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SIMMONS: Redskins return needed in city

- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 23, 2010

OPINION/ANALYSIS:

Breaking bread together provides a good opportunity for people to get to know one another, especially when the diners are the incoming mayor of Washington and the general manager of a sports franchise that plays its games in one state but practices in another.

See where I'm heading?

Washington Redskins General Manager Bruce Allen, Mayor-elect Vince Gray and D.C. Council member Michael Brown were spotted at the legendary Morton's steakhouse on Thursday evening, and while no deals were expected to be ironed out immediately, it's obvious why these two men were seated at the same table with others who can make things happen for the Redskins and the city.

It would be sweet if the 'Skins built a state-of-the-art practice/training facility in the city, moved the team back home and, at the same time, began to help resurrect a city in need of several economic shots in the arm.

The players and team owner Dan Snyder remain community Samaritans, sponsoring fitness programs, building athletic fields and the like. But officials should find common ground for a public-private partnership like the one struck by the owners of the Verizon Center, the Wizards, the Mystics, the Capitals and Georgetown University.

Imagine an academic "collaboration" - one of Mr. Gray's favorite words - between the Redskins and schools officials that includes high school championships playing at a Redskins facility.

The RFK Stadium neighborhood has been a ghost town since the team moved to FedExField in Maryland. The silence is hardly golden for fans who hold precious memories of attending games with their dads.

"We used to park on East Capitol Street on game day," said Mr. Brown, son of Ron Brown, the late U.S. commerce secretary and Democratic National Committee chairman. "We could hear the fans screaming and [aluminum] bleachers rocking as we walked to the stadium.

"We'd stop at a vendor and get a plate of barbecue and collard greens," he added. "It's not the same."

And it's all because of politics.

Then-Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly didn't appreciate the relationship between this football town and its stakeholders, who wanted - needed - the NFL franchise to stay put. Negotiations with Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke broke down because, Mrs. Kelly said, she would not "allow our good community to be steamrolled by ... a billionaire bully."

Well, as we approach the end of the year and the Redskins' season, new dynamics are evolving.

The majority of the 14 Republican freshmen poised for seats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which handles D.C. affairs, are from states with professional sports franchises. Also, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty will become as passe as that No. 5 Redskins jersey he wears.

And here again, the 'Skins need a new practice facility because the one they use in Virginia prohibits them from practicing outdoors if its snows or ices up.

Moreover, Mr. Gray, the incoming mayor, and Kwame Brown, who will replace him as council chairman, said they are committed to zeroing in on economic development projects worthy of a world-class capital. The question, Mr. Gray said, is: Can the city "afford" to help relocate the team?

But as both Mr. Browns said to me, the overriding issue for fans and stakeholders is, "Can we continue to afford not having the Redskins here?"

Few expected Santa to click his brogans at the Morton's dinner and deliver a new deal, but striking up conversation in one of the best steakhouses in the country is a good sign.

Here's a wink and a nod to better days for the Redskins. They need it, and die-hard fans deserve it.

Merry Christmas and happy new year!

Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com

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