Q: When did you see your first Redskins game, and how did you become a lifelong fan? Do you ever miss a game?
A: My father took me to my first Redskins game on Oct. 10, 1965, a 37-16 loss at home to the St. Louis Cardinals. I was 4 at the time. But it wasn’t until famed coach George Allen came to D.C. in 1971 and took the Redskins to the playoffs for the first time in a quarter-century that I really became “hooked” on the burgundy and gold. Shortly after that season, Redskins fullback Charley Harraway appeared at my father’s men’s clothing store in Rockville, Md., to sign autographs, further fueling my interest in the team. The Redskins posted five playoff seasons during the Allen era, and I turned into a Redskins fanatic. I’ve missed only a handful of Redskins games – whether televised or in person – since the early 1970s.
Q: Did you ever have dreams to play pro football or coach the Redskins? Or do you prefer just to watch and root for the team?
A: As a kid, I did envision myself as a pro football player. I loved playing pickup games. My favorite player was quarterback Sonny Jurgensen, and I imitated his throwing style. I also knew early on that I someday wanted to write a book on football. In the sixth grade, I wrote a lengthy story called “The Amateur Who Played Like A Pro,” about a star football player at Ohio State. Now that I’ve written The Redskins Encyclopedia, my dreams really have come true.
Q: What player do you most admire? Who in your opinion is the most underrated athlete on the team? Who on the current roster do you expect we’ll be celebrating in the years to come?
A: I most admire offensive tackle Jon Jansen. I’ve known Jansen since his rookie season in 1999, and his poise, professionalism and engaging nature during interviews, plus his love for the game, are exemplary. Center Casey Rabach is the most underrated player. Quarterback Jason Campbell is only in his second season as a starter, but he’s going to post big passing numbers in the NFL.
Q: Which Redskins player/coach from the past that is no longer alive would you have liked to have interviewed or seen play?
A: It’s George Allen, although I know he was difficult with the media. But I’ve been touched by his inspiring quotes and slogans, such as “Is what I am doing, or about to do, getting us closer to our objective … winning?” He was so focused on his job; I would have enjoyed learning more about what made him tick.
Q: Is there a favorite memory you’ve had in the years you’ve spent following the team?
A: This sequence stands out because it brought me up close and personal with a pro football player. In 2000, Redskins receiver Irving Fryar, once one of the NFL’s fastest players, was recovering from a concussion and had just taken a jog around Redskins Park. I asked him how he was doing, and he looked me in the eye and said, “Fine, and I’ll race you any day!” The reporters there at the time, including myself, were stunned by that answer. He appeared serious, although speed has never been one of my hallmarks in sports. Five years later, I saw him at FedExField before a game and said, “Remember me? I’m the guy you wanted to race. And I can beat you any time!” We both laughed and shook hands.
Q: You write in Chapter 4 that throughout the 1940s and 50s and even into the 60s, the Redskins were the southern-most team in the NFL. Can you describe how Redskins owner George Preston Marshall used this to gain such a wide following for the team—one that still exists today?
A: Marshall was a master promoter, and during that era he left no stones unturned in making the Redskins the premier NFL attraction in the Southeast. He arranged for them to play exhibition games in such cities as Norfolk, Va., Winston Salem, N.C., Mobile, Ala., Memphis, Tenn., Shreveport, La., and Amarillo, Texas. He also launched a TV and radio network that broadcast Redskin games throughout the region. His slogan was, “The Redskins every Sunday … in your living room or at the stadium.” Plus, Marshall and his coaches specifically recruited college players from the South, one of the most notable being North Carolina's Charlie "Choo Choo" Justice, and instructed his veterans to hold speaking engagements in southern cities. Caravans of southern fans traveled to see the Redskins play in D.C., and other cities. Marshall's goal all along was simply to build and maintain a devoted fan base outside the Washington area. Today, despite the existence of the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints, the Redskins are still a major attraction in pockets of the South, such as the Tidewater area in southeastern Virginia.
Q: The Redskins Encyclopedia is filled with interesting sidebars, such as the one about wrestler Andre the Giant once being considered for the team by George Allen, or Vince Promuto being a prankster off the field, shortsheeting beds. How did you find these stories, and is there a particularly outrageous one you discovered?
A: I came across them through old newspaper and magazine articles, video tapes and interviews with ex-Redskins and other people. In addition to the stories you mentioned, I’d characterize the sidebar in Chapter 5, “Like Miss Wedgewood in a Tea Room,” as pretty outrageous. That story is based on an interview with NFL Films executive producer Steve Sabol, who told me how he incorporated footage of well-behaved, well-dressed Redskins fans in the mid-1960s into Bears-related videos in order to please Bears owner George Halas. Sabol said Bears fans at the time looked like thugs, and he wanted Halas to think that they were really wholesome people. And there are plenty of wild stories in my special insert on the Redskins-Cowboys rivalry, including the one about how pranksters smuggled crates of live chickens into D.C. Stadium at a Dallas game in 1961 with the idea of releasing them all over the field at halftime. The plan, conceived by Cowboys fans, was aimed at spiting George Preston Marshall, who had tried to block the Cowboys from entering the league just a year prior.
Q: The Redskins played in the highest scoring game in NFL history when they humiliated the Giants, 72-41, in 1966. What can you say about this game, which was dubbed a “Roman Circus” duel?
A: That game is a fixture in Redskins lore, and many long-time fans know the story about how middle linebacker Sam Huff signaled for a time out with seconds remaining and the Redskins in possession and leading, 69-41. He wanted the Redskins to kick a field goal and put more points on the board in order to embarrass his former Giants coach, Allie Sherman. But I added a twist to the story by quoting Redskins guard Vince Promuto, who said as the team’s offensive captain at the time he called the time out. I hope Promuto’s version of the incident leaves readers with some nice food for thought.
Q: You couldn’t know all of the history and trivia about the Redskins when you sat down to write the Encyclopedia. What did you learn while writing the book?
A: I developed a stronger appreciation for how much retired players love to reminisce about their playing days. It’s like they’re reliving the past. You ask a question, put a tape recorder in front of them, and just let them talk. Former Redskins such as Billy Kilmer, Joe Theismann, Vince Promuto, Dexter Manley, Charley Taylor, Diron Talbert and many others were a pleasure to interview. The compelling stories they shared bring readers of The Redskins Encyclopedia right into the action.
Q: OK, I have to ask: Do you think the Redskins will WIN the Super Bowl this year?
A: Coming off a 5-11 season, logically you’d think it’s a long-shot. But the NFL is based on parity these days, so anything is possible. Ask me again in February.