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Team Report: Letters from Hall of Fame quarterback Sammy Baugh and owner George Marshall reveal the Redskins' early struggles on -- and off -- the field
The following letter, dated Sept. 29, 1949, illustrates the modest financial situation of a pro-football star in the days before television contracts:
I went down & paid Dr. Amundson $635.00 today. I gave a check on the Rotan Bank. I presume it won't bounce. ...
The Cardinals beat us 38-7. They really tore our line apart the 2nd half. It was 14-7 at half time, but we couldn't stop them after that. I completed 16 passes 1 for the T.D. but we were never in the game after the 1st half.
I looked at some Pontiac Station Wagons today -- they are awful nice. I can buy one for list price, but we'd have to sell our car at home. I'd like to trade ours in on a new one but I don't know what it would bring. They tell me I'd probably get more for it at home ...
Baugh mulled over the station wagon purchase into 1950. On "Sammy Baugh Day," Nov. 23, 1947, at Griffith Stadium, Washington's hero was presented with a station wagon to commemorate his importance to the Redskins and their fans. Baugh visited his sister in Philadelphia after the game and was returning to Washington late the same night when he veered off the road to avoid an oncoming vehicle. When the car's tires hit gravel on the side of the road, Baugh lost control and slid into a concrete bridge, destroying his new car.
In 1950, Baugh was preparing for his exit from professional football (he had three seasons remaining) and Marshall was planning for the future of the sport. That year, the Los Angeles Rams and the Washington Redskins became the first two teams to have all of their games broadcast on regional network television, a medium that helped pro football's popularity and revenue increase exponentially. Another new NFL development in the 1950s was the emergence of a players' union. Marshall was the last club owner to hold out against the union, which was established in 1956. A packet of documents from 1951 saved by Redskins recruit John "Jack" Packo exemplifies what it was like for a mid-20th-century professional football hopeful before players' agents and negotiations.
In those days, the Redskins scouted players but also relied heavily on choosing their draft picks from football magazines, which featured skilled position players (quarterbacks and running backs). The Redskins used most of their top selections on these high-profile players and tended to shop for linemen after the draft. John Packo, a center from the University of Detroit, was not selected in the 30 rounds of the 1951 draft. Without reviewing game film or consulting university coaches, let alone actually seeing Packo play, Ball, who had become head coach, simply spoke with a Detroit alumnus who was on the coaching staff and had graduated 13 years earlier -- the great Redskins fullback Andy Farkas. Farkas apparently thought highly of Packo, both a fellow Toledo, Ohio, native and a Hungarian. A letter from Ball, dated March 27, 1951, reads:
I had quite a long talk with Andy Farkas concerning your possibilities as a professional football player. I would like to have you join our club and am in a position to offer you $5,000.00 for the 1951 season. If this is satisfactory please let me know at once and I will forward the contract to you.
The second letter in the series, dated April 10, 1951, exemplifies the ease with which powerful clubs could pick up players and implies that there was no room for negotiation. Ball wrote:
I was glad to receive your letter saying that you are interested in playing with us.
I am enclosing a contract for the 1951 season. Please sign all three copies in the space provided for player and return to me along with the questionnaires which I am also enclosing at the earliest possible date.
Herman Ball, Coach.
The innocence of this long-ago era is further displayed in a mimeographed form letter Redskins General Manager Richard McCann sent Packo on July 6, 1951. The letter includes a list of what to bring to the July 16 to Sept. 21, 1951, Redskins training camp at Occidental College:
Two suits, or one suit and a sport coat with slacks;
One pair of old slacks, or dungarees, and sweater or jacket;
One pair of dress shoes;
One pair of old shores [shoes], or loafers;
Four dress or convertible sports shirts;
A necktie or two;
Six changes of underwear;
Pajamas, robe and slippers if you desire.
The letter continues its patronizing tone:
The club has strict rules about wearing suit coats and ties while in public places such as hotel lobbies, railroad stations, airport terminals, and so forth. But around the training camp you may dress for comfort and most of the player (sic) wear a regulation Redskins' T-shirt, which will be issued to you, and old slacks. Sam Baugh, for instance, wears a T-shirt, dungarees and loafers in camp ...
