The Cranky Redskins Fan's Guide to Dan Snyder From A to Z (for Zorn), an encyclopedia of the owner's many failings.
By Dave McKenna on November 19, 2010
Illustration by Brooke Hatfield
We’ve been told a New Dan Snyder walks among us. The line that’s been in heavy rotation out of Redskins Park (and Snyder’s wholly-owned media empire) all season holds that he’s letting football people run the football team. His wife, Tanya Snyder, is out selling the transformation, too. Last week she went on local TV to tell an interviewer that he is now surrounded by “better people,” and that he’s “grown and he’s evolved.”
Well, maybe his wife can find evidence of Snyder’s growth and evolution. I can’t. Sure, some names have changed—Jeff George and Bruce Smith are now Donovan McNabb and Albert Haynesworth—but the ages and the bonuses have a familiar ring. So do the results: The epic humiliation of the Redskins on national television Monday night, coming mere hours after McNabb signed a mega-publicized deal with a dubious dollar value, recalls so many pages in the old Snyder’s scrapbook.
So before we welcome the New Dan Snyder, let’s look back at the one we know. That’s the Dan Snyder who left his mark, or stain, on more than just a football team. That’s the Dan Snyder who got caught forging names as a telemarketer with Snyder Communications, made a great view of the Potomac River for himself by going all Agent Orange on federally protected lands, and lost over $121 million of Bill Gates’ money while selling an “official mattress” while in charge of Six Flags. That’s the Dan Snyder I’ve found to be the most fascinating and consistent man on the planet, responsible for the hilarious and/or heinous deeds outlined in the following pages.
If he’s really gone, I’m gonna miss that guy. *
Record Marty Schottenheimer posted in the last 11 games of the 2001 season, his first as head coach of the Washington Redskins. Snyder fired him anyway.
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Amount Snyder charged fans for admission
to the team’s workouts during the 2000 training camp at Redskins Park in Ashburn. He also charged another $10 to park, thereby becoming the first owner in NFL history to use team practice as a gouging mechanism.
Price Snyder affixed to “Redskins Mania,” the first Redskins scratch lottery ticket in 2009, making it as expensive as any scratcher ever offered by the Virginia Lottery. The campaign flopped.
Price Snyder charged for a special group of standing-room-only tickets
at FedExField in 2008. The cheap tickets were linked to the high-priced suites; lobbying watchdogs said Snyder was merely attempting to skirt congressional gift limits. Damning evidence: A team brochure for instructing ticket sales personnel to explain lobbying loopholes to suite customers. Snyder denied the charge. SRO tickets now sell for $152.50, with no mention of lobbying in the sales pitch.
Price Snyder charges for a doll of Fox Sports’ Cleatus the Robot
in Redskins colors. Same doll is available on Fox’s website for $23.96
Record Joe Gibbs had as coach with Dan Snyder as owner; Gibbs went 140-65 without Snyder as owner.
700 Pages: Length of the playbook
brought to Redskins Park in 2006 by Al Saunders, who Snyder hired to call plays for Gibbs. In pre-Snyder era, Gibbs’ comparatively simple offensive schemes revolutionized the game and brought the Redskins three Super Bowls.
“A Long Time”:
Thirteen weeks, in Snyder-speak. During training camp in 2000, ESPN asked Snyder how long Norv Turner, who had just coached the Redskins to an NFC East title, would be in his employ. “A long time,” Snyder said. He fired Turner
with three games left in the season, despite the Redskins’ winning record.
American Enterprise Institute:
Conservative thinktank that summed up Snyder’s football operation as a “leading exemplar of this tendency toward irrationality” in a 2006 report. Kevin Hassett, director of economic policy studies at AEI, cited Snyder for running a “seriously mismanaged”
operation. “I used the Redskins because they’re the most frightening example of a team that hadn’t thought through the simple economics of pro football,” Hassett said at the time. “The problems of running a pro football team are right out of the textbooks: With the salary cap, everybody’s got the same amount of money to spend, so let’s see what you’re going to do with your money. The big signing is counter to the economics of pro football. Over time, [Snyder is] spending the same amount of money as everybody else, but he’s spending it irrationally. I think they’re years away from correcting the mistakes they’ve made.”
