- The Washington Times - Friday, August 1, 2008

Washington-area fans heading to Canton, Ohio, for Saturday’s Pro Football Hall of Fame ceremonies will find much to savor. The impending inductions of Art Monk and Darrell Green will raise the burgundy-and-gold contingent to 22, a total surpassed by just four other franchises (Bears, Giants, Packers, Rams).

Granted, the list includes five men who made it because of their achievements with other teams: coaches Vince Lombardi, Curly Lambeau and Otto Graham, plus the two Joneses, Deacon and Stan. But most of the Redskins enshrined labored exclusively or mostly in these parts.

A varied lot they are, too. Coaches Ray Flaherty, George Allen and Joe Gibbs were big winners in their respective eras (as opposed to big losers like Admiral John “Billick” Whelchel, Mike Nixon, Norv Turner and Steve Spurrier).

And if you’re looking for superstar players - some even before the word was coined - you couldn’t do any better than Slingin’ Sammy Baugh, Sonny Jurgensen, Bobby Mitchell, Charley Taylor and John Riggins.

But, of course, all the Redskins in Canton are superstars. That’s why they’re on the premises in the first place. Monk and Green qualify as much as anybody else; in fact, Art should have been there long ago.

One guy doesn’t deserve to have his bust or name in the shrine, as far as I’m concerned: George Preston Marshall, the franchise’s founder, longtime president and bigot-in-chief. In fact, I’d nominate GPM for the Pro Football Hall of Shame if there were one.

Marshall was a windbag who made his bucks promoting entertainment extravaganzas and running a chain of Palace Laundry outlets in D.C.

As a new NFL owner in the early 1930s, he did come up with a few good ideas, such as creating a league championship game between divisional winners, urging new rules that opened up the sport and introducing spectacular halftime shows. And let’s not forget that he moved the Redskins from Boston to Washington in 1937, thereby making it forever possible for us to concentrate on something besides politics in the fall.

Trouble is, Marshall’s thinking never left the ‘30s. For the Redskins’ first quarter-century, he refused to employ black players in a city that had one of the nation’s largest percentage of African-American citizens.

Perhaps Marshall’s decision was based strictly on business reasons. For decades, the Redskins were the NFL’s Southernmost franchise, with radio and TV networks that blanketed Dixie. George apparently figured the presence of blacks in the lineup would antagonize white fans in the region, so the Redskins stumbled and bumbled with too many players whose skins and talents were equally pale.

Nor did Marshall change his mind, grudgingly adding Mitchell to his roster in 1962 only after Interior Secretary Stewart Udall decreed that a segregated Redskins team could not continue to play in federally funded D.C. (later RFK) Stadium.

Check the record. While other NFL teams were adding black players from 1946 through 1961, the Redskins’ record was 69-116-8 with zero playoff appearances.

Thanks a heap, George.

Fortunately, Flaherty had the guts and resume to ignore Marshall’s second-guessing in the franchise’s early years, winning four Eastern Division and two NFL titles in six years. Allen ended the team’s long postseason drought in 1971 and reached the Super Bowl a year later. Gibbs got the Redskins into four Super Bowls during his first tenure, winning three.

Some Redskins players sparkled despite moribund supporting casts. Jurgensen’s passes to Mitchell and Taylor provided rampant excitement in the late ‘60s, a period where the team had very little defense.

And nobody could forget John Riggins’ unstoppable runs and quirky nature. Riggo supplied the biggest single play in Redskins history when he rolled 43 yards in the fourth quarter for the winning touchdown against the Dolphins in Super Bowl XVII.

Green will take his place in Canton alongside fellow defensive backs Ken Houston and Paul Krause, who flummoxed enemy passing attacks for the Redskins as well as other teams. The only other Redskin in the Hall of Fame solely for defense is famed middle linebacker Sam Huff, although Baugh starred both ways in the NFL’s single-platoon days.

Ah, yes, Sammy, still alive and as cantankerous as ever in Rotan, Texas, at 94. If you had to pick the No. 1 Redskin of all time, it would be Baugh, who shares the distinction with baseball all-timer Walter Johnson as Our Town’s most popular and proficient athletes ever.

Marshall drafted Baugh out of Texas Christian in 1937 and told him to wear a 10-gallon hat and cowboys boots when he came to town to meet the press. Upon arriving, city boy Baugh observed, “Mah feet hurt.”

His pain undoubtedly was assuaged when Marshall, the spendthrift, tended him the team’s biggest contract for 1937 - a whopping $8,000.

Sam wasted little time proving he was worth it. During the team’s first practice, Flaherty instructed Baugh to throw the ball 50 yards downfield and “hit the receiver in the eye.”

According to legend, if not necessarily truth, Baugh replied reasonably, “Which eye, Coach?”

Spoken like a true Hall of Famer. And now he’ll have some new company in Canton.

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