Throughout your stay in California (about 40 days), you will have few occasions to dress up. These will be: dinner given by The Los Angeles Times for players participating in their great charity game; dinner given by Eagle Rock and Highland Park citizens ... And, of course, six Sundays if you are a church-goer.
Traveling on trains, the Redskins use private cars and you may dress for comfort once aboard the train. However, in hotels I once again remind you of the club's strict rules on coats and ties. The day of the turtle-neck is past. You're in the big leagues ...
Enclosed with the above letter was a small brochure, titled "The Redskins Twelfth Coast-to-Coast Training Trip, July 16 to September 21, 1951." Inside was an itinerary, which included picking up players in several cities: Pittsburgh; Chicago; Kansas City; Amarillo, Tex.; and Clovis, N.M., where Baugh boarded the train heading from Washington to Los Angeles. On the second page was a list of answers to frequently asked questions:
When boarding or leaving trains or buses, or while in hotel lobbies and dining rooms, your wearing apparel must include a necktie and a suit jacket or sport coat ...
Special menus are prepared for group meals by the Redskins' dietician. There are no substitutes, and no seconds, for your stomach's sake.
You may charge your laundry, but you will be billed for it at the end of the trip and the charges deducted from your first pay envelope.
Phones at Occidental:
Outgoing Calls: They are to be made on pay phones available in the basement of Swan Hall.
Incoming Calls: They will be received at the phone booth in the patio of the Student Union Building. If you expect a call, stand by there. No personal calls may be received over phones in Swan Hall, or the dressing room.
The club has strict rules about smoking in or around the dressing room or practice field ...
Ash-trays are plentiful in your rooms. Be sure to use them ... not the floor. Remember: It's somebody's mother or wife who has to clean up.
A handwritten note on the side of an undated letter that Ball sent to the home office from training camp reveals Packo's fate. The note, dated Aug. 15, indicates that Packo was one of five players released. A letter from Ball back to the home office labeled "Friday AM," presumably written on the previous Friday, Aug. 10, 1951, reads:
The team so far appears to me to be a disappointment. I had hoped we would have a fair one, but it looks like we have a rinky-dink set of backs to play defense with. So you had better light all the candles ... and "enjoy the lull before the storm."
After the completion of training camp in 1951, Ball began his second season as head coach. Ball intimated that he expected trouble in the upcoming months in his training camp report to the home office. Ball's prediction was accurate -- Marshall replaced him three games into the 1951 season, promoting Ball's assistant coach, Dick Todd, to head coach for the remainder of the season. Todd was Baugh's best friend and teammate from 1938 through 1946. In the 1940s, Baugh and Todd traveled to training camp together -- Baugh drove his cattle from his ranch in to the Los Angeles stockyards, and Todd, a fellow Texan, accompanied Baugh on horseback.
Todd coached through the end of the 1951 season and agreed to be the head coach again in 1952. However, in fashion typical of this period, Marshall replaced Todd with Curly Lambeau before the end of the 1952 training camp.
Marshall scheduled six exhibition games (for which the players were not paid) that season, and when he added another, the players rebelled. Other NFL teams paid their players a per-game amount for exhibition games in addition to their regular season salaries, and the Redskins players decided together to demand a similar arrangement. However, when Baugh and two other players confronted Marshall in his office, the owner refused to meet with them, referencing his anti-union views, and the matter ended.
Before the NFL Players' Association came into existence, most players' attempts at salary increases failed. A round of letters written in 1953 between Ball, who by then was an assistant coach, and defensive back Dick Alban shows what happened to established players' pre-union attempts to negotiate better deals for themselves. The Redskins selected Alban in the ninth round of the 1952 draft. Ball wrote to Alban on June 2, 1953, before Alban's second season with the Redskins:
I agree with your statement that you played good football last year and will go along with you to the extent of granting you a $500.00 raise over last year, however, we cannot see our way clear to grant you both a raise and a bonus. If you are pressed for expense money for your wife during training camp we will advance you $250.00 on your contract to take care of her expenses during that period. Looking forward to receiving your signed contract, which I am enclosing, at a very early date.
