? The trio is scheduled to be together again once the games are on national TV, and if Jurgensen’s defection in any way sours his relationships with Huff or Herzog, Snyder will be held accountable, much the way Angelos was for Jon Miller’s departure.
Also like Angelos, Snyder now imposes his will on his team’s field operations, as if he’s got an $800 million Rotisserie team to mold. Last week, the Skins owner told the Post that Joe Patton was his least favorite employee, all because the converted guard blew an assignment in the first preseason game against New England while playing left tackle and thereby allowed a sack of fragile quarterback Brad Johnson. The only thing thinner than the depth of the team’s offensive line is the ice Norv Turner is skating on with Snyder. Three days after Snyder’s pronouncements, Patton, who had started the Patriots game, was shuffled all the way to the third team for the Buffalo contest.
Vinny Cerrato seems like another yes man. Snyder, like Angelos, expressed a hankering for big names. Because the only big names not under contract are out of the game, the acting general manager immediately started pursuing sets of bones old enough for the Smithsonian shelves. Cerrato failed to land Charles Haley and Chris Doleman, but he dug up Irving Fryar, who ended last season riding out of Veterans Stadium on a Harley-Davidson as part of a retirement celebration—in his honor. The 36-year-old Fryar can now hit high gear only when he’s on his gift bike, but Cerrato gave him a three-year, $6 million contract. Look for Fryar to put up Will Clark-like numbers and then ride off at the end of one season.
Snyder will be flaunting the unretired marquee player this weekend, when the team will host the last of a series of open houses at what the owner calls Redskins Stadium. These functions are designed to get rid of the “only a few hundred” seats in the club section that have never been sold. That’s going to be an especially tough sell: The market is glutted with Skins tickets like never before, and the team’s official sales staff won’t be offering guests any of the discounts that the re-sellers who use the classified ads offer. So by the end of the weekend, Snyder’s going to be wishing he were even more like Angelos. He’ll wish he had Camden Yards.—Dave McKenna