Post Magazine: Letters of the Washington Redskins
In a cover story from The Washington Post Magazine, letters from Hall of Fame quarterback Sammy Baugh and owner George Marshall reveal the Redskins' early struggles on -- and off -- the field.
Samu Qureshi and Valerie Grissom, who wrote the story, are married and live in Bethesda, where their home serves as a sort of unofficial Redskins museum thanks to their extensive collection of team memorabilia -- from the letters that shaped the story to championship rings, cheerleader uniforms and Joe Gibbs' 1980s headset.
Qureshi and Grissom took questions about the article and their collection Monday, August 3. The transcript is below.
Valerie Grissom: Hello. This is Valerie Grissom, freelance writer and co-author of this week's Washington Post Magazine cover article, The Secret Letters of the Washington Redskins. Thank you for joining our online chat.
Samu Qureshi: Hello, this is Samu Qureshi, co-author of "The Secret Letters of the Washington Redskins, owner of the Museum, and a residential real estate agent with W.C. & A.N. Miller Realtors in Bethesda.
Bethesda, MD: Have you invited Dan Snyder to visit your museum? Sonny Jurgensen? Have any former Redskins visited?
Samu Qureshi: I have briefly met Dan a couple of times, and did extend an invitation for a visit to the Museum when I spoke to him on the phone. SOnny doesn't seem terribly interested in seeing the Sonny Shrine, but he might want to see the Baugh Shrine. Many former Redskins have visited including Lavar Arrington, Charles Mann, Gary Clark, CHarlie Brown, Clintt DIdier, Tre Johnson, Joe Tereshinski (1946-1954) and Clyde Shugart (1939-1943), who visited when he was 90 years old.
Rockville, MD: While overall your piece was good, I have to take issue with your characterizing a memo to incoming training camp attendees as "patronizing". For most rookies, training camp was a foreign experience; they wouldn't have known what to wear or how to behave. How many NFL teams nowadays include this bit of advice: "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."
Also, you really glossed over Marshall's anti-integration stance, and how the team was marketed to an increasingly growing minority population. Other than mentioning the Jets/Titan's future first owner in passing, you really could have devoted more to this fact.
Valerie Grissom: Thank you for your comments. Our characterization of the form letter to new recruits as "patronizing" may have been better characterized as "paternalistic". We were trying to show the vast difference between the way players were treated by the Redskins administration then and now, and show both the charm and the restrictions of that era from a player's perspective. And, as you note, certainly no NFL teams are telling their players to pick up after themselves! Our point exactly.
As for Marshall's anti-integration stance, we wrote quite a bit more about that issue and many other issues that grew out of the letters. However, magazine articles have severe number-of-word limitations by which we were required to abide. So, many items had to be cut out.
Bethesda, MD: Samu and Val,
You're awesome. What is your favorite piece of memorabilia?
Samu Qureshi: Thank you, that is very kind of you! I have so many, but some my game used uniforms, my 1937 team signed ball, some of my letters that I have not yet published are among my favorites. I really like the pieces that tell a story of the bygone era.
South Riding, VA: I know that Barnee Breeskin composed the music for "Hail to the Redskins" and wondered why your fine article did not mention his name. By the way I have an autographed copy of the music from Barnee as the music composer with words by Corinne Griffith.
Valerie Grissom: You are absolutely right! The story of Barnee Breeskin is a wonderful story, but unfortunately was tangential to the letters, and we could not include everything we wanted in the article. Breeskin was the orchestra leader at the Shoreham Hotel, where George Preston Marshall and Corinne Griffith often stayed while in Washington. Breeskin struck up a tune for VIPs while they dined in the orchestra room. Griffith wrote the lyrics to "Hail to the Redskins" and Breeskin wrote the music. Later, Breeskin sold the rights to the music to the future Cowboys owner who used it as leverage to get Marshall to relent to allowing the Cowboys owner an NFL franchise in Dallas!
new york, new york.: You guys are the best writers and your collection of Redskin memorabilia is beyond anything I can even imagine. What's next for "ValMu"?
Valerie Grissom: Thanks for the EXCELLENT question!! ValMu is a great idea! The ValMu brand has huge ambition and huge plans. We will put you on our e-mail list and you can be automatically updated about all of our creative work. Thanks for the fan mail!
Corrine Griffth: Great article and loved the letters. Interesting to know that Corrine Griffth actually wrote the fight song.
Wonder if she ever received royalties from the playing of the song?
Samu Qureshi: Thanks so much! Corrine Griffith did write and publish 15 books, and I can think of no reason why she would not receive royalties. She apparently had amassed $150 million in wealth by the time of her passing. SHe was a pretty smart cookie, and certainly a wealthy one!
LOL: So is that what brought you two together -- a joint love affair with the Redskins? Or did one of you adopt the others' hobby after you got hitched?
