Washington, Redskins fans deserve more than Cooke's ego and greed

John Steadman

July 15, 1992|By John Steadman

Only arrogance, selfishness, ego and greed would allow a man to uproot a football team from the Nation's Capital, put it on a barge in a scenario known as "Cooke Crossing the Potomac," and deposit it in Alexandria, Va. Furthermore, so there'll be no doubt of his intentions, the stadium will be emblazoned with his name on it.

The Redskins have been in Washington since 1938, after leaving Boston, and won a championship in their first season after moving. Now Cooke, the owner of the Redskins, is eager to cut and run with the team. He's heading south, out of the District of Columbia, which has an impressive record of supporting the Redskins for more than 50 years.

Will the Congress of the United States, which is on top of the situation and hopefully aware of what's happening, stand by twiddling its thumbs? Or will it be alert to the defection and find some way to cut Cooke off at the pass before he completes the transfer?

There's one man in Washington who would not be intimidated by Cooke. His name? Senator Slade Gorton, (R-Wash.) -- from the state not the district. Gorton, besides being a tough hombre, believes sports teams should remain in the cities that have helped make them successful unless there's no other alternative. He won't tolerate a con-man (even if he's the commissioner of a league) and knows the ins and outs of how sports financing works.

He's an elected official who pays attention to what's going on in sports. By way of background, Gorton was attorney general for the state of Washington when he led the legal fight to make major-league baseball restore a franchise to Seattle after it had shipped out to Milwaukee.

Then, in his latest stand, he made baseball realize it should accept the offer from Japanese interests to assure keeping an American League team in Seattle. Gorton could, if asked for assistance, do the same thing for the city of Washington that he has done for the state of Washington. Why not? It's in the public interest.

Gorton is not some political hack who is afraid to take on strong interests. Had he been a Maryland senator, we doubt if Robert Irsay would have been allowed to strip Baltimore of the Colts and ship them to Indianapolis in 1984. Gorton, in the hearing room, is something to behold. Action, not rhetoric, is his game and he's unrelenting when trying to correct what he deems to be a wrong.

The Redskins belong in Washington, where they sell out the park for every game and, at last count, had a total of 48,000 applicants wanting to buy season tickets. It's a 20-year wait to realize the objective and some fans don't even live long enough to have tickets in hand.

If the Virginia General Assembly approves the Redskins' desires to move their business to Alexandria, the state will issue $130 million in revenue bonds to make way for the transfer. Eighteen acres of land would be leased to the football team for $1 a year for 50 years. Cooke then would build the monument to himself, costing $175 million. In all modesty, he'll call it Jack Kent Cooke Stadium at Potomac Yard.

By moving from Washington, the district will take a stiff jolt to the chin. Washington will lose prestige, jobs and tax dollars. Too bad. Nine other NFL clubs have moved to the suburbs rather than remain in communities where they were franchised, which is a setback to the particular economy but more profitable for the owners.

Morris "Mo" Siegel, who has spent more time in Washington, covering the Redskins, than any other reporter, said Cooke told him more than five years ago he wanted to have his name on a stadium. In the Washington Times, Siegel wrote, "I remember riding with him [Cooke] in Middleburg, Va., where he owns one of his four magnificent homes and out of the blue his saying, 'I don't want any library or hospital named as a memorial to me. I want something while I'm still here, a stadium or some other practical thing.' "

Too bad that Cooke, with all his millions, doesn't see libraries and hospitals as "practical things." RFK Stadium, which the Redskins will be leaving unless Cooke is forced to reverse his field, is the NFL's smallest with 55,672 seats. The planned open-air facility, with natural grass, in Alexandria, calls for 78,600, which will make it the fifth largest in the league.

If Cooke departs Washington, it will turn it into a ghost city for major-league sports. RFK Stadium will become an empty arena to a fallen government leader assassinated by a crazed gunman. The late Robert F. Kennedy, a one-time end at Harvard, will still have his initials on the place but the purpose for it being built, to house the Redskins and baseball Senators, will be passe and a mockery to his memory.

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