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Redskins Are Here to Stay, Cooke Promises

By Dave Sell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 9, 1995; Page C01

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Eighty-three-year-old Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke said yesterday that he plans to keep the National Football League team in the metropolitan area as long as he's around -- and after he's gone as well.

"I am dedicated to keeping it here," Cooke said during an interview in his Redskin Park office, "and I am dedicated in my plans for when I am not here any longer that it will remain here."

Cooke's statement of commitment came amid speculation that he, like Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell, might be enticed with financial incentives to move his team to another city. On Monday, Modell said he had "no choice" but to accept Maryland's offer of a rent-free, $200 million publicly funded stadium in Baltimore.

Cooke said he was disturbed by the recent transfer of several franchises. The Rams moved from Los Angeles to St. Louis and the Raiders from Los Angeles to Oakland, where they originated. The Houston Oilers are considering a move to Nashville.

"What we are facing is the disillusion of the long and proudly held stability and solidity of the National Football League," Cooke said. "It is one of the crown jewels of professional sports, the National Football League. And it is being tarnished by these vagabond moves. I deplore it tremendously.

"I feel dreadfully sorry for the fans in Cleveland, and I would never, ever consider doing such a thing to the Redskins fans," he said. "Cleveland fans are supposed to be as fanatical as any in the land; well, they're not. The Redskins fans are No. 1 champion fanatical fans. Even during these last 2 1/2 years {when the team's record is 10-32}, look at how faithfully they've been behind us."

Cooke said he had lost more than $40 million on the Redskins, of which he has been majority owner for 21 years. He cited the loss as one reason he is trying to build a new and larger stadium to replace 50,000-seat Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium in the District.

"This is one of the reasons why, if we can get this stadium built with the largess from skyboxes, club seats and all the other accouterments, the full financial flavor of the concession rights, the parking rights and so on, at least the club will be self-sustaining, and that's all I want it to be," Cooke said. "Now, if it makes a profit, I won't be annoyed."

Cooke is trying to negotiate an agreement to build his own $180 million stadium in Landover. Gov. Parris N. Glendening has said that Maryland will pick up the entire cost of the new Baltimore stadium for the Browns, but Cooke has asked only that Maryland or Prince George's County pay for roads, parking and other infrastructure costs, which he estimated at $73 million.

Although Cooke insists he will be around when the stadium opens -- and he still believes it will open for the 1997 season -- what happens if Cooke dies before the deal is done?

"Everything has been planned and organized," said Cooke, without providing specifics about his will or other legal documents. "If I drop dead during the course of this interview, it would make not a particle of difference about building this stadium. Whether the stadium is going to be built in Prince George's County, Washington or Virginia, it's all been done. It's all fait accompli."

Cooke's only living son is John Kent Cooke Sr., who has been the team's executive vice president since 1981. For years, the expectation has been that he would inherit the team. John Kent Cooke has two sons, John Jr. and Thomas.

In an October interview with Turner Network Television, Jack Kent Cooke was asked who might be running the Redskins in 20 or 30 years. Cooke said that he might still be running the team in the next 10 or 15 years but that in 20 years, he said, "I imagine my son, John, will be running them and, subsequently, my grandson John Jr. will be running them."

Yesterday, Jack Kent Cooke declined to say whether John Kent Cooke would inherit the team. "That is a private matter within the family," Cooke said.

Several other NFL franchises have had ownership squabbles or problems with estate taxes after the death of the majority owner.

Joe Robbie founded the Miami Dolphins and has his name on the stadium in which the Dolphins play. But his death in 1990 prompted a split among his nine children and eventually led to the sale of the team to the current owner, H. Wayne Huizenga. Huizenga owned part of the team and 50 percent of the stadium when Robbie died. Huizenga bought the team for a reported $138 million and the rest of the stadium for $12 million.

Some of the Robbie children were described as upset that the sale price was not higher. Reports indicated it was not higher because banks that lent money for stadium construction stipulated that the Dolphins remain at Joe Robbie Stadium. That scenario could apply to the Redskins.

If Cooke borrows money to pay at least some, if not all, of the construction costs, whoever inherits the team might be required to keep it in a new stadium to pay construction loans.

"Wherever in the vicinity of the greater Washington area we locate the stadium," Cooke said, "the Redskins will enter into a 30-year lease with options to renew for 10-year periods thereafter."

Later, Cooke said that "the penalty clauses in the lease will completely make it prohibitive to even consider moving, no matter who runs the club, whether it be Johnny or Mr. X or Mr. Y or Mr. Z."

© Copyright 1995 The Washington Post Company

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