Valerie Grissom: No, the Redskins did not bring us together. Honestly, I got involved with this project because I love history, and Samu's letters blew me away. I loved how the Redskins history is Washington, D.C.'s history and therefore is United States history. You are always seeing the power players, politics and social issues when you look at Redskins history.
Samu and I got together over another one of his obsessions -- the New Orleans Jazzfest. And, I still haven't adopted the Redskins hobby. Samu is the collector and the Redskins historian and is solely responsible for amassing his magnificent collection.
Potomac, MD: Sammy Baugh sounded like he was pretty cool and put the Redskins on the map. What did he do after football? What number was his jersey?
Samu Qureshi: Sammy (#33) was extremely cool! I visited him twice for a total of 8 days. I also attended his funeral. Not only did he put the Redskins on the map, he very well could be responsible for Washington still having a team. Without the early success under his leadership, the franchise may not have survived. George Marshall lost money every year the franchise was in Boston, from 1932 to 1936. Baugh put him out of the red. He was an extremely kind, generous and modest man. It was truly a thrill to spend time with him.
Letters: This story made me think about how richly personal letters can enhance our knowledge of history and bygone eras. It's a shame my generation doesn't write letters. Any chance you guys are collecting e-mail transcripts and text-message records so that 50 years from now people will understand what these times were like? Ha!
Samu Qureshi: It is a bygone era, and the letters are very telling of the time. I do save quite a few emails of interest, but they tend to lack the rich tones, although a lot of them are pretty darn comical. I have know doubt that they will be written about, and perhaps they will be seen as being as revealing as these letters.
Washington, D.C.: How did your memorabilia collection get so massive? Does it take over your house? Do you host tour groups or anything like that to let people come check it out?
Valerie Grissom: Samu has been collecting for 40 years, and the museum takes up over half of our 4000 square foot house. He uses a huge variety of sources and contacts, probably many of which he would prefer to keep to himself. Of course, the internet helped him track down rare items and expand his collection quite a bit, but much of what he has pre-dates e-bay, etc. I will say that he has used sources such as press people (sportswriters and photographers), players and Redskins organization personnel and their relatives and heirs, and more mainstream sources, such as sports auction houses. Samu has had Boy Scout groups, an eighth grade class and other small groups over. We are somewhat circumspect about groups coming over because we also live and work in the house/museum, but arrangements are possible. Thank you for your interest!
Nantucket, Mass.: Did you ever meet slingin' sammy? Also, tell us about your best friend. PG
Samu Qureshi: As I just wrote, meeting Sammy was one of the thrills of my life, and like Lavar Arrington, during his visit, he made me feel as if I was his best friend. I am always holding the competition for best friend open, and if someone would invite me and Val to Nantucket, that would seal the deal.
Arlington, Va.: Really enjoyed your article. Did GP Marshall change the team name from Braves to Redskins to distinguish them from the Boston baseball team, or was there another reason? Also, how did you acquire most of your memorabilia? Were most of the items given to you or did you have to go through usual avenues, i.e. dealers or e-bay?
Valerie Grissom: You are correct. Marshall did change the name of the team from the Braves to the Redskins. Both Marshall's pro football team (the Boston Braves '32 -'33) and the pro baseball team, the Boston Braves, played at Braves Field in Boston. Marshall moved the team's home stadium to Fenway Park in Boston in 1933 and changed his team's name to the Boston Redskins to distinguish them from the baseball team. As with everything in those years, Marshall had an eye to making more money, so that was a motivation for changing the team's name -- to make them stand out more from the baseball Braves. Although there is no clear evidence, it is possible that Marshall was tying the REDskins to the RED Sox in his move to Fenway, also a money-making move.
Please see my answer to Washington, D.C. re how the items came to reside in the museum. Thanks!
Falls Church, Va.: So when will you -stop- collecting team memorabilia? Is there any piece that is your white whale -- that you've been hunting for but can't find?
Samu Qureshi: I don't plan to stop, but $ is a constraint! I am still trying to get my hands on a 1940 Championship program, but mostly I want to get the 3 programs from 1937 that I am lacking. If anyone knows anyone who has any, PLEASE let me know. Call me Captain Ahab! I do have the 1940 program vs Bears from 3 weeks before the Championship game that has the same cover, but does not say "Championship Game". If anyone has ANY cool old Redskins stuff, I am always interested!
Boring question: May I ask if it was difficult to insure this and what you valued it at?
Valerie Grissom: This one is a little sensitive! Yes, the museum is in the process of being insured by Cornell & Finkelmeier, out of Ohio. The company is the premier insurer of sports memorabilia collections. Also, as a warning to any people out there with bad intentions, a very vicious half pit bull resides in our house and we have a serious alarm system that immediately notifies the crack Montgomery County Police if anyone passes any open windows or doors!!
As for the last part, even with all of our precautions, I don't want to publish what the museum is valued at.
