- The Washington Times - Friday, September 3, 2004

So Dan Snyder has increased FedEx Field’s seating capacity to 91,665, the NFL’s largest, to accommodate more of the burgundy and gold loyalists who want to watch Joe Gibbs perform sideline miracles in person — and, not coincidentally, to further fatten Danny Boy’s wallet.

That’s dandy, I suppose, because it reduces the number of names on the Redskins’ waiting list to a mere 105,000. Presumably many folks on the bottom end won’t get to pay outrageous prices for tickets in this lifetime, but they might have a chance if you believe in reincarnation.

For somebody who grew up watching the Redskins stumble and stall at tiny Griffith Stadium in the 1950s, the size of FedEx is enough to boggle several minds. Ninety-one thousand! In the bad old days, three or four mini-throngs at Griffith might not have added up to that many disgruntled spectators.

I don’t know what the place was like in the late ‘30s and early ‘40s when the Redskins were winning divisional and league titles with Sammy Baugh doing everything except washing the customers’ clothes (owner George Preston Marshall’s Palace Laundry handled that job). But by the time my family bought season tickets in 1949 — at $19.80 for the six-game home season, I might add — the team was both lousy and lonely.

For the 12 seasons from 1949 through 1960, when the Redskins abandoned Griffith for new D.C. (now RFK) Stadium, Our Lads were 52-86-6 for a nonwinning percentage of .382. Even losing presidential candidates Adlai Stevenson and Richard Nixon did better than that.

Another Nixon, Mike, was the Redskins’ coach during the 1959 and 1960 seasons, when the Redskins went an unsnappy 4-18-2. When his political namesake returned to California after losing the 1960 election to John Kennedy, at least one sportswriter grumbled, “They ran the wrong Nixon out of town.”

The Redskins were lily white as well as pathetic in those days because owner Marshall feared black employees might offend the team’s TV fans throughout the South. When Bill McPeak became coach in 1961, some thought they couldn’t do any worse. Wanna bet? During the first season at D.C. Stadium, that nasty scent emanating from East Capitol Street was the Redskins and their 1-12-1 record.

If memory serves, Griffith Stadium’s listed capacity for football was 36,000, a figure reachable only if every pedestrian on adjacent Seventh Street and Florida Avenue NW were dragooned inside. Actual attendance was much less, even at the annual Christmas game when Santa’s method of arrival was guarded more secretly than the team’s playbook. The last two games ever at Griffith in 1960 drew 14,077 and 20,558; next season that many antsy people might be crowding into FedEx’s restrooms at any given moment.

It’s worth noting, too, that some of the 5,100 new seats at FedEx will have obstructed views. At ancient Griffith Stadium, fans of the Redskins and Senators positioned behind posts were the lucky ones.

You could say the same thing about folks who shelled out their hard-earned money to watch Steve Spurrier’s Redskins misperform, but I wouldn’t take a cheap shot like that.

Snyder’s stadium improvements, if that’s the word, include the establishment of a Hooters bar and restaurant. Way to go, Dan baby! If Gibbs and the rest of the Space Cowboys coaching staff don’t get the job done this season — perish the thought — at least fans of the male persuasion will have something worth watching.

Another innovation will allow people to use debit cards at concession stands, which might ease the pain of paying skyscraping prices for cold hot dogs, warm soft drinks or weak coffee.

What a great guy Dan Snyder is, always looking out for the little man. Just like politicians in an election year.

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