It’s hard to not get worked up about a new stadium possibly getting built on the existing RFK site, especially with Washington’s football team owner Daniel Snyder in the picture. “Think your NFL owner is bad? Dan Snyder’s always worse” was the newspaper headline that greeted our football team when it visited Tampa Bay for a game last month.
That’s not fake news.
Snyder’s ownership record is a tale of how to run down a successful franchise, while making bundles of money along the way. As the Tampa Bay writer observed, Snyder always comes up on the wrong side of everything: choosing team management (how about haughty, hapless president Bruce Allen), coaching staff (remember Sherman Lewis ?), player selection (don’t forget Jeff George, Albert Haynesworth and Dana Stubblefield). Let’s not ignore the cheerleaders who said they were used as escorts on a trip to Costa Rica where stadium suite owners and sponsors could check out the cheerleaders topless.
Sportswriters at this newspaper and elsewhere have amply documented his shortcomings as an owner. What Snyder has put on the field is beyond embarrassing. Before his takeover, the team had racked up three Super Bowl titles in 10 years. Under nearly 20 years of Snyder ownership, the Washington City Paper summarized: “Overall record of 138-178-1; no Super Bowl or conference title game appearances, one NFC East division championship, a 2-5 playoff record and five winning seasons.”
Snyder has excelled brilliantly, however, in spotting a good deal: He bought the team for $800 million in 1999. This year, the team, at $3.1 billion, ranks as the NFL’s fourth-most valuable franchise.
Now comes word that Snyder is conniving with D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), D.C. Council finance committee chairman Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and congressional Republicans to bring the team back to Washington from FedEx Field in Landover to which it fled in 1997.
Pray tell, why?
The football team has been gone for more than 20 years. By all measures, Washington has gotten along without it very well.
Our books are balanced, the treasury’s full, and the economy is humming along. To be sure, we have deep nagging problems, social and otherwise. But they aren’t the kind of issues that an NFL team in town to play only a handful of games annually can solve.
It’s said Snyder yearns to return to the RFK site where memories of past team glories reside, and where there is the opportunity to get free land on which to build a glitzy new stadium that will anchor his cash-cow dream: a sprawling commercial district on the banks of the Anacostia River.
The District doesn’t need Snyder and his stadium to develop the 190-acre RFK campus. The city should get the federally owned land, which it can — in consultation with residents — developed for commercial, housing and recreational purposes with less costs and fewer headaches than Snyder would bring.
Besides, we already have the makings of a world-class city around us: the arts, cultural attractions, retail, and entertainment districts with theaters, restaurant and hotels. And sports? We are hardly a backwater town when it comes to sports activities. Check out Nationals Park and Capital One Arena. How about the new Mystics home and Wizards practice facility at St. Elizabeths? And the new D.C. United stadium at Buzzard Point?
’Tis true, FedEx Field game-day experiences — the commute, traffic, parking and subpar team performance — produce more agony than joy. But whose fault is that? Why should the District indulge Snyder’s desire to return to greener pastures?
This isn’t the rant of a Washington football team opponent.
I have been a lifelong fan. I grew up following Eddie LeBaron and Gene Brito. Yes, I went through a bad spell with team owner George Preston Marshall, who stubbornly refused to lift his ban on African American football players. Cheered my head off when integrated visiting teams came to town. Loved it when black players scored against Washington’s defense — including Ollie Matson of the Chicago Cardinals, with 11 touchdowns in nine games against Washington, Willie Galimore of the Chicago Bears with nine touchdowns in four games, and the Cleveland Browns’ Jim Brown and Marion Motley with, respectively, six TDs in three games and 16 overall.
But I returned to the fold with George Allen, Bobby Mitchell, Charley Taylor, Sonny Jurgensen, John Riggins and the Hogs, and never thought about leaving until Snyder arrived and began amusing himself with his new toys.
Now what? Are Republicans going to slip a rider into a year-end federal spending bill to lease land to the District that, in turn, must shell out tens of millions of dollars to pay for infrastructure (and goodness knows what else) so Snyder gets to realize his lust for a moat-surrounded stadium and entertainment district at the city’s East End?
Will the D.C. Council, which must approve any deal, or District voters, who will have to foot the bill, stand for it? Don’t think so.
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