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  Jack Kent Cooke Profile

Source: 1996 Washington Redskins Media Guide

Jack Kent Cooke
Source: The Washington Redskins
Jack Kent Cooke once described himself as "an indomitable optimist." That spirit of determination was never more tested than in his eight-year quest to finance and build a modern state-of-the-art football stadium for "the best fans in the world."

John Hawkins, writing for the Washington Times wrote ... "They don't stop to think about how owners of sports franchises in other cities hold the towns hostage: 'Build me a new stadium or I'm taking my team elsewhere.' Cooke doesn't want your tax money. He's not blackmailing to move the Redskins to Iowa. He just wants the chance to build his own ballpark. His money. His legacy. Your playground."

On March 13, 1996, Jack Kent Cooke, Maryland Governor Parris N. Glendening, and Prince George's County Executive Wayne Curry signed a contract paving the way for the immediate start of construction of the new home of the Redskins.

When the stadium is completed for the 1997 season, the 78,600 seat modern, state-of-the-art outdoor natural grass stadium will include over 280 executive suites, as well as 15,000 club seats.

Most important to Redskins fans is Mr. Cooke's unwavering decision not to charge personal seat licensing fees (PSL's) for the Redskins new stadium.

"Yes, I am the owner of the Washington Redskins," Mr. Cooke recently told WJLA-TV sports anchor Rene Knott. "But more important, I am the trustee for the best bloody fans on the face of the earth. I have no right, morally or legally, in my opinion, to move the franchise. Charging those great fans a PSL is something that I just won't do. It never crossed my mind. Not even once."

The indomitable optimist. "I have always had a will to succeed, to win, however you want to phrase it," said Mr. Cooke to Barry Lorge, the former sports editor of The San Diego Union. "I think most kids have that, but it's knocked out of them because as young men they try so many things, and they fail ... And they settle for less than the best."

It was in 1974 when Jack Kent Cooke became the majority owner of the Redskins. More than 200 victories and four Super Bowls later, his enthusiasm is as boundless as ever.

"If there is anything more exciting, more invigorating, more tantalizing, more worrisome, more ebullient in the world than owning a franchise like the Washington Redskins, I wish someone would tell me what it is," said Mr. Cooke recently. "It is the best fun there is."

Mr. Cooke has seen to that himself, thanks to an unwavering commitment to winning. In the 21 years, since he became the majority owner of the Redskins, the team is 214-144, a .597 percentage. They have been to the playoffs 11 times, captured four NFC championships and won three Super Bowl titles.

Through it all, Mr. Cooke has been the one constant, emerging as the persona of an organization that has become a model franchise on the field and in the community.

The latest example came this past spring. Mr. Cooke volunteered a personal contribution of $3 million for a recreation center for the youth of Prince George's County, MD, as well as $1.5 million in the form of scholarships.

Hawkins of The Washington Times also wrote this of Mr. Cooke: "No collection of gray suits and board rooms shield him from the street. No collection of guards and gates protect his Middleburg (Va) estate. He owns the Redskins by himself. He runs the show. He returns your calls. He writes his own letters."

Few can duplicate the success this formula has generated for Mr. Cooke over the years. He has won the NBA Championship with the Lakers, the Super Bowl with the Redskins, International League pennants with the independent Toronto Maple Leafs baseball club, a North American soccer championship with the 1967 Los Angeles Wolves and was the promoter for the Ali-Frazier fight in Madison Square Garden in 1971.

"Mr. Cooke has shown over the years that he wants to win and will do whatever it takes to help his team win," says the Redskins third-year head coach Norv Turner. "As a coach, he is the kind of owner you want, someone who will give you the resources to do your job."

As with the many other successes in his life, it's been Mr. Cooke's intuition for recognizing ability and character that hat served as the foundation for his achievements with the Redskins.

It was that intuition that led him to Turner, a young, hard-working, assistant coach with a keen offensive mind and no head coaching experience, matching almost exactly the resume of another coach Mr. Cooke introduced to Redskins fans in 1981.

That coach was Joe Gibbs who went on to win 140 games and three Super Bowls in 12 seasons, and a place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

"Norv is the most professional, dedicated, intelligent young football brain I have run across," says Mr. Cooke. "I have such complete irrevocable confidence in Norv. Nothing in my mind will change it. We're lucky to have him guiding the Redskins."

Mr. Cooke has what associates describe as a sixth sense for business. He also has a sixth sense in discovering young, untapped talent and turning that talent into greatness. It's been that way from the beginning.

