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Burgundy & old pain

Cooke recalls sting of fumbling away Redskins to Snyder

In triumph or defeat, the Redskins have been the talk of the town.
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 21, 2009

"I want to be buried in a burgundy-and-gold coffin. And when I'm gone, someone named Cooke is going to run this team. And when he's gone, someone else named Cooke is going to run this team."

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-- Jack Kent Cooke, 1992

The last surviving son leaned forward and put his elbows on the stained mahogany partner desk, the same Canadian Victorian antique at which George Allen and Joe Gibbs used to sit across from his father. Built in the 1920s, the desk was moved 10 years ago from a spacious corner office in Ashburn into a muted-yellow cottage at the family estate just outside Middleburg.

On the roof of the cottage is a bow-and-arrow-toting Indian, a rusted-steel weather vane gifted to his father by George Preston Marshall, the original owner of the Washington Redskins. Same with the cigar-store Indian beside the door, "which I think George Halas gave to Marshall," John Kent Cooke said.

"At least that's the story dad always told me," Cooke said, sizing up the kitschy figure.

The first football snapped at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium -- now FedEx Field -- is on a bookshelf, above the chess set depicting the Redskins and Denver Broncos before Super Bowl XXII. Needlepoint coasters, each representing a 50-year arc of the team's helmet design, line the desk. Behind Cooke, through the sunlit window, lies the panorama of majestic green fields. The winery next door is teeming with Bordeaux grapes.

Personal wealth. Priceless mementos. Unending nostalgia.

Jack's son has it all -- all except the team.

When Jack Kent Cooke, the Redskins' flamboyant owner with three Super Bowl championships, died of heart failure in April 1997 at 84, his son was left to engage in an acrimonious auction that ended with Daniel M. Snyder, then a 34-year-old businessman, emerging with the Redskins.

The loss of the team, which his family had had a stake in since the 1960s, devastated John Cooke, enough so that he left the country, moving with his wife to Bermuda. He would not return for two years -- and only now, 10 years later, has he chosen to speak about working for his father and the resentment he still feels about having lost a franchise he always assumed would be his.

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