Rich Tandler — who sadly and suddenly passed away this week at the age of 63 — was approaching 50 years old and managing restaurants when the 21st century arrived. For most people of that age, career paths, for good or bad, are set.
But Rich Tandler had a different vision for himself. In his heart, he was a writer. And what he wanted to write about was his passion — the Washington Redskins.
When you are 18 years old and have that goal, it seems within reach, even if it might be a long shot. When you are 50, you have better odds of holding the winning Mega Millions ticket.
But Tandler did just that — changed his life not through luck, but through remarkably hard, consistent work.
Fourteen years after he wrote his first “Real Redskins” blog post, Tandler had worked his way up to a major sports network and had become a must-read for Redskins fans everywhere — including celebrities like Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
How do you do that when your day job that pays the bills means serving customers food? How do you change direction at an age when it seems like your place in life is already carved in stone?
Tandler chose this path: He went to every single Redskins game the Washington NFL franchise ever played.
Griffin Stadium 9/16/37:
“Riley Smith scored all of Washington’s points, including the game’s only touchdown on a 60-yard interception return as the Redskins successfully debuted under the lights in D.C.”
He wasn’t there physically, of course. But Tandler spent countless hours researching stories from various newspapers from 1937 to 2008 to put together a write up and box score of every Redskins game in a series of books that became the testaments to the history of this football team.
In three volumes — “The Redskins from A to Z;” “The Redskins Chronicle” and “Gut Check — the Complete History of Coach Joe Gibbs’ Washington Redskins” — Tandler crafted an indispensable gift for a passionate Redskins fan base.
RFK Stadium 10/10/71:
“Even Curt Knight, who kicked a team-record five field goals to pace the win, wasn’t very impressed. ‘It wasn’t pretty,’ Knight said, quickly adding, ‘it counts.’ Yes it did count and the Redskins moved to 4-0.”
It was these books that made people in our business pay attention, because this was serious work — research conducted at a time when historic news accounts weren’t always just a few clicks away on your keyboard. It opened the door for him.
Then when so many were jumping into the blog pool with fandom fueled blogs, his “Real Redskins” blog, started in 2004, stood out as a serious entry — so much so that when Comcast SportsNet began its sports web site in 2011, they brought Tandler’s blog on as part of their content.
Once he got his foot in the door, Tandler made his presence felt. He would be the first on the Redskins beat nearly every day to file something of note about the team, and continued throughout the day. It often wasn’t the drama that has been so much a part of this organization, but it was the nuts and bolts that fans were hungry for — coaching decisions, personnel moves, statistical measurements and accomplishments, salary cap news and projections, and of course, historical perspective as well.
He had also became a big part of the popular “Redskins Talk” podcast on NBC Sports Washington.
It was a rare and remarkable feat: Someone who hadn’t come up in the business, forcing his way into the conversation, during his 50s no less, and rising to the top in a major market like Washington — and doing so with 21st century tools.
Trust me when I tell you that people in the media business at Tandler’s age were finding themselves forced out — not fighting their way in.
There should be a Rich Tandler exhibit at the Newseum. He was the rarest of dinosaurs.
He did all this without showing any ego — again, the rarest of species in the sports media business.
Will he be missed? Are you kidding me? He did all this with a smile on his face and a kind word for everyone he came in contact with — commodities we can’t afford to lose in the press box.
For Tandler, this wasn’t just a job. He had a job before. He knew what a job was. This — covering the Washington Redskins — was a dream come true.
From the forward to his book, “The Redskins From A to Z”:
“All it took was one game.
“On October 8, 1967, my father took me to a Redskins game against the Dallas Cowboys. Even though the Redskins lost a heartbreaker, I was hooked. To say that I’ve followed the Redskins’ every move with a passion since then would be a huge understatement. Quite simply, the Redskins have been an obsession for over 35 years.”
We were all fortunate to share in that obsession, and he left behind three volumes worth of legacy — and fond memories.
⦁ You can hear Thom Loverro on 106.7 The Fan Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings and on the Kevin Sheehan Show podcast every Tuesday and Thursday.