Bethesda Rosie: I liked the quick response to the Nantucket guy. Has Dan Snyder displayed any interest in working with you? I am sure that you could make a truly amazing exhibit at Fedex Field. That would allow game-day fans to see the truly incredible collection.
Samu Qureshi: Thanks, I still have not gotten the Nantucket invite. Do I hear Martha's Vineyard? Ocean City? Dan does not seem to know about the extent of my collection. Would love to open up a Museum to the public, but I need financing. Actually have a great business plan. HAve not heard from anyone with the Redskins. Then again, there was no one from the organization who attended Baugh's funeral. People kept asking me if I was representing the team.
Sharlene from Bethesda: Wow! Your collection looks amazing. What is that thing in the video that looks like life sized players? What other really cool things do you have? Have any Redskins ever visited your collection?
Samu Qureshi: THanks a lot! It has been fun putting it together and learning so much about the team. THe players are part of the "Huddle" a custom made piece featuring offensive players from the Super Bowl XVII team. It used to reside in the National Sports Gallery at the MCI Center. AS I said, I have had about Redskins visit. Still waiting on Brig Owens, Pat Fischer, Chris Cooley, and Randy Thomas!
Bethesda: Your article showed Corrine Griffith to be an inspiring and courageous character. She seems to be one of the few people who was willing to put George Preston Marshall in his place. His letters show him to be a bully. Corrine comes through in her letters as an intelligent and tough woman. It was nice to learn about her and her interesting place in the history of the Redskins.
Valerie Grissom: I'm glad that you liked Corinne. She definitely is an interesting character who led a very interesting life. You might want to read her 1947 book, My Life With The Washington Redskins. You will get the full flavor of her personality. She seemed to me to have some delusions of grandeur, or perhaps pretensions, but she also was very beautiful and very creative and hard-working. You should look her up on the web, too. There are some interesting stories about her, which may or may not be true, but they add to her fascinating aura.
Sterling, VA: I enjoyed every word of your article, but it would not have been long enough even if the entire magazine had been devoted to it. So...any chance of expanding it into book form? It is a fascinating subject, and you both deserve so much credit for bringing it to the attention of Redskins fans as well as the public in general. Great job!!
I would like to have my name added to your mailing list as well.
Valerie Grissom: Thank you! There are tentative plans to turn the article into a book. Samu had hundreds of letters that we couldn't use due to article length restrictions. The letters really tell a wonderful story, and we are so glad that you love them as much as we do.
Kensington, MD: Great article, the both of you. One point I'm sure you know but you didn't mention is that "Fight for Old Dixie" only replaced "Fight for Old D.C." from 1959 through 1961, the years when Marshall was really getting his back up about drafting black players. You can see the words in the programs for those years---some of which I sold you in my former book shop. (My identity has now been revealed.)
And I don't know what your personal favorite piece of memorabilia might be, but I've gotta love that first Washington Redskins program from 1937. I know how long it took you to come up with that, and to date it's one of only two that I've ever seen.
Samu Qureshi: A.M., I do love the 37 first program, but I have some amazing "Intra-tribal " games featuring Battles' Battlers vs Pinckert's Panthers from 1934 & 1935!
Washington DC: The lifesize huddle thing -- was that the same one that was in the sports museum originally in the MCI Center?
Valerie Grissom: Yes, the life-size huddle is the same one that used to be in the sports museum in the MCI Center. Did you get inside the blank helmet and listen to Theismann's calls?
Washington, D.C.: How did you come into possession of the various letters?
Samu Qureshi: Various sources, auctions, and a lot of scrounging and perseverence. Still looking for more!
Arlington, VA: Marshall seemed to cover all the available angles to make money off the Redskins, what type of team memorabilia was sold back in the 30's, 40's, 50's that fans could buy? Jerseys? Pennants? Ashtrays? Coolers?
Valerie Grissom: Bobbleheads after 1962, pins and pennants since the 1930s. But, the amazing amount of stuff that is available today most certainly was not available then. Many of the old things Samu has are ephemera -- ticket stubs, programs, etc., very little of which survived.
Burlingame, CA: How may I visit your museum?
Samu Qureshi: You can email me at Samu.Qureshi@LongandFoster.com
S.E. DC: How did you acquire some of the more fascinating artifacts,such as Jack Kent Cooke's fedora or Vince Lombardi's cleats?
Valerie Grissom: The Lombardi cleats came from a rock solid source with a traceable chain of custody. However, the person who sold them to Samu asked for anonymity. JKC's fedora came through his launderer.
Valerie Grissom: Thank you for all of your questions! Our time is up, but you can contact us at email@example.com.
Samu Qureshi: THanks so much for your questions, You can also write to me at Samu.Qureshi@LOngandFoster.com for your Redskins and real estate questions. We are being asked to sign off, so "HAil to the Redskins" Hope to see you at Fed Ex Field! Samu
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