Alban tried for a raise again the next year, and on May 17, 1954, Ball responded, again throwing him a bone:
In replying to your letter of May 10 regarding a contract for next year, I am enclosing a new contract granting you a substantial increase over your last year's salary. We realize that you have played good football and have missed a minimum number of minutes due to injuries or otherwise. I also feel the same as you that you could play five or six years longer without any difficulty whatsoever, however, an increase of $1,000.00, which you ask for, is a little steep for one year.
We will be able to advance you some money to cover your expenses while in training camp, however, we would like to keep this at a minimum amount as the requests this year are quite a few more than before. This advance can be worked out when we receive your signed contract.
Ten days later, Alban wrote back to Ball:
I was rather disappointed when I received your letter granting me a $500.00 raise. You have always trusted me very well, and I appreciate what you have done for me, however, I know that I would play much better football for $7000.00 than I would for $6500.00, which is only natural. I think the object of a raise is to increase the players' desire to play harder and win harder. Taking into consideration my past performance, and my two years experience, I feel, as I think you will too, that I should have $7000.00.
My wife and I talked over the problem of an advance, and since we just purchased a home, we will need $500.00. We feel that we can meet all of our obligations for two months at $250.00 per month.
Hoping to hear from you soon, I remain,
Sincerely yours, Richard Alban
The 1950s and 1960s held only three seasons with winning records for the Redskins, partially because of Marshall's refusal to hire black players. The league had integrated in 1946, and after 1955, the Redskins were the only NFL team without a black player until the Kennedy administration forced Marshall to integrate the team for the 1962 season. Kennedy's Interior Department used its leverage as administrator of the National Capital Parks System, with which Marshall had just signed a 30-year lease on D.C. Stadium (built in 1961, renamed RFK Memorial Stadium in 1969). Interior Secretary Stewart Udall threatened to invalidate Marshall's lease if he remained in violation of newly adopted regulations barring discriminatory hiring practices by Interior Department contractors. This was quite a blow to Marshall, who had been instrumental in getting the stadium built in accordance with Congress's District of Columbia Stadium Act of 1957, as an improvement upon the Redskins' home in the District, Griffith Stadium, which was constructed for baseball in 1911.
Marshall fought the government throughout the spring and summer of 1961. The public also got involved, voicing its opinions in the papers, and attending demonstrations and protests organized by such wide-ranging organizations as the American Nazi Party and the NAACP. Marshall, with his usual bluster, fanned the flames of the controversy, goading Udall and the administration in the press. Referring to President Kennedy, he said: "Yes, I'd like to debate that kid. I could handle him with words. I used to be able to handle his old man [Joseph Kennedy] in Boston." With television contracts at stake and other league owners worried about bad publicity, Marshall eventually compromised after a conversation with NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle late in the summer of 1961. The administration allowed one more season with an all-white team, and Marshall agreed to draft blacks for the 1962 season.
Marshall's authority was also being tested on other fronts. He and Corinne Griffith divorced in 1958, and Griffith returned to Bel Air, Calif. In post-divorce correspondence between Marshall and Griffith, the name of Harry Wismer appeared. Wismer was the original voice of the Redskins, commentating games for radio. At one point, he owned 25 percent of the franchise. Wismer told Marshall that his refusal to hire black players was bad for Wismer's investment in the team, and Wismer and Marshall's relationship ended in litigation. Wismer became a charter owner of an AFL team, the New York Titans (later renamed the Jets), after the AFL's founding in 1960, and he hired Marshall's darling, Sammy Baugh, for the head coach position. The AFL remained a thorn in the side of Marshall and other old school NFL owners until the leagues merged in 1970. Below, Marshall refers to the shareholder litigation with Wismer in a letter to his ex-wife, dated Jan. 21, 1961, just before Marshall's showdown with the Kennedy administration.
... By this time you know Wismer is available to you for parties or anything you see fit. He is no longer connected with the National Football League or the Redskins. The suit has been dismissed so you can, therefore, forget about the question of Mr. Wismer calling on you to testify.
Everybody wonders why in the world I have to pay you any alimony knowing you are as well off as you are. It does seem ridiculous, but nevertheless that is the way you wanted it and that is the way you got it. I only hope I am able to complete the payments to your satisfaction.
In the meantime, best of luck.
Griffith responded angrily to Marshall's comment about Wismer. She wrote back to Marshall in a letter dated January 26, 1961, six days after John F. Kennedy's inauguration.
