But he didn't live to see it open. On the morning of April 6, at his home in Northwest Washington, Cooke died of a heart attack. Just minutes before his death, he had summoned son John to come over and take a ride to the stadium site.
At his memorial service four days later, John Kent Cooke's brief, moving eulogy included these words: "He doted on me as a boy. He trained me as a young man. He entrusted me with the daily operation of the essence of everything he savored, the Washington Redskins." He also announced that the stadium would carry his father's name, saying: "He envisioned it a decade ago. It was his creation. It is his stadium, and it will bear his name."
He told employees and the press that he intended to keep the Redskins in the family and that things would continue to operate as they had under his father. Actually, his father's tangled will left it uncertain whether he would be able to buy the team. But even it he could, no one who knew his father believed that the Redskins ever would be the same.
Jack Kent Cooke was a loud, bullying, profane man. He had little patience, and he didn't suffer fools lightly. He also was one of the best owners in sports. The Redskins had wonderful days of glory in some of his years, and at least stayed competitive in others, while they played in the NFL's smallest stadium. They lost money virtually every year but continued to spend it because Cooke wanted to win so badly. He had strong opinions, and he challenged his coaches and general managers when they disagreed with him. But he usually followed their recommendations.
A few weeks after his father's death, John Kent Cooke described how he one day hoped to turn the Redskins over to his sons, John and Tom. He described the patch the Redskins would wear in memory of his father in 1997 and spoke about how it would be such an important season.
"I think more than any other, it's a season when I hope we go to the playoffs," he said. "It would be a fitting tribute to my father."