Andyman: Fake name
widely believed to be used by top Redskins officials to post anti-media rants on fan message boards. In 2005, Washington City Paper
reported that Karl Swanson, Snyder’s longtime PR
chief, had registered on sportsjournalists.com, a website where Andyman often sniped at The Washington Post
. Andyman, which could be Pig Latin for Danny M (Snyder’s first name, middle initial) all but disappeared after the report.
Bankrupt Airline Peanuts:
What Snyder was selling to fans at FedExField. During the 2006 season, vendors offered shelled nuts in royal blue and white 5 oz. bags adorned with the Independence Air logo. Problem: The airline had gone under about a year earlier.
The supplier told Washington City Paper
that it stopped shipping the airline’s nuts “before Independence Air went out of business.” A spokesman for the Peanut Council told City Paper
that to prevent rancidity, the recommended shelf life of a foil bag of out-of-shell peanuts was “about three months.”
Redskins general manager
who played a lead role in assembling the 1991 Super Bowl championship team. Snyder fired him in 1999 to clear space for Vinny Cerrato, who played lead role in 1994 feature film Kindergarten Ninja
Conflict of Interest:
What Snyder created by employing members of the D.C. media to work for Redskins Broadcast Network
, wholly owned by the team. Among the many journalists who worked for Snyder while also reporting on his Redskins for major news outlets: George Michael, Michael Wilbon, Dan Hellie, Wally Bruckner, Andy Pollin, Lindsay Czarniak, Brett Haber.
How Al Koken, a former employee of Snyder-owned sports station WTEM, describes
the Redskins owner’s media operation.
Dumb and Dumber:
Nickname fans gave Snyder and longtime racquetball/Six Flags investment partner Vinny Cerrato in 2009 season.
World’s largest liquor company and a business partner of Snyder’s. They paired up in a massive 2002 sponsorship deal that placed liquor advertising inside FedExField in the sight lines of network cameras, as well as local TV commercials during Redskins games. George Hacker of the Alcohol Policies Project, a program of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, was among the anti-drinking advocates who called the pact an attempted end-run by Snyder and Diageo around longstanding prohibitions on booze advertising. “Airing ads for Smirnoff Ice and Captain Morgan’s Gold during Redskin telecasts trumpets liquor brands and enables Diageo to sidestep the networks’ voluntary ban on hard liquor ads,” Hacker wrote
. Snyder and Diageo remain partners.
“Emulate Charlie Chan”:
What Asian actors trying out for a mascot job at Snyder-run Six Flags were allegedly told during 2008 auditions. After the 2006 firing of Mr. Six, the longtime mascot Snyder deemed “creepy,” the theme park chain’s marketing team hired a Japanese actor to scream “More flags! More fun!” in a vaguely Asian accent
in TV commercials. The Chicago chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League
, which publicized the “Charlie Chan” angle, was among the advocacy groups critical of the effort. The campaign was canceled very shortly after its debut.
Ten percent fee Prince George’s County collects as part of the deal that put the stadium there. The fee, like all assorted tariffs, had historically been included in the ticket price. After buying the Redskins, Snyder removed those charges
from the printed price, moving them to the invoice. The move coincided with the biggest ticket price hike in team history. The biggest losers in Snyder’s removal of fees were street sellers, since “face value” of a ticket was no longer its actual retail price.
How Barbara Hyde, spokeswoman for the American Society for Microbiology, reacted to last year’s news that Snyder’s vendors were selling beer in the bathrooms
. Fans had been alleging that the Redskins were hawking lager in the loo long before a YouTube video surfaced in October 2009. Hyde said that because microbiological bad actors like E. coli hang out in the men’s room, beer vendors shouldn’t.
