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Imagine your girlfriend of four years dumping you over e-mail. That’s bad. Now imagine your publisher of four years dumping you over e-mail. That’s worse.
And that’s what happened to Michael Richman. In January 2000, Richman signed a contract with a sports-book publisher to complete The Redskins Encyclopedia, which was to be the most comprehensive book on Washington’s most beloved sports team. For more than four years, Richman labored to put the volume together, combing archives, doing interviews, and writing narratives.
Then, in December 2004, he got the news: The publisher sent him an e-mail reneging on its original offer. “They basically said, ‘We don’t want to publish these sports encyclopedias anymore,’” Richman says.
Luckily, he was able to get some help from inside the Skins family—former PA announcer and attorney Phil Hochberg advised him on how to salvage the project, and almost a year later, he signed up with Temple University Press. This month, The Redskins Encyclopedia finally hits local bookshelves—just in time for the team’s 75th anniversary season.
“It was an ordeal,” Richman says, “but we got it done.”
If doing the ultimate Redskins compendium was anything other than a labor of love for the 45-year-old Rockville resident, it may never have happened. But Richman’s a hardcore Skins fan with roots back to 1971, when, as a 10-year-old, he watched George Allen take a doormat team to the top of the NFC. “In addition to journalism skills,” he says, “I have passion.”
He was also lucky to have an in with the team. Richman was stringing for the Associated Press in 1999 when Dan Snyder bought the Skins franchise and proceeded to clean out the front office. Richman got a call from Snyder’s people and started freelancing for the team’s publications division shortly afterward. Today, Richman still writes for the Redskins’ house organs—Redskins.com and GameDay magazine—in addition to a full-time job at Voice of America.
A project like The Redskins Encyclopedia could not happen without the team’s help, and Richman got plenty. For instance, Richman was able to use many interviews he’d done while stringing for the Redskins in the book. The team also furnished many records and stats that fill out the 420-page volume, not to mention some 125 photographs from the franchise archives.
In addition to the stats, Richman tells the story of the Redskins from the day league founder George Halas helped persuade a D.C. laundry-store magnate named George Preston Marshall to start a pro football team in the nation’s capital through the team’s golden era and on to Joe Gibbs’ thus-far-inglorious second coming. Richman also wrote extended biographies of 15 “Washington Monuments”—the most prominent figures in Redskins history—plus capsule bios of dozens more and a series of sidebars detailing Redskins trivia.
There’s no shortage of Skins literature out there, but Richman says the exhaustiveness of his volume sets it apart. “This is the most comprehensive journalistic account of the Redskins ever,” he says.