Tomorrow, just before kickoff at the Redskins game, you'll look up into the owner's box and see Dan Snyder, the 34-year-old boy wonder who bought the team and Jack Kent Cooke Stadium for $800 million earlier this year. He'll be having a great time, laughing and high-fiving his pals. To his right will be a beautiful, mysterious blonde, starlike behind dark sunglasses, sleek in expensive designer clothes. And you'll think: That's the American dream--the millions, the football team, and the Babe in the Box.
The babe in question is Tanya Snyder, 37-year-old wife of Dan Snyder and mother of their two children. Yes, she's a Southern belle, former cheerleader and model. But don't bank too much on that stereotype: She's also a former clothing representative who earned six figures, a businesswoman who spent her first date with Snyder brainstorming about the perfect new company.
"You're not going to believe this, but we sat on the waterfront and we strategized--we came up with a business," she says. Flash forward six years: Dan is the multimillionaire chairman of Snyder Communications, his advertising and marketing company, and the newest business in the Snyder household is the Washington Redskins. Funny how these things turn out.
Before her husband acquired the team, Tanya Snyder lived a pampered but relatively private life. Now she's married to The Owner, which confers a front-row seat in the box and all the instant, sometimes oppressive, celebrity that comes with it.
"Dan loves the Redskins, and I do as well, but I had no idea it was really going to be this visible," she says.
On this quiet weekday, she is sitting alone in the box--which, by the way, she redesigned to make it feel like a "men's club." The walls are covered in mahogany, the 28 plush armchairs in burgundy or gold mohair to complement the maroon and gold plush carpet. There's a working kitchen, a large wooden bar to serve draft beers, and a brag wall with pictures of Dan Snyder with President Clinton and framed newspaper articles from May 26, 1999, the day after the NFL approved Snyder's bid for the team. There are wide-screen televisions throughout the box, even a small one in the ladies' restroom. But the best touch--the mark of a woman who thinks of everything--is the tiny televisions installed above each urinal in the men's bathroom. Really, what more could a man ask for?
In the past decade, the rarefied world of the owner's box, and everyone in it, has become the other spectator sport at Redskins games. It was always amusing for VIP-watching, but the game became more interesting in 1990 when former owner Jack Kent Cooke married (and later remarried) Marlene Ramallo Chalmers, a fiery brunette with a scandalous past and a don't-give-a-damn approach to life. Marlene was a great story on and off the field (on one occasion driving through Georgetown with a 27-year-old "friend" splayed across the hood) and became a local celebrity in her own right.
Like Marlene, Tanya wears dark glasses during the game--the glare gives her a roaring headache--but the similarities between the former Babe in the Box and the new BITB end there.
Tanya Snyder is classically pretty in a feminine, almost delicate manner: long blond hair that cascades; bright blue eyes and creamy pale skin; thin enough to wear expensive clothes without looking overdone. She is the picture-perfect match for Dan's intensity, the dream girl of every nerdy boy in high school. "I was a cheerleader my whole life," she says in a soft drawl, "so we joke about who's been to more football games."
Tanya is determined to maintain, as much as possible, a low profile. No scandals, no outbursts, no public fodder for the gossip columns.
"She's a very nice person," says Anthony Roberts, the Maryland eye surgeon who is Dan's closest friend and was the best man at his wedding. But he refuses to say more: "They're very private people."
The former Tanya Ivie grew up in the Atlanta suburb of Forest Park, the third of four daughters. Her dad worked in the computer business before that meant instant millions, and she was raised as a middle-class, modern Southern woman. Like her sisters, she was a cheerleader in junior high and high school. "Where I grew up, it was a very big deal," she says. "Cheerleading was everything."
After graduation in 1980, she took acting and speech lessons to soften her strong accent, and began to study art and design. When she was 20, she married Art Foreman, a Georgia-based jewelry sales representative, but they divorced two years later. "She was young," he says. "She was a good salesperson. She was a go-getter."
