When somebody has the wealth of Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke, some would argue, there are no bad days, only varying shades of good. But Cooke is very much human, so he feels anger and joy, like the rest of us. Most of the past few months have been discouraging and frustrating. His son Ralph passed away. His football team struggled. He couldn't get local politicians to let him spend $180 million in their community to build a stadium. Go figure.
But Sunday's 24-17 victory over the Dallas Cowboys was thrilling, and the happiness Cooke felt spilled into yesterday's announcement of a deal to build a stadium in Landover.
"This is one of the most exciting days of my life," said Cooke, who just turned 83. "Coupled with the fabulous win yesterday, this day has made this weekend as heavenly and pleasing as any weekend I've had in long time."
Cooke said a bit of bronchitis prevented him from going to Dallas to watch the Redskins upset the Cowboys for the second time this season and raise their record to 4-9, with three games remaining.
Prince George's County Executive Wayne Curry was the toughest nut to crack for Cooke in completing this deal, resisting using county funds for any of the infrastructure costs. When Curry opened the news conference yesterday at the Holiday Inn in Landover -- just across the Beltway from the Wilson Farm site where the stadium will be built -- he referred to the "unexpected" victory in Dallas. Cooke grimaced. When Curry did it a second time, Cooke interrupted by saying, "It was expected."
When Cooke stepped to the microphone, he told a story.
"When dear Wayne," Cooke said, letting laughter subside, "referred to this unexpected victory, you heard how I replied. We were convinced and this is not a story out of some kind of fairy tale book. We were absolutely convinced -- we being Norv Turner and I -- that this game is going to be won. I had said to Norv, they have a superior team, individually, than what we have. But if we have a greater will to win this game than they have, if our desire to win this game is greater than their desire to win this game, we're going to win the game. He said, You're darn right, Mr. Cooke,' and he told me this morning that they were the last words he said to the boys before they left the locker room to go out on that field and beat the living bajeeburs out of the God . . ." Cooke stopped short of finishing that sentence, prompting more laughter.
"You have no idea how proud I am to be here today," Cooke said. "I have been forced to practice patience that would have put Job to shame. But as they say, patience has its own reward and the reward will be a state-of-the-art stadium, seating 78,600. There will be amenities galore. Perhaps the most important amenity of all is that my family and I are paying for the stadium, lock, stock and barrel."
If Cooke is almost always publicly sure of victory on the field, the stadium talks were something else. Asked if he was ever worried the deal might collapse, Cooke said, "Oh, perhaps every hour on the hour until today."
The new stadium, just five miles from RFK, will allow the Redskins to generate the revenue that competing clubs, such as Dallas, generate. But Cooke's planners estimate the stadium will generate more than $500 million in county and state taxes over the 30-year lease.
"Forgive me for repeating it, but really and truly it's one hell of a lot of money," said Cooke, who would know.
While his deals helped him amass a fortune, victory on the field is more difficult to achieve. Like any investor, he would prefer a return sooner than later. The Redskins are assured a losing record for a third straight season, though Sunday's victory made it easier to dream of future playoff games in a new stadium.
"I was just excited, beyond belief and proud, very proud, as if every one of those players was my own son," Cooke said after the news conference. "Oh, I was proud. They whomped them and I knew it was going to happen, didn't you?"
"Early on, I thought so, despite that bad call on Darrell's alleged interference and I screamed at the referee for that one," Cooke said.
That would be the pass interference penalty on cornerback Darrell Green, which set up Dallas's first touchdown.
Cooke's stadium, which he still hopes to have built for the 1997 season, will have giant replay screens so fans can better see replays of blown calls by officials, "of which we've had plenty this year," Cooke said. Cooke will share Maryland with the Browns, who are leaving Cleveland for Baltimore. Cooke chose only to say he wished the Browns well in Baltimore -- even though it will help flood the market for sky boxes. "Many, many times I have been urged to move the Redskins to other cities," Cooke said. "You see, RFK Stadium was built originally as a baseball stadium and it is a very difficult stadium for football. Somebody once said why don't you lower the field another 15 or 20 feet and build in more seats. But 15 or 20 feet below the field is water. A water polo team would be in great order down there, but certainly not the Washington Redskins.
"I have never even remotely considered any offer to leave the Washington area and I want this abundantly clear: This to me is the Washington area. The Redskins belong to this Washington area. This is where the Redskins will stay. My family and I and the whole organization are not an organization of gypsies and vagabonds. We're here and we're staying here. We come here to stay, to provide jobs and pay taxes and make ourselves a solid member of a fine, fine community." CAPTION: Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke does The Wave, while Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening handles the standing ovation at stadium deal news conference.