CARLISLE, Pa. The “Welcome, Washington Redskins” sign is up again outside Rillo’s. The Super Bowl XXVI championship plaque has been dusted off at the G-Man. The grass at Biddle Field is freshly mowed.
Bubba and the boys are coming back to town … Sunday.
The economy of this college town of 20,000 has survived quite nicely thanks largely to car shows at the fairgrounds since the Redskins jilted their summer home of 32 years and moved from Dickinson College to Maryland’s Frostburg State University in 1995.
“Our business has greatly increased each month. June and July were very strong, so it’s hard to say how much of a difference having the Redskins in town is going to make for us,” said Heather Kattouf, general manager of the Comfort Suites in downtown Carlisle. “But we are offering a special Redskins rate for fans and media.”
Neither Carlisle nor the Redskins, who broke their contract with Frostburg to train at Redskin Park last summer, were quite the same without each other.
It was in Carlisle, after all, where Vince Lombardi began the Redskins’ renaissance in 1969, where George Allen turned them into contenders in 1971 and where Joe Gibbs molded three Super Bowl champions from 1982 to 1991.
“I always thought the Redskins would be back because this is where they trained when they were winning,” said restaurateur Joe Rillo, whose parents used to feed coaches and players at their home when the business was closed on Sundays back in the 1960s.
Those were the days of six-week training camps, of boys will be boys hi-jinks, of innumerable rookies standing on chairs singing off-key renditions of college fight songs and of post-bed check exits out the back door of Adams Hall to the G-Man (officially the Gingerbread Man).
Today, training camp is half as long, there are only half as many rookies to harass and many of the millionaire veterans are too busy checking on their stock portfolios or too worried about staying in top shape to have much time for carousing in Carlisle.
But while cornerback Darrell Green, trainer Bubba Tyer and assistant general manager Bobby Mitchell are the only current Redskins employees who have summered at Dickinson, it might not take long for a new generation of Redskins to fall in love with Carlisle.
“This is where my career started, so to me this is the most beautiful place in the world,” said Green, a 12-year Carlisle resident, on the eve of the Redskins’ 1994 departure.
That feeling is mutual.
“When my husband and I were in Hawaii in 1983, we were asked where we were from, and we were proud to say that we were from Carlisle, Pennsylvania, summer home of the Super Bowl champion Washington Redskins,” said Arlene Merisotis, owner of George’s Subs and Pizza, just down High Street from Dickinson.
“It’s fun when you see houses down the street from yours on ESPN,” said G-Man manager Dan Miller, who fondly remembers Redskins greats Russ Grimm and Dave Butz as regulars at the establishment. “Having the Redskins and their fans here enhances the quality of life just by having a more metropolitan crowd for a month.”
And the Redskins, who considered William & Mary, Gettysburg and Richmond among other colleges before coming back to Dickinson, know that they’re in good hands.
“We know what’s involved in hosting an NFL training camp,” said Dottie Warner, Dickinson’s director of event planning. “We know what a team needs.”
While the Redskins still will practice at Biddle and sleep at Adams (as well as at Drayer Hall), they will have a separate dining area in the Holland-Union Building for the first time and will dress and lift weights in the spacious and air-conditioned Kline Center instead of in the cramped areas adjacent to Biddle.
There also will be a hospitality tent from which cronies of team owner Dan Snyder and other VIPs can watch practice.
Snyder, who would helicopter to Frostburg to watch practice even before he sold his non-football businesses, figures to be the team’s most devoted fan in Carlisle. That’s a major change from the last Redskins owner of the previous Carlisle era.
The octogenarian Jack Kent Cooke would make an annual pilgrimage to Dickinson.
In 1989, Cooke was on hand for the Redskins’ scrimmage, always held at Carlisle High School because Biddle didn’t have lights. Burly running back Gerald Riggs had been acquired from Atlanta that spring, and during the scrimmage, Riggs ran out of bounds, slammed into equipment manager Jay Brunetti’s truck and dented it.
Shortly thereafter, here came Riggs again, heading straight for Cooke, who was seated in a wooden chair along the sideline. Redskins public relations director Charlie Dayton jumped up and hurled his featherweight body in front of Riggs to prevent the collision of player and owner. For his bravery above and beyond the call, Dayton became the first PR man to make the All-Madden team.
Still, Dayton might have been better off than assistant trainer Keoki Kamau, who once returned from a preseason road game to find that Tyer had stunk up his room (and all of Adams Hall) with a dead chicken. Tyer once hoisted assistant coach Jerry Rhome’s bike up the Biddle Field flagpole. And Tyer and Grimm, a player and assistant for the team’s last 14 years in Carlisle, used to compete to see who could stuff the other’s truck more full of popcorn or other equally annoying substances.
Grimm, who probably loved Carlisle more than any Redskin, left for the Pittsburgh Steelers this winter, so Tyer is going to have find a new partner/target.
Just another something old/ something new tradition to re-establish.