In the mid-'80s, Tanya worked as a print, commercial and runway model in Atlanta, then became interested in the business side of the garment industry. She got a job representing Joan Vass, Andrea Jovine and other clothing lines to specialty stores and boutiques throughout the Southeast.
The job included driving a 26-foot-long, 10-foot-tall mobile home-showroom filled with clothes and going from store to store gathering orders. To boost her confidence, she took motivational courses: Dale Carnegie, Zig Ziglar, Tom Hopkins. "People always thought of me as shy, too nice, and I guess I ended up putting myself in that mold where I wouldn't speak up for myself," she says.
By the time she met Dan Snyder in 1993, she had her own business representing designers and says she was making a six-figure income as an upscale traveling saleswoman. "I worked all the time," she says. Mutual friends suggested she meet an impressive young go-getter from Washington; a blind date--with the friends in tow--was arranged for her first trip to the nation's capital.
"Money talks," says her former husband dryly, but Snyder says that wasn't true in this case. "Dan and I met as two entrepreneurs," she says. "We became instant best friends. I ended up telling him more in a weekend than I told anybody in my whole life."
And yes, she thought he was sexy. "He's not the tallest guy in the world, but I thought he was cute," she says. They clicked. After she returned to Atlanta, he sent roses all the time: One bouquet was so big it wouldn't fit through her door.
The two were married in Washington on April 30, 1994. It was a small wedding of only 50 guests, mostly family. She had intended to move her business to Washington, but an analysis by Snyder burst that bubble.
"He took me to the conference room in his office," she remembers. "We broke down the numbers on my business and I was like, 'Oh, my gosh.' I had a rude awakening. He showed me I couldn't sell my business or go public."
Dan's company, however, was so successful that she became a full-time wife and mother to their two young daughters, now ages 4 and 1. Both pregnancies were very difficult--even life-threatening--and Snyder says she emerged from the experience with renewed appreciation for things money can't buy and a commitment to children's charities in town. (The new emergency wing at Children's Hospital is named after the Snyders.)
"That really kept us grounded through all of it," she says. "We're very humble people."
But make no mistake: The Snyders live a very luxurious lifestyle. "I don't use the word 'rich,' " she says. "I think of it more as 'successful.' . . . I feel like we're still climbing."
Nah, they're rich. Dan Snyder's estimated net worth is $500 million. The Snyders live in a 12,000-square-foot house in Bethesda, purchased in 1995 for $1.9 million. There are nannies and a staff, a yacht. She loves skiing, so there are trips to Aspen in the winter and Italy in the summer. She drives a Range Rover, and Neiman Marcus counts her as one of its best customers.
Tanya admits she is a clotheshorse, and wears her size 6 Escada pantsuits with the nonchalance of a woman who doesn't fret over price tags. The gold and sapphire earrings are noticeable but not flashy, as is the gold and diamond watch. The diamond on her left hand is big but not vulgar.
"My husband has excellent taste," she says. "He's wonderful at surprises." One of her weaknesses: Mikimoto pearls, a taste her spouse is happy to indulge. "I've had to say, 'Okay, okay. I can't wear all this.' "
One of the best aspects of going from middle class to megabucks is gaining the ability to do just about anything their hearts desire: buy a football team, or have dinner in Paris. "It's the freedom to be spontaneous," she says. "Dan will call me up and two hours later we'll be off to Europe."
But there's a down side: the loss of privacy and security. "I just feel the need to be more guarded," she says.
The Snyders have received letters from strangers addressed to their home--some nice, some not so nice. "This is the part that is very shocking to me," she says. "The mail, the comments, it's scary. . . . We had a very private life, and we like it that way."
But these days, her husband gets recognized everywhere he goes. "He's just one of a kind," she says. "He's very driven, and I love that about him. What he achieves . . . he's worked so hard, and nothing has been easy. And still, nothing is easy. It's really not."
Maybe not. But at least he's got the Babe in the Box.
"I guess I don't consider myself a babe," she says with a laugh. "I'm definitely a mommy--and hopefully a great wife. That's all that matters to me. I have no desire to be the babe of the town, but if someone means that as a compliment, thank you."