... I have always kept myself unspotted from any gossip because I have led as clean a life of anyone leading, and I am certain that you, above all people, know just how decent I am. So, don't say again I can do "anything with Wismer I see fit". I am not interested in Harry and Harry is not interested in me.
You are always letting your hate of Wismer ruin you. Hate always does. But Heaven knows there is no reason to hate me. When you insisted I marry you, I married you. When you insisted for years on a divorce, I divorced you. What more can you ask? And may I repeat, please get someone around you whose thinking is correct. With your ability and my right thinking you became a great success. Now you are surrounded with such degenerate, unprogressive thoughts that you are fast becoming a failure. Come on now, get your good thinking cap on and do the things you are capable of doing -- now!
And don't ever again accuse me of chasing with Wismer. To begin with I don't "chase". I am the old-fashioned type that believes in letting men chase me. Remember?
In 1963, the Professional Football Hall of Fame selected Marshall and Baugh as charter members. Marshall's accomplishments included innovative rule changes that produced more exciting play for spectators. Marshall advocated placing goal posts at the goal line in order to make field goals easier and result in higher-scoring games, and he suggested the rule that allowed for passes to be thrown from anywhere behind the line of scrimmage, instead of requiring the passer to be at least five yards behind it. Marshall was also credited with advocating a two-division league with a championship game, as well as for being the first owner to have a band and halftime shows.
Later that year, Marshall suffered an incapacitating stroke, and management of the team was taken over by a group of caretakers led by Washington lawyer Edward Bennett Williams. George Preston Marshall quietly retired to his home in Georgetown. The following letter from the final years of the Marshall era displays a much-delayed sensitivity to the Washington Redskins' bigoted history. It is dated Jan. 12, 1966, and is from Joel Margolis, who was a producer of the Redskins halftime show and who helped organize the Redskinettes in 1962. His letter was written to Dan Endy of NFL Films.
Dear Mr. Endy:
Under separate cover I have shipped a tape of the Redskin Band ...
The paper attached to the spool will indicate the approximate location of our song "Hail to the Redskins." We have marked the several locations so that you may hear our number played in different tempos.
Please do not, repeat not, use the number "Dixie" in connection with The Redskins.
The Southern anthem "Dixie" and "Hail to the Redskins" were the standard numbers played at Redskins games from 1937 through the early 1960s. Although the original words to the team song, written by Corinne Griffith, in 1937, included the line "Fight for old D.C.," Marshall later changed the line to "Fight for old Dixie" to signify Marshall's personal feelings and, by extension, the team's southern identity. After Marshall's decline, the line was restored to its original version, but other Griffith lyrics were rewritten for political correctness: "Scalp 'um, swamp 'um, we will/Take 'um big score" was changed to "Run or pass and score/We want a lot more!", and "Read 'um, weep 'um, touchdown/We want heap more" was changed to "Beat 'em, swamp 'em, touchdown!/Let the points soar!"
Without Marshall's interference, the integrated team started to reverse its long slide, beginning with the 1969 season that followed Marshall's death on Aug. 9. That year, Williams persuaded Vince Lombardi to come out of retirement to coach the Redskins. Having acquired two black future Hall of Fame wide receivers, Bobby Mitchell (traded for in 1962) and Charley Taylor (drafted in 1964), together with the team's selection of unknown future phenomenon black running back Larry Brown in the 1969 draft, and led by quarterback Sonny Jurgensen, the Redskins ended up with their first winning season since 1955, and began their return to greatness.
A letter written on Lombardi's Redskins letterhead, dated March 7, 1969, shows the great motivator Lombardi preparing for his return to football, which was cut short by colon cancer, resulting in his death on Sept. 3, 1970, after just one season coaching the Washington Redskins:
I regret I cannot accept your invitation on behalf of Mrs. Alden Barber [the wife of the chief executive of the Boy Scouts of America]. I am scheduled to attend the National Football League meetings in Palm Springs, at the same time.
My new address is -- as of March 13th -- 11013 Stanmore Drive, Potomac Falls, Maryland 20854. The telephone is not installed as yet, and when it is, I will send you the number.
Valerie Grissom and Samu Qureshi are married and live in Bethesda. She is a freelance writer. He is a freelance writer and real estate agent. They can be reached at email@example.com