- - Thursday, August 30, 2018

When sportscaster Lindsay Czarniak announced at the start of the Washington Redskins Welcome Home Luncheon Wednesday that special guest and Redskins fan Matthew McConaughey would not be appearing as scheduled, you could feel the air go out of the ballroom at the Marriott Marquis in the District.

It was like a fourth-quarter FedEx Field crowd.

They pulled out John Riggins as a surprise last-minute substitute guest.

Look, who doesn’t love themselves a little Riggo, but he’s no Rust Cohle — McConaughey’s “True Detective” character and, for my money, his most memorable.

Man, you would think it must have been really painful for Redskins owner Dan Snyder to ask Riggins — the man who once said Snyder had a “dark heart” — to bail him out, no matter how many fences they have supposedly mended.

I’m betting a man like Snyder remembers every slight, every insult — maybe even employs a lackey to write them all down in a book for future revenge purposes.

Don’t think so? In his brief comments to the crowd, Snyder referred to his new quarterback, Alex Smith, on Wednesday as a “breath of fresh air” — in comparison, I guess to the departed Kirk Cousins

This is rich. There hasn’t been any “fresh air” at Redskins Park since Snyder bought the team in 1999. He wouldn’t know a “breath of fresh air” any more than a coal miner.

If Cousins left behind any stench, it was the stench of failure created by Snyder and his Prince of Darkness, team president Bruce Allen.

Allen remains a constant reminder of how damaged this franchise is.

But instead of cleaning house, the owner imported an army of outsider front-office executives this off-season, led by chief operating officer Brian “Sleeping Giant” Lafemina.

Lafemina and his new colleagues undoubtedly brought their mops and scrub brushes and Smith may have a suitcase of Febreze.

Still, it’s not likely enough to fumigate that stench.

Riggins’ appearance on Wednesday wasn’t enough either. Fans have seen this owner’s go-to nostalgia moves.

I think the crowd on hand would just as soon have stood around the three Super Bowl trophies on display roped off in the hotel lobby and stared at them for two hours.

The speaker who bailed Snyder out, as it turns out, was District Mayor Muriel Bowser, who rolled out the welcome mat for the team to return to the city with her comments about what was “missing” in Washington.

Bowser bragged about the success of the Stanley Cup=winning Washington Capitals, talked about the playoff-competitive Washington Mystics and even remembered to mention the two-win Arena Football League champion Washington Valor.

She mentioned how earlier that day they had broken ground on new playing fields at the RFK site and said, “When we think of the future of the city, we still feel something is missing,” referring, of course, to the Redskins, who left RFK after the 1996 season for their current home in Prince George’s County in suburban Maryland.

That got the crowd juiced up — as if the only thing missing between the nightmare reign of Snyder and the glory days of the three Super Bowl championships was location.

The theme of this luncheon was clearly to begin the public campaign to bring the Redskins back to the city. This welcome-home luncheon has been held in Virginia in recent years, and I’m sure there was symbolism in coming to Washington for the event this year.

The hope for the District is to sell Snyder on profiting from the development plans along the Anacostia River around the RFK site in exchange for building his stadium there. Let us not forget, this was the location for a new Olympic stadium in the area’s failed 2024 bid for the games.

Virginia? Bowser got in her shot at the commonwealth — which has been the most public campaigner to build a new stadium for the team — when she asked where former Governor Terry McAuliffe was. “Maybe he is missing, too,” she said.

It was pretty cocky, yet warranted, because city officials know that the Virginia public lobbying of the Redskins under McAuliffe was bluster, for the most part.

This stadium is not going to be built in Loudoun County or any place else in the state. Virginia says no to projects like these.

You think Landover was Jack Kent Cooke’s first, second or even third or even fourth choice for a new stadium?

So it should come down to the city and the state of Maryland, and this time, Maryland, with a piece of land available right next to the money-printing MGM National Harbor casino — embracing the NFL’s upcoming marriage with gambling — is far more attractive than the last time.

Unlike Bowser, who will have an uncontested run this November for a second term as District mayor, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan is in a more competitive campaign for re-election, and publicly pitching a new Redskins stadium is not an attractive campaign issue. But you can be sure the state’s lobbying will heat up after the November election.

Maybe Czarniak, who was supposed to do a question-and-answer session with McConaughey for the crowd Wednesday, might have asked him where he thought the Redskins might build their new stadium. And maybe he might have answered with one of his Rust Cohle lines: “It’s all one ghetto, man. A giant gutter in outer space.”

Alright, alright, alright.

Thom Loverro’s podcast, “Cigars & Curveballs,” is available on iTunes, Google Play and the reVolver network.

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