While owner of the Maple Leafs, his minor league baseball team, Mr. Cooke had an infielder on his team named Sparky Anderson. At the owner's suggestion, Anderson stopped playing and became the manager of the Maple Leafs in 1964. Thirty-two years later, Anderson is on route to baseball's Hall of Fame.

And Mr. Cooke does not stop with the best people. In August of 1992, the new Redskin training facility opened. The state-of-the-art Redskin Park includes three grass and one astroturf practice field, spacious weight room, locker room, training and equipment facilities along with large team meeting rooms and office space. Located in Ashburn, VA, the 75,000 square foot building is buffered by 161 acres of rural countryside. It is regarded as the finest training facility in the pros.

Another of Mr. Cooke's buildings bears a similar appelation. In 1967, as Chairman of the NBA's Los Angeles Lakers and NHL's Los Angeles Kings, Mr. Cooke ran into a concrete wall with that city's Coliseum Commission on an arena lease for his teams. He retaliated by building the first privately funded indoor arena in the United States. Chick Hearn, the voice of the Lakers, called it the Fabulous Forum.

While the Redskins may be the crown jewel of his sporting interests, they do not stand alone in his successees. For over forty years, Mr. Cooke has been a premier sportsman, beginning with minor league baseball. He purchased the Maple Leafs in 1951 and a year later was named Minor League Executive of the Year by The Sporting News.

As owner of the Maple Leafs, Mr. Cooke formed a close association with Branch Rickey, and developed much of his sporting philosophy through their friendship.

Then came expansion into professional basketball and hockey in Los Angeles, where he became Chairman of the Board and President of California Sports, Inc., corporate parent of the Forum, the Kings and the Lakers.

Chances are one of the records set by his World Champion 1971-72 Laker team — a remarkable 33 consecutive game winning streak — may even outlast the Forum. In addition, Mr. Cooke laid the foundation of Laker championships for years to come when he traded for Kareem Abdul Jabbar and drafted and signed Magic Johnson.

Mr. Cooke's sporting interests also included a flirtation with golf, becoming a scratch player, and professional soccer ownership, but horses and horse racing has remained a continued passion. He purchased Elmendorf Racing and Breeding Farm in hopes of producing a Kentucky Derby winner in the future. It is one of the few prizes that has eluded him in sports or business, but chances are that will change if history is a barometer.

Born October 25, 1912 in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, Mr. Cooke was an avid hockey player and fan. He played in the Ontario Hockey Association, and was offered a scholarship to play for the University of Michigan. However, the Depression redirected him to a career in business, beginning as an encyclopedia salesman. He later joined Northern Broadcasting and Publishing, Ltd; and before he was 26, was one-third partner in Thomson Cooke Newspapers. Subsequently a 50-50 partner with Roy Thomson, the two men operated radio stations and newspapers throughout Canada. Thomson was later elevated to the peerage becoming Lord Thomson of Fleet. Their friendly business partnership lasted until Thomson passes away in 1985.

Mr. Cooke still maintains his interest in the communications industry with ownership of the Los Angeles Daily News. His hand also extends to many other endeavors, including ownership of the Chrysler Building, cable television systems and real estate enterprises.

Mr. Cooke's father, Ralph E., was a picture frame manufacturer. His mother, Nancy, helped him develop an interest in music. As a youngster he played clarinet and saxophone, playing in bands in Toronto with Percy Faith, famous orchestra leader and composer, and the late Murray McEachern, outstanding trombonist. Mr. Cooke still plays the piano, and is a member of ASCAP and BMI, having written and published many songs.

Variety accentuates his life. His love for the English language is reflected in every conversation and he continues to read 60 to 70 books a year. His hobbies include antiques, wine, and riding his prize collection of Tennessee Walkers.

Mr. Cooke still finds time to take in practice of Redskin Park, rain or shine. He and his wife, Marlena, also make regular, mid-summer trips to the team's training camp to check the progress of the Redskins.

Finally, John Hawkins of The Washington Times had to say this about Nancy Cooke's eldest son, ". . . he knows how to grip the reins. The good Lord dressed Jack Kent Cooke in a bulletproof vest, gave him a ready holster and opened his eyes wide to the promise land. For those who never get out of the barn, that puts him on top of the American dream. The lead horse is riding toward the sunset. Can you think of a more suitable man to have climbed in the saddle?

No, especially if that man continues to be 'an indomitable optimist.' "

© Copyright 1997 washingtonpost.com

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