Daniel M. Snyder purged the Redskins front office, repeatedly lit into his head coach, meddled in team meetings. Many Redskins fans thought he was a brat, a 34-year-old upstart with millions in his pocket and a growl on his lips.
They still see him that way. And how grateful they are.
"He's sort of a surly, pushy businessman. I really don't like him, but I like what he's done for the Redskins because they're winning," said Charles Andrews, 30, a black wool Redskins cap pulled tight against his scalp.
No doubt it's been a tempestuous courtship between Snyder and the fans. Many still don't like him. They certainly wouldn't want to work for him. "He'd fire me the next day," said Andrews, a computer specialist from Dupont Circle. But after a six-year playoff drought, fans roundly applaud Snyder for putting their Redskins back where they belong: in Super Bowl contention.
How handsome this suitor looked yesterday on the eve of a second-round playoff game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
As the pulse was taken of Redskins fans around the region, it seemed that Snyder had won many hearts.
"He's a tough businessman. He is really a devoted Redskins fan, and the combination has been very positive for the team," said Jean Favors, of Southeast Washington, a season ticket holder for nearly 40 years. "Somebody needed to come and tell them: 'Move your ass or get out.' "
"At first I thought he was just this whiz-kid rich guy who came in to add to his empire," said Megan Brewer, of Columbia, a 35-year backer of the Redskins who was digging up all her team memorabilia from a cedar chest to prepare for the game this afternoon. "I don't think that is the case anymore. He is a true fan. True fans know each other. In retrospect, I think that the team is better off with Snyder, because it just doesn't seem like [Jack Kent] Cooke had the chutzpah to carry off what Snyder has."
When he plopped down $800 million for the franchise before this season and abruptly stripped Cooke's name off the stadium, many were taken aback that he could so blithely dispense with the memory of a man who had brought them four Super Bowl teams and three world champions.
"There was a little bit of a pang, of pain. Jack Kent Cooke was a father to the team for so long," said Roxanne Wallace, a 24-year-old architect from Southwest Washington.
Snyder also fired more than two dozen people in the front office, axed much of the support staff and yanked General Manager Charles Casserly, who had been with the team since the 1970s when he started as an intern. Then the Redskins humiliated themselves and their fans on Opening Day, squandering a 21-point lead in the fourth quarter to lose to the reviled Dallas Cowboys, and Snyder could not catch a break.
"When he first took over," said Mike Corbett, 33, of Fairfax, "I thought he was a real jerk."
Through a turbulent season, Snyder ripped into Coach Norv Turner after losses, summoned veteran players for private tutorials and held Turner's future employment hostage to a playoff bid. Sports Illustrated accused Snyder of having an itchy trigger finger, former Redskins faulted him for meddling, network sportscasters suggested he was inciting the players to mutiny against their coach. Fans called him a blowhard.
They still do. But the team's success has turned Snyder's vices into virtues.
"When he first took over, I thought he made some decisions that made me question his maturity and whether they were rational. I thought it was unprofessional when he took Norv Turner aside right after a game and was alleged to have chewed him out," said Ted Williams, of the District. "I am now convinced, and I am a Dan Snyder fan."
Still, not many fans would like to find themselves working for Snyder--a severe taskmaster who relinquished the weekends of his twenties building Snyder Communications Inc., an international marketing firm that brought in more than $800 million a year by the time he was in his mid-thirties.
"He seems like he's pushy and overbearing," said Peter Connolly, 48, a lawyer from Northwest Washington. "I wouldn't want to work for him. He relentlessly supervises [the coaches] and makes their lives difficult and intrudes into team meetings. He seems like an impatient kid, but he's had great success. That's how you get to be a billionaire."
As she tended bar, Deni Schroeder, 27, of Springfield, said of Snyder: "I think he's loosening up a bit, but I think he needs to loosen up some more. He's too corporate. I'd like to see him more casual. It's a football game, not a board meeting. . . .
"I didn't like him to begin with," she said, but conceded, "My feelings are changing."
It's not only winning that has warmed the fans to Snyder. He's softened his image by giving away free tickets to supporters. He won kudos for inviting hundreds of fans in from the cold to spend the night in the luxurious club level lounge after they lined up outside the stadium a day before tickets for the Detroit Lions playoff game went on sale. "It wasn't just bigshots but fans. "It's just little things that make you know that he knows what it's like to be a fan," said Favors.
And he was cheered for helping arrange a special package trip on US Airways for fans bound to Tampa for the contest today. "I like him because he's for the fan," said Jim Todd, 41, of Dumfries.
Moreover, Redskins followers like glancing up at the owner's box and seeing someone as pumped as they are when Stephen Davis barrels across the goal line, or as incredulous when the referees muff a call.
"He's a real guy. He loves the game. He obviously is very competitive," said Mark Frazer, 50, of North Beach, in Calvert County. "He wants to win, not just, I think, for the money but for the taste of victory, which is what motivates the millions of Redskins fans. So I think we identify with him in that regard."
But ultimately, nothing seduces fans as quickly as a division championship and a lopsided first-round victory in the playoffs.
"Holy cow!" said Terry Straight, 33, a disc jockey at a Southern Maryland radio station. "This guy is coming in and he's going to be putting heads on chopping blocks. But it seemed to work. He laid down the law, and the Redskins are in the playoffs."
"When you have a winning team, all your problems go away," said Jim Kneen, 34, of Annapolis, a season ticket holder. "The media will stop bugging him, the fans won't care that he was this young, rich kid with new money. Soon, no one's gonna say boo. I think he's a hell of a guy."
Staff writers William Branigin, Todd Shields, Avis Thomas-Lester, Emily Wax and Yolanda Woodlee contributed to this report.