Fan Appreciation Day:
Gimmick used in 2006 by Snyder to draw people to FedExField, where he charged $25 to park to watch the team scrimmage and hear an address
from Vinny Cerrato. The parking charge was not mentioned in the advertisements the team produced for the event.
What Snyder said he’d deliver
to Laveranues Coles in the 2005 preseason. The gift was part of a threat from the owner to keep the receiver out of football if he didn’t agree to give up a $5 million bonus called for by his contract so that Snyder could trade him. “He said he would send a flat-screen television to my home because I’d be better off watching the games there,” Coles told Sports Illustrated
in 2005. “That was his way of saying I’d be sitting for the next couple years until they cut me.”
Formerly world’s richest man. But he’s not as rich as he would be had he not done business with Snyder. One of Six Flags’ biggest stockholders
, Gates had 10,210,600 shares worth about $122 million in early 2006, when Snyder began putting his marketing team in place. They were worth $0—zilch, zip, nada—by the time Snyder was tossed off the board last year. “Bill Gates gives away more money than anybody, and his main cause is malaria,” said a representative of Resilient Capital Management, a hedge fund and Six Flags investor, which sued to have Snyder removed from the company for fiduciary irresponsibility. “That was money that could have gone to save kids from malaria.”
Insurance company and major Redskins sponsor. Snyder allowed GEICO to hand out promotional signs
at FedExField last season at the same time the team had instructed stadium security to take away home-made signage, much of it involving derogatory comments about Snyder and Cerrato. David Donovan, Snyder’s attorney, said the sign ban was for “safety.”
Quarterback and one of many Snyder-era free agent busts
. Snyder brought George to D.C. on the advice of friend and former Redskins star Sonny Jurgensen. Terry Bradshaw pooh-poohed the George signing on the FOX pregame show: “Both Jurgensen and George have one thing in common—they’ve never won anything,” said the four-time Super Bowl winner.
Dwelling on Snyder’s Potomac estate where prospective employees stay overnight
during job interviews.
Favored method of transportation Snyder used to drop into Redskins practices
in 1999 in Frostburg, Md., after taking control of the team.
Beloved former Redskins play-by-play announcer. Herzog was best known for signature call, “Touchdown, Washington Redskins!”
He was replaced in Snyder’s Redskins Broadcasting booth in 2004 by Larry Michael, best known for saying “Brought to you by Subway! If you love bacon come into Subway! Eat fresh!”
Down-on-her-luck 73-year-old grandmother—and five-decade Redskins season-ticketholder—who was sued by the Redskins
in 2009 because she could not afford to keep up payments on the 10-year, $50,000-plus club seats contract she’d signed.
Storm that Snyder used as an excuse to get out of the 75-year lease Six Flags had with the city of New Orleans. Snyder took over the company shortly after the storm inundated much of the city; he immediately let it be known he wouldn’t be coming back. “If any company is trying to figure out an exit strategy, they are,” New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said of Snyder’s abandonment. Six Flags never reopened
. Snyder rented the park to the Department of Homeland Security. Last year, the city fined Six Flags $3 million for breaking the lease and took over the property.
Inside the Red Zone With Vinny Cerrato:
WTEM radio show
featuring top Snyder aide that debuted early in the 2008 season, shortly after Snyder had bought what was then D.C.’s only sports-radio station. Because of abuse from Skins fans, Cerrato quickly stopped taking calls. He later stopped showing up at all on Mondays after Skins’ losses. The show didn’t return for the 2009 season.
Quarterback who in 1999 led the Redskins to their only division title of the last 20 seasons. Benched in favor of Snyder favorite
Jeff George a year later. “I think that decision’s made from up top,” Johnson said as George took his place. “I think it’s obvious.”
How the bond rating service Moody’s rated the notes Snyder sold in a cash-raising scheme in August 2010 for his Dick Clark Productions. The Wall Street Journal reported
the lousy rating came from Snyder selling “$165 million in notes in a deal that originally was supposed to be $150 million.”
