D.C. has a baseball team in the postseason for the first time since the ’30s as well as a football team with a promising young quarterback but not much else. Somehow, this convergence of exciting sports things in a town that hasn’t had a bunch in a while prompted both Sports Illustrated and ESPN The Magazine to recently dedicate either a cover story or, in the case of ESPN, an entire issue to the D.C. sports scene. The most notable upshot of this has been locals upbraiding Mike Wilbon for writing a sidebar piece that trolls the city that he once wrote for on a regular basis.
While hating on Wilbon is always necessary and appreciated, it’s never quite as satisfying as hating on Dan Snyder. Though you could make an argument that Wilbon has an even more repellent personality than the Redskins owner and that his disdain for sports fans of all types is about as obnoxious as it gets, Snyder possesses the power to affect things people care about and take their money. Garden variety media whore trolling has a hard time staking up to that kind of villainy.
So it was with great relish that we read the piece by Seth Wickersham in ESPN that covers the extensive and uneasy history between Snyder and former Washington City Paper gadfly Dave McKenna. Most of the larger stories are well known to those with a passing knowledge of the devil horns lawsuit that Snyder filed against the weekly, but the piece still manages to unearth a few amusing stories that are new to us.
In the ’90s, McKenna began to write a sports column called “Skins Heads” — later renamed “Cheap Seats” — regularly covering his beloved Redskins. In 1999, when Snyder arrived on the scene, McKenna, like many fans, considered the new owner a hero. After all, the then-34-year-old unknown local mogul was as diehard as any of them. “Dan was the good guy,” McKenna says. “He was billed to us as a fan.” When McKenna happened upon Snyder during his first year as owner — in the guts of the Redskins’ stadium after the home team beat the Panthers in October 1999 — he responded as a fan would: “Congratulations!”
“Thanks!” Snyder replied. Panthers owner Jerry Richardson walked by at that moment. Snyder extended his hand, and Richardson, an old-guard guy apparently offended by new-school Snyder’s brashness, “totally stoned Snyder,” breezing right by, McKenna says. “He was very rude, and Snyder was just doing the right thing,” he says. “So I had a very positive view of Snyder.”
Leave it to Jerry Richardson to be one of the few people on Earth who can – albeit momentarily – make Snyder appear sympathetic. Also, I believe in this case “brashness” is a journalism code word for “Jewiness.”
Even better is the scene from Clinton Portis’ recent retirement ceremony at Redskins Park:
At the microphone, Portis, wet-cheeked, dives into an unrehearsed litany of acknowledgments. He thanks Shanahan, who coached him for two years in Denver. And half a dozen Broncos. And his mother. Snyder watches on, waiting his turn. But Portis instead thanks another owner — Denver’s Pat Bowlen. Finally, he recalls “one of my favorite people of all time.” He turns to Snyder, who once awarded him a $50 million contract, and says, “Sorry, Mr. Snyder, it ain’t you. Joe Gibbs.”
SHERIFF GONNA SNUB YA!
Nobody cheers when Portis finally gets around to thanking Snyder. Recalling their first meeting, Portis describes the owner as “cocky” and a “little short man.”
Portis can’t help it. He appears to rib Snyder one last time, sending a shout-out to “his favorite person on the Redskins,” and once again, it’s not the owner. It’s BJ, the team receptionist. Soon, the room rises in applause. Portis lingers, posing for pictures, giving interviews, signing autographs, reveling in the moment that the owner who always goes big provided him. But as the crowd dissipates, Snyder is less than small. He is gone, having exited through a side door, before anyone can notice.
Aw man, now I miss Portis more than ever.