- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 14, 2001

The Boy Owner has told the other newspaper in town that it was a mistake to become the first NFL team to charge an admission fee to training camp last summer.

This is an about-face for the local NFL team. This is not what the minions with the local NFL team said last summer.

They said they were doing you the favor. They said they would accept your $10 to park and $10 to enter the grounds only out of the kindness of their hearts. They said Alan Greenspan put them up to it.

Their main objective was to give you a taste of the NFL. The financial considerations were incidental, beside the point. They did not want your money. They wanted your company. They took your money only because they wanted you to feel good about yourself.

To be fair, they did not impose a breathing surcharge. They also did not raffle off a dinner date with Darrell Green. No, they did not go that far. They are the NFL, not the XFL.

They lost money on the operation, they said, possibly a lot of money, and it was no small miracle they were able to meet their $100 million payroll.

They gave you training camp, and hopefully, in retrospect, you are smart enough to recognize what a sacrifice it was on their part.

The season did not go as planned. Pepper Rodgers was hired to fix Norv Turner's mess, and the other local NFL team won the Super Bowl.

So now, according to the Washington Post, the Boy Owner believes it was a mistake, although the story did not delve into specifics.

Maybe it was a public relations mistake, the tackiness of it, especially when you already are charging fans $20 to park at US Scare on game day, which entitles the have-nots to a free shuttle ride to the bowl by the Beltway.

Maybe it was a mistake to extend a hearty welcome to the opposition's scouts, the NFL caveat that goes with the admission fee.

Maybe it was a mistake to let the players go their separate ways after practice and forgo the team-bonding thing most teams try to cultivate at their out-of-the-way summer homes.

Maybe it was a mistake to foster a carnival-like atmosphere, setting an inappropriate tone.

Maybe it was a mistake to break the contract with Frostburg State University and jilt the Western Maryland town that treated the team with hospitality.

Turner certainly had to be careful with what he pulled from his playbook at practice. He knew there were spies taking notes in his midst, accumulating information that would be used against his team at a later date.

It is nice to know the Boy Owner and the voices on these pages finally have a talking point on which all can agree. The voices in this section pointed out various elements of the mistake about a couple of hundred times last summer.

Give the Boy Owner credit. It only took him an 8-8 season and the hiring of Marty Schottenheimer to acknowledge the mistake.

Unfashionable as it was at the time, this newspaper tried to be as helpful as possible. Even after Stephen Baldacci said other teams charged fans to watch practice, this newspaper made an effort to list the other teams. Come to find out, it was a one-team list. Baldacci was being humble, no doubt, reflecting an institutional discomfort with being seen as a marketing pioneer.

Rene Knott is possibly the only person in town who can relate to the institutional discomfort. He shivers in the line of duty, dispensing a weather-related sports report, because his employer does not bring the requisite Benjamins to the Boy Owner's table.

The Boy Owner's concession merited a clarification from the team's will-spin-for-food flack yesterday.

If the local NFL team could do it all over again, Karl Swanson said "we would have handled [it] a little different."

Swanson said the team again may charge admission to training camp, wherever it is, as a public service to its ever-supportive fan base.

You should know this is the team's way of giving back to the community, of showing its appreciation and charity.

You are, as always, No. 1 in the team's heart and wallet.

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