Kennedy, Robert F.:
Namesake for the former Redskins stadium—and current “party deck” at FedExField. Tickets to this standing-room only section cost $152.50 and include access to a cigar bar and a Hooters, among other come-ons. Snyder dropped “RFK” from the marketing pitch after Kennedy family announced its displeasure
in Washington City Paper
D.C. sportscaster who in 2000 was forced to do live reports
from the Redskins Park parking lot while peers filmed inside the practice facility. Knott’s employer, WJLA-TV, was the only local network affiliate that did not pay Snyder to become a “media partner” of the team.
Something Snyder has had trouble with. In 2006, Snyder was sued by a former nanny, Juliette Mendonca
, who told a Montgomery County court that when she pointed out she was being shortchanged and asked for proper recompense, Snyder screamed, “I pay you more than my Redskins Park people! I can’t afford to pay you like this!” The court ordered Snyder to pay Mendonca $44,880. In 2008, Snyder faced a lawsuit
from a group of FedExField ticket office employees who weren’t being paid for extra hours. The team argued that the Redskins ticket office wasn’t covered by standard overtime laws, citing a 1932 exemption for “amusement and recreation employees” in the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. The exemption, however, was meant to cover lifeguards and greenskeepers, not office employees. Snyder settled the suit with the employees earlier this year. James Rubin, a Montgomery County attorney who represented the ticket sellers, says that he was shocked to learn during the case that Snyder now requires all employees to sign a document waiving their right to sue him “as a condition of employment.”
What every head coach Snyder has hired since buying the team has posted. Only Norv Turner, who Snyder inherited as coach in 1999, put up a winning mark in the Snyder Era, going 17-12 in less than two seasons under the new owner.
Maryland Clean Indoor Air Act of 2007:
Statewide ban on smoking in bars and restaurants. The law prompted regulators to order Club Macanudo, a cigar bar on FedExField’s Club Level, to either stop selling drinks and food or stop allowing smoking. Snyder stopped food and drink sales for one season. But the establishment reopened as the Montecristo Club
in 2009, with the team explaining that the new facility was no longer a bar, but a tobacco shop, and therefore not required to comply with the state code. Unfortunately, a promo film for the tobacco shop posted on the Redskins website featured a bartender pouring a Bud Light from a tap, a clear violation of the law.
How Snyder viewed cancer patients and diabetics during his marketing days. In a 2000 interview for a PBS show called CEO Exchange,
Snyder told host Jeff Greenfield that his business depended on
coming up with “$5 million niches” that he could sell goods and services to. Asked for examples of his methodology, Snyder said, “We were looking at trend lines. We saw that the aging baby boomer demographics were coming on strong. That meant there’s going to be a lot more diabetic patients, a lot more cancer patients, etc. How do we capture those market segments?”
Redskins fan favorite and the NFL’s all-time leading kick returner
. Mitchell was cut in 2000 to make room for Dallas Cowboys star Deion Sanders.
“More than 200,000”:
Number of names that Snyder claims are on the waiting list for Redskins season tickets. So why were the Redskins reduced to putting ads on the sides of Metrobuses
Plague that has run rampant
at Redskins Park since Snyder took over. Other than Jim Zorn, every head coach he’s hired has put family members on the payroll. Examples: Marty, Brian and Kurt Schottenheimer; Steve Spurrier senior and junior.; Joe and Coy Gibbs; Mike and Kyle Shanahan. Coordinators got in the mix, too: For the 2006-2007 seasons, Offensive Coordinator Al Saunders got son Bob a job, while Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams brought in son Blake. Conversely, the team cut both punter Matt Turk and long snapper/brother Dan Turk after Dan made a bad snap on a field goal attempt in a 1999 playoff game.
NFL’s Digital Media Committee:
What Snyder was named to head
in 2008, despite his bizarre refusal to install a hi-def screen for replays. For years, fans had mocked the video screens at FedExField as “MiniTrons” and “Lite Brites.” But Snyder spokesman Karl Swanson maintained that the team couldn’t give them what they wanted because FedExField “was wired for analog” and therefore couldn’t accommodate digital screens. In 2009, Paul McCartney and U2 both performed concerts at stadium, bringing their hi-def screens that somehow worked when plugged in. As of this year, FedExField has its own hi-def system.
