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Washington DC Football Fans Relive History in New Book


Thousands of books have been written about sports players and teams. Most focus on a spectacular season or other specific events and accomplishments. But few are as detailed and all-encompassing as a recently published book about a storied and one of the wealthiest sports franchises in the world. VOA's Jim Stevenson has more on The Redskins Encyclopedia, a comprehensive history of the U.S. National Football League team in Washington.

Lifelong Washington Redskins fan Michael Richