Since the Super Bowl in February, we have been working feverishly to secure what is surely our biggest interview to date. Our argument: Hogs Haven is home to the greatest community of Redskins fans out there. Our readers are passionate, intelligent and involved. It took some time, but the Washington Redskins organization seems to agree, and they proved it by making the owner of the team available to us for what was a very interesting conversation at Redskins Park.
(Real quick...we broke up the interview into more than one post for two main reasons: a) I had to transcribe the whole thing and Dan Steinberg hasn't passed on his skills yet, and b) we covered plenty of ground that kind of naturally lends itself to multiple entries.)
At certain points I felt like The Dude must have when he was sitting in the office of the Big Lebowski. If Snyder asked me what day it was, no way my first guess would have been right. I quickly tried to understand why I was rattled, and it hit me. Here we were, face to face with the protagonist of the play that has seen my character get a steady diet of groin punches over the years. Neither Kevin nor I were nervous, but our minds were racing as we fought to stick with the list of questions we had created and not lose track right after the first question. It's not like you can ask a man what his childhood memories are of watching the Redskins and then follow it up with, "At what point did you decide Jim Zorn was no longer the right coach for this team?" You can't ask him to move one preseason game per season to RFK and follow it up with, "Was the move to turn the page on the Vinny Cerrato era rooted even a little bit in efforts to inspire the Redskins fan base?" Can you go from talking about the extensive work the Redskins Charitable Foundation does in our community to telling Dan Snyder that Redskins fans absolutely believed that the Front Office was directly responsible for the censoring of signs and t-shirts last season at FedEx?
Oh yes...we talked about all of these things. Better yet...Dan Snyder answered all of our questions. Both Kevin and I were most afraid of coming off as the Jennie Finch's of sports interviewing. We had a few softballs to toss at Dan, but we also had some questions that he would probably never get asked by Larry Michael on Redskins Nation. We respect Larry of course, but let's just say nobody is going to confuse him with Mike Wallace any time soon.
Already, we have been peppered with questions about what we were and were not allowed to ask and talk about. Let me be very clear: we were not given any parameters on this one. I had personally sent over some topics we were most interested in to Tony Wyllie, the new Senior Vice President who took over for Karl Swanson. But we were not only permitted to ask Snyder anything, at one point we were encouraged by both Wyllie and Snyder to ask him the questions that we felt Skins fans really wanted answers to--the one exception being questions involving player personnel. Bruce Allen and Mike Shanahan are ably handling those questions for the organization these days. So to the extent you feel we did not hit them with hard enough questions, the blame is on us. There was nothing they specifically told us not to bring up and there were no topics that had been pre-selected to ignore.
In fact, Kevin and I went into the interview with zero intention of bringing up, for example, Albert Haynesworth. We felt it would be more newsworthy if we didn't ask any Haynesworth questions. But sure enough, the first thing Dan asked us was if we came there to talk Haynesworth. We informed him of our decision to lay off the topic due to being completely tired of talking about it but there continues to be no escape from the subject. Since he brought it up, we asked him if he had passed the conditioning test.
DAN: First of all, it is hard. A couple years back, I tell London Fletcher I am going to run this thing. He gets me a pair of cleats and I go out there and try to do it. (laughing pretty hard) I am no athlete. London was just about peeing his pants he was laughing so hard at me as I dry-heaved. I felt like I was going to die.
Maybe it was the image of Dan Snyder dry-heaving on the practice field in Ashburn, but we did not ask the obvious follow-up: "How close would you say you and Albert are these days?" Between that and not asking about the "Wait List", we clearly left a few on the table. But I promise you we got some great quotes out of the Redskins owner. Dan was great. From the moment he walked into the conference room overlooking the practice field, he seemed very much at ease, which put us at ease. Our conversation was not unlike the kind you might find yourself in with a fellow fan at a bar. Except instead of arguing over how many sacks Dexter Manley had in 1986 (18.5, not 18), we were getting the inside skinny on how Snyder first met Shanahan and how long he very clearly coveted the coach.
Like many of you out there, I have done my share of finger-pointing at Snyder for some of the disasters we have witnessed in the last decade. Among the things that impressed me the most about Snyder was that he pointed the finger at himself too. At the end of the interview, I was asked (not by Snyder) if I thought that people were keeping an open mind on the owner or if the negative opinions held by so many fans were set in cement. My answer was this: I think some of the answers he gave us will change a few minds. I really do. The manner in which he addressed certain topics as well as the substance to some of his answers will be enough for some fans. But the name of the game is winning. I said that if Snyder brings this town a winner, especially under Bruce Allen and Mike Shanahan, that is what will loosen people up a little and perhaps cause folks to have a second thought on Snyder. Until then, you be the judge.
On Being a Fan and the DC Sports Scene
HH: Growing up as a Redskins fan, what was your family routine on Sundays for games and what players did you grow up following the most fanatically?
DAN: Jurgensen...he was my favorite. It was his jersey I wore always as a kid. I grew up loving Pat Fisher. He was small and he always just walloped a punch. He was amazing. Chris Hanburger. Larry Brown. So I'm still a fan, a lifelong fan, loved these guys growing up. My mom and dad...we weren't the most financially well-to-do, so we watched most of the games on TV, or listened on the radio. We turned our TV down and the radio broadcast up. My mom used to make this Redskins chili...she still makes it. It's a sweet chili. It's amazing. We grew up as a family watching the Redskins, wearing their gear and it was awesome.
HH: Should we be expecting this sweet chili to be served in the club level?
DAN: I'll tell you this...I don't know what she puts in it but it is really fantastic, maybe some honey and sugar. Maybe cinnamon. It's just awesome. Reminds me of tailgating...which is something I really miss doing from when I was a kid.