Official Mattress of Six Flags:
Anatomic Global. Over time, Snyder had shown his sponsorship mania by inking deals that gave Six Flags an official mayonnaise and the Redskins an official carpet installer. In June 2009, weeks after the theme park chain filed for bankruptcy, Snyder signed a deal for an official mattress
. In the few months before his removal from the board, Snyder actually started selling the mattresses at his theme parks ($1,299 for a queen size).
Pentagon Flag Hat:
A Redskins cap sold for profit by Snyder to “commemorate September 11” in time for the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Ads boasted that the $23.99 caps
, really just black Redskins hats with a red, white, and blue Pentagon sewn on the side, were “expected to be worn by the Redskins coaches.” No other NFL team put 9/11 commemorative products for sale during the 2006 season, for profit or otherwise. Snyder had previously added a $4 “security surcharge” to the ticket prices soon after the attacks.
Redskins Extra Points MasterCard:
The only credit card
Snyder told fans he’d accept for season ticket payments for the 2005 season. He withdrew the demand following a threatened ticketholder revolt and after MasterCard told the Redskins to drop it.
Feature on Redskins.com designed to “offer fans an a la carte menu of information,” as Snyder told The New York Times
in 2006. In practice, Unfiltered was mainly used to rebut everything written about the team by The Washington Post
. Immediately after the Post
ran a story that mentioned players eating “fast food” at Redskins Park, for example, Snyder staffer Larry Michael produced a long video in which team employees testified that Baja Fresh was NOT fast food. Unfiltered came back to haunt management when players used its video as evidence in a union grievance over “contact drills” during voluntary workouts. “You know how we caught them?” said NFLPA chief Gene Upshaw. “We saw it on their Web site.”
What Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen gave ex-Broncos coach Mike Shanahan
during private conversations with Snyder last year. Bowlen had fired Shanahan after the 2008 season with three years remaining on a massive contract. With Bowlen’s blessing, Snyder hired Shanahan, thereby taking Bowlen off the hook for about $7 million of the money that was still owed on his contract.
FedEx official whom Snyder almost made Redskins head coach. Snyder knew he wanted to fire Norv Turner in the middle of the 2000 season, but he didn’t have anybody to put in charge. So he contemplated Rodgers, 69, who had never coached in the NFL and whose last coaching stint was with the Memphis Mad Dogs of the CFL. Rodgers’ main qualification for the Redskins job was that, after FedEx became a Redskins sponsor, he watched games with Snyder
in the owner’s box and told stories about coaching John Riggins at the University of Kansas.
Early Snyder Yes Man. After taking over for Norv Turner as head coach in the middle of the 2000 season, Robiskie confessed he would play Jeff George over Brad Johnson just because that’s what the owner wanted. “Mr. Snyder owns the football team,” Robiskie declared
after his first practice as head coach. “If I wanted to change my desk, I’m going to call him and say I want to change my desk. If I want to change quarterbacks, I’m going to call him and say, ‘What do you think of me changing quarterbacks?’ It’s his football team.”
Bogus excuse used to get a ban on pedestrian traffic into FedExField on game days in 2000. After a class action lawsuit alleged that the ban was really intended to increase parking revenues
at the stadium, the ban was overturned. In 2007, Snyder again cited safety to get offsite parking banned by the town council in Agawam, Mass., home of Six Flags New England. Parking rates at the theme park tripled after his 2005 takeover of Six Flags. When the Agawam council learned about the earlier pedestrian-safety controversy at FedEx, it undid the ban.
Crown jewel of the fantasy football team Snyder put together during his first offseason as owner, which also included Bruce Smith, Mark Carrier, Jeff George and Adrian Murrell. Snyder signed Sanders to a seven-year, $56 million contract with an $8 million signing bonus. After a debacle of a 2000 season for the team and himself, Sanders refused to report to the Redskins
in 2001—but declined to return any of his bonus money.
