The NFL owners voted unanimously to approve the sale of the Washington Commanders from Daniel Snyder to Steelers minority owner Josh Harris, thus ending one of the most ignominious ownership tenures in league history.
You know what? If they’d have listened to Myron Cope 23 years ago they could have saved everyone a ton of trouble.
How’s that? Follow along and find out.
Red Flags Flash Early in the Snyder Era
In 1999 Daniel Snyder bought the then Washington Redskins after winning the second round an auction held by the late Jack Kent Cooke’s estate. NFL owners were not pleased. They’d already pressured Daniel Milstein and Snyder to withdraw a previous bid. John Kent Cooke, Jack’s son, had come in second in the and, if memory serves, Dan Rooney openly asked if the NFL owners could consider both proposals.
- They could not. Snyder got the team.
Snyder got control of the team in May and could do little ahead of the upcoming season. Except fire a bunch of secretaries, administrative employees and other low-level office staffers as a way of showing he was in charge.
- Snyder made it clear he was going to be more demanding than John Kent Cooke.
Fans and the press liked that. Yet, a friend of mine told me how a business associate of his had been called to the team facilities in Ashburn to do some work on the field. He crossed paths with Snyder, one-on-one in a quiet corridor, extend his hand saying, “Mr. Snyder, I’m a longtime fan. And I just want to say that I love what you’re doing with the team.” Snyder ignored him, said nothing and left him hanging as he walked by.
Contrast that with Art Rooney Sr.’s encounter with Craig Wolfley and Tunch Ilkin shortly after the 1980 NFL Draft. The Chief stopped by in the main waiting room at Three Rivers Stadium, and chatted with the guys as he emptied ashtrays. They thought Rooney was a janitor, not realizing he was the owner who’d just bagged his 4th Lombardi Trophy.
Yeah, that was the first sign that Daniel Snyder would be the anti-Dan Rooney. But not the last.
The Snyder Era’s First Rendezvous with the Steelers
True to his word, Snyder “applied some pressure” and Washington made the playoffs and even won a wild card game, its first since Super Bowl XXVI in 1991. As Washington started the 2000 off season on a high note, Danny was licking his chops.
With Snyder at the helm, Washington hit the free agent market with reckless abandon, spending 100 million dollars on free agents.
- Others had tried and failed to “Buy a Lombardi,” but both fans and press in Washington drank to Kool-Aid.
Listeners called into Sports Talk 980 WTEM predicting an undefeated season. In late May at a barbecue in the DC suburbs, fans needled yours truly, pointing to the Steelers dismal 1999 effort and predicting disaster for the Steelers December match up against Washington, the final game at Three Rivers Stadium. Then to rub a little salt into the wound, one sheepishly asked, “I wonder if we signed Deion today?” (When they actually signed Dieon a few days later, the Washington Post ran a front page article and devoted a quarter of the Sports section to the deal.)
Days before the season opener against the Carolina Panthers, the owner of the Wheaton Athletic Club quipped, “…I’m tried of people speculating what it means if he [long forgotten Panthers player] plays or not. A win is going to be a win.”
“Yeah, just like a Super Bowl is gonna be a Super Bowl!” a patron responded.
Washington won that first game, but quickly showed themselves as a middling team while Snyder showed himself to be a meddling owner, complete with ESPN zooming in on a sideline phone labeled “Mr. Snyder” – Danny didn’t hesitate to call Norv Turner during the game when he wasn’t happy.
And Danny was often unhappy, firing Turner after a 7-9 loss to the Giants, two weeks before Washington was set to travel to Pittsburgh where Myron Cope would offer the result of the league advice that they’d have been wise to take.
Myron Cope loved nicknames, and decided going into the week that Washington would be the “Wash Redfaces.” With the Steelers leading 17-3 at the half in their Three Rivers Stadium finale (oh, was it such a pleasure to see Jerome Bettis steamroll Deion Sanders) Snyder sent someone from his PR team instructing Myron Cope to stop using the term Redfaces.
As Cope explained in Double Yoi, as soon as the commercial break was over, he informed listeners “You’re not going to believe what I’m going to tell you.” He then shared the news of Snyder’s demand, assuring listeners, “If that boy billionaire thinks he can shut me up, he should stick his head in a can of paint.”
As Tom Boswell of the Washington Post opined afterwards, “Like it or not, Myron Cope was speaking for America. And the Redskins should listen.”
Alas, they did not.
Nearly 23 years later, you can rest assured that the NFL wishes it had taken the advice of the late, great Myron Cope a lot sooner.