ASHBURN, Va. | Dozens of Washington Redskins greats from decades past lined the field for the last day of minicamp practice. They mingled, ate barbecue and looked ahead to an afternoon bowling outing with members of the current team.
Standard NFL fare, right? Surely every team finds ways to embrace its former players and make them feel at home.
It’s been a while since it happened at Redskins Park. Wednesday’s pal-around was a major first step to heal a breech between team and alumni that has developed in the 11 years that Dan Snyder has owned the team.
“It’s important. We’ve felt kind of like retired players looking in from the outside, and not really being a part of the team, not really feeling like we belong here anymore,” Hall of Fame receiver Art Monk said. “This kind of brings us in, makes us feel appreciated, and hopefully we can re-establish the relationship that was broken several years ago.”
Hearing Monk say such a thing might be puzzling to outsiders, particularly those who form the team’s rabid fan base. Snyder, after all, was a fan long before he was an owner.
Publicly, he has eagerly embraced the Redskins legacy. He campaigned hard for years to get Monk into the Hall of Fame, spearheaded a promotion to select the 70 greatest players in franchise history and always made sure to display the team’s three Super Bowl trophies at news conferences.
But Monk and other alumni told stories about ex-players being asked to leave when they’d visit Redskins Park, and how the ties that were there under former owner Jack Kent Cooke just weren’t there any more.
“Nobody’s making it up,” 1980s tight end Doc Walker said. “There were people who weren’t around, didn’t feel like they were wanted. But now it seems like that’s changed, and that’s good.”
The credit for the change belongs to Bruce Allen, hired last fall as the team’s new general manager. As the son of 1970s Redskins Hall of Fame coach George Allen, Bruce Allen rarely has a bigger smile than when he’s talking about the history of the Redskins.
He even surprised ex-players by showing up at an alumni event on March 1 — the first day of free agency — because, as he said when he walked in, “My mother would have killed me if I hadn’t shown up.”
“It seems like Bruce Allen is trying to funnel this atmosphere toward a positive situation,” longtime offensive lineman Raleigh McKenzie said. “It can’t do nothing but go up.”
In an interview with The Associated Press, Snyder also credited Allen for reinvigorating the team-alumni tie.
“I don’t think it’s ‘mend the fences’ as much as ‘embrace the relationship,’” Snyder said.
Snyder said the current players can learn about the Redskins legacy of “passion and tradition” from the ex-players. The owner agreed that’s something that’s been missing in recent seasons.
“Yes. I think Bruce has really brought about change and (new coach Mike Shanahan) has brought about change,” Snyder said. “It’s great to see.”
Told that some of the ex-players had felt unwelcome in recent years, Snyder said: “I hope not. I think this just lets them know they’re obviously welcome.”
And it was quite a welcome. During lunch, Allen took a microphone and told the ex-players: “We are opening the door to you. … Let us know how you want to be involved. … If high schools can have homecoming, if colleges can have homecoming, why can’t we?”
All sides agreed that the losing Redskins teams of recent years could have benefited by rubbing shoulders more with the old-timers who won championships. Maybe Albert Haynesworth, the well-paid defensive lineman who wants to be traded because he doesn’t like the defensive scheme, could have learned a thing or two.
“When I came to this team in 1980, the older guys were around,” Monk said. “I got to know them, hear their stories, and it made me appreciate what I had at that particular time, and that’s been lost. Guys now, they make a lot of money, it was always there, and they have no understanding of people who paid the price and paved the way for them.”
Now it’s time for that relationship to start anew.
“I think Dan is trying to reach out now, and I think Dan’s heart is really there to bring a winner to Washington,” kicker and 1982 league MVP Mark Moseley said. “I just think he lost track of how important the history of the Redskins has been — and should be for the existing players today.”