“Several Million Dollars”:
Amount Snyder was paid by StubHub
as part of the Redskins’ 2008 deal with the online ticket clearinghouse, according to StubHub spokesman Sean Pate. At the time, Snyder had been taking tickets away from season ticketholders for violating team’s policy against reselling tickets. The Washington Times
reported that the team even repossessed six tickets from the Braloves, a D.C. family that had had them “since the 1940s,” after Redskins detectives found that they’d put some tickets up for sale on eBay.
The illegal practice of switching a customer’s telephone service without authorization. Florida authorities fined Snyder’s pre-Redskins outfit, Snyder Communications, $3.1 million in 2001 after investigators uncovered more slamming in its offices than you’d find stagefront at a Limp Bizkit show.
Action that Marvin Demoff, agent for Gregg Williams, accused Redskins of taking to pre-empt fan unhappiness over Snyder’s decision not to hire Williams. A four-year employee of Snyder’s, Williams was a fan favorite. But the owner reportedly wanted to hire veteran coach Jim Fassel instead. Demoff pointed out that three D.C. media operations reported at about the same time that “team sources” were saying Williams wasn’t fit to be head coach because he had been “disrespectful” to retiring coach Joe Gibbs. The alleged slight occurred when Williams unilaterally called the “Missing Man Formation”
as a tribute to Sean Taylor after his death. Outcry prevented the team from hiring Fassel, though Williams didn’t get the job, either.
Smith, Bruce, Rear End Of:
The only thing fans who bought the first run of Snyder’s Dream Seats
had a great look at. Before the 2000 season, Snyder installed 1,488 field level seats at FedExField. To that point in football history, the front rows were regarded as the worst vantage point in a stadium, since the players on the sideline block the view, and were priced accordingly. Snyder charged $3,000 per Dream Seat.
A technique created by the Redskins Broadcast Network in the Snyder era to cram in all the advertising sold on Redskins radio broadcasts
. No segment of a Skins game goes unsponsored, leading to fabulous listening moments such as: “The GMRI scoreboard brought to you by McDonald’s.”
“Sports Jerk of the Year”:
Award conferred upon Snyder
in 2001 in cartoon strip “Tank McNamara.”
What Snyder wanted of the Potomac River from the back of his Montgomery County home. To accomplish this, he cut down trees
protected by the National Park Service. The episode marked one of the rare times Snyder got crisis PR
help. He retained Mike Sitrick, who helped with damage control for the Michael Jackson family after the pop star’s death and Paris Hilton after one of her arrests.
Flavor of ice cream that Snyder left to thaw
in defensive coordinator Mike Nolan’s office TWICE in one season to let the coach know the owner felt his schemes were simplistic, or vanilla. John Feinstein wrote that Snyder’s second delivery, after a loss to Dallas, consisted of “three giant canisters of melting 31 Flavors ice cream” and a note that said “I do not like vanilla.”
Menu item at the Princess Restaurant in Frostburg, Md., conceived in 2000 after the Redskins broke their training-camp lease with the local college. Jack Kent Cooke and Maryland lawmakers had worked out a 10-year, $331,000-per-year deal, designed to bring tourist dollars to western Maryland, as part of the agreement that brought the Redskins to Prince George’s County. Shortly after buying the team, Snyder defaulted on the deal so he could hold training camp at Redskins Park, where he charged $10 admission and $10 parking. In 2001, Snyder paid the school $750,000 to settle the matter. The school used the money to establish an endowment
named for Cooke.
Verb meaning to humiliate an employee into quitting so the employer can avoid paying severance. The word was brought into the lexicon early in the 2009 season, after Snyder engineered a public emasculation of head coach Jim Zorn. Zorn’s play-calling duties were handed to consultant Sherm Lewis, who was working as a bingo caller
at retirement communities in Michigan when Snyder hired him. At the time, Zorn had a year and $2.4 million remaining on his contract. He didn’t quit.