All I could think about as Dan quizzically wondered what was in his mom's chili was the scene in Wedding Crashers where Chazz Reinhold wonders aloud what his mom is doing back there, "I never know what she's doing."
HH: You know...they have offered us credentials for games in the past and we have always kind of found it hard to agree to give up a whole day of tailgating and yelling and screaming from our seats.
DAN: Yeah, it's so quiet in there.
HH: Getting there early... our friends and family in the parking lot. That is our experience. That's what we love.
Dan asked us if our families lived in the area. "That's what makes it fun. It's like this whole day. Wait until you see some of the things we are going to do in the home opener. We're going to do a lot of cool things. It's a Sunday night game, so there are all the other games played."
(We think this is a hint of at least one of the things they will be doing on opening day in the parking lot...maybe giant TV screens in the parking lot? Who knows?)
DAN: One of the things I have been doing is trying to buy more land around the stadium. This past year I was able to get some more land and we have more tailgating space than ever. We really want for people to have as much possible time and space out there experiencing their tailgates. This year we are going to do even more. It's going to be unbelievable.
HH: Are the gates still going to open four hours before game time...or?
DAN: I think we're going to open at 12 for the opening game. And we have some special stuff we are going to announce that we are doing in the parking lots.
HH: Are there things that other owners of DC sports teams have done or are doing that you think translates to your operation with the Redskins? Aside from the Redskins, who is your favorite Washington team and who are your favorite players?
DAN: As a kid, I loved the Bullets. I used to go-we used to sit in the $4 or $5 dollar seats in the top, top of the Capital Centre and watch BIG EEEEEEEEEEEE!
(At this point, Dan is doing his best imitation of the announcer at the Cap Center back in the day when Elvin Hayes was announced. He is really getting into it.)
DAN: Remember when the announcer would go, "BIG EEEEEEEEEEEEEE?" You guys are a bit younger than me huh? You remember at the Cap Center when they did the "Big E" all the time? It went like this: BIG EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! It was Elvin Hayes-the Big E-and Wes Unseld and Phil Chenier and it was rockin' and it was fun...so yeah, now it's the Wizards and I follow them. We go to games still. We went to a Caps playoff game this year. I wore my Ovechkin jersey. And I made Bruce Allen wear one too.
At that point I clearly recall seeing Bruce Allen on TV at that playoff game NOT wearing his jersey, and I ask Dan what happened.
DAN: I know. He went down to seats by the glass and didn't want to wear his jersey because people he was with were all dressed up.
I don't recall exactly what Allen was wearing that night, but I know it was not an Ovechkin jersey. He was wearing red though I am pretty sure. Dan rocked his #8 for the whole game.
DAN: We root for all the teams...we root for the Nationals.
HH: Do you follow the activities of your fellow owners in town and what they do?
DAN: Not really. You know, it's such different sports. It really is different...different seasons. I try and get out to games, to get the chance to take my kids out to see games. It's hard because we overlap and once we get busy it gets hard.
HH: Let's stay in kind of the same vein. We all pay attention to the rumors and conjecture about the Redskins possibly returning to D.C. While these remain little more than rumors, can you speak to any possible future attempt to build a state-of-the-art facility in the city that would factor into hosting Super Bowls, Olympics, Final Fours, etc.? What about the possibility of moving one game per season to RFK? We think even a pre-season game at RFK would be huge!
DAN: Number one, we hope to have a Super Bowl at FedEx Field. We really believe we'll be doing that in the near future. Now that the New York Giants have one, in the Meadowlands, I think we have a real opportunity there, as a league, for the NFL to prove that a "cold-weather city" is a fantastic opportunity to host a Super Bowl. You know, in an open-air situation, I think we are going to show that in 2014, as a league, we can do this and it will be just a really great opportunity for us to bid on Super Bowls and for the city to get involved. In terms of moving the stadium, FedEx Field is almost brand new. It still is a great stadium, great amenities. What we are doing is trying to modernize some of the stuff that in the last 10 years has really progressed technology-wise, like putting all the plasmas in the club level-hundreds of them-and all the amenities that our fans deserve. One of the things that has been missing is a high definition, gigantic video board. Last night, Tony and I went to FedEx Field to see it. I had not seen it yet in operation. It is enormous. It is so big. What we saw last night...I mean the clarity is shocking. It is so clear, it is awesome. You're going to see sweat off of faces. The HD technology right now is so great. We are going to be able to offer the fans a lot of ways to experience the game. We can fit 3 or 4 different angles of replays simultaneous on a board that big. So you'll see different angles and all sorts of things we can do that you can't get anywhere else. I think it's really going to be unique. And it's punter proof! Everyone came to me and asked if it was going to hang, and I said, "Noooooo...no punter is going to be able to hit our board!
HH: And what of the possibility of moving a preseason game over to RFK?
DAN: We've actually talked about doing that, and taking advantage of different opportunities but our biggest problem is we're 90,000 at FedEx, and RFK is 50,000. So that means 40,000 people would be really upset-the 40k that wanted to go. So it doesn't really work because of that. And the fact that FedEx Field is really a fantastic stadium...if you go back and look at what we were talking about earlier and the tailgating, we have the biggest tailgating lots in the NFL. I pride myself on making sure that the game day experience is really special. I did it and loved it and understand it. When you're there and you are watching the early games on your own TV or we do something special and they are brought to you (another hint of what they are planning for September 12), the opportunity is there to enjoy yourself and have a great time and FedEx Field has that.
Well, this is long enough for one post. We will post the rest later. I know the first half doesn't have all the fireworks you were hoping for, but there were a couple nuggets in there (noon gates on Opening Day?). We promise we are saving the best for last. Still to come, Dan answers questions regarding Cerrato, Zorn and even addresses the sign/t-shirt fiasco from last season.