The news that Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder has “started the process” of looking for a new stadium should remind Redskins fans who it was who banished the team to the prison it has inhabited for 17 years.
It was the beloved, revered Jack Kent Cooke.
Sometimes Redskins fans forget the fact — or else the ones that have grown up or arrived in town since the last game at RFK Stadium in 1996 are unaware — that it was Cooke who ripped the heart out of the franchise by building a Home Depot do-it-yourself stadium out in Raljon, Maryland.
Remember Raljon? The audacity of this man that he would not only take the Redskins out of Washington, but create his own little town called Raljon — based on the first names of his sons Ralph and John — is an example of the self-indulgence that led to the decision that Redskins fans who still choose to come to games curse every time they make the day-long commitment to go to a home game.
What does it say about a man who would name the town where the stadium was located after his two sons, yet let the team fall out of the grasp of his son John after he died?
Cooke died six months before the first Redskins game at what was then called Jack Kent Cooke Stadium. It was hardly a palace to the man’s legacy. Snyder inherited the stadium, and reaped the financial rewards of the 90,000-plus facility (downsized since to 75,000 capacity), but also the criticism as well.
Maybe he would have been better off if he kept the stadium in Cooke’s name, instead of pursuing a naming-rights deal with his business partner, FedEx chairman Fred Smith, to remind everyone who was responsible for it.
Cooke started talking about leaving the District 10 years before his suburban Maryland stadium would open, starting with talks to build a new stadium out in Loudoun County. He spent the next nine years angering and alienating nearly every politicians in the DMV, talking about sites near Dulles Airport, Alexandria, Laurel, and the District, before finally reaching the deal to build the stadium in Prince George’s County.
The narrative is to blame District Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly for the team leaving Washington, but that’s ridiculous. Cooke had talks with his predecessor, Marion Barry, for years about a new stadium, all the while also looking to flee to the suburbs.
The blame should go squarely on Cooke’s shoulders — driven by vanity, stubbornness and the ticking time clock of age. He wound up paying the entire freight for a nowhere stadium, having blustered his way out of better deals, because he was running out of time and wanted to live to see his monument.
He told CSN Washington that he has started the process for a new stadium “whether it’s Washington, D.C., whether it’s another stadium in Maryland, whether it’s a stadium in Virginia. … We are going to push forward. We’ve started meeting with architectural firms. We are in the process of developing because it is a long term that you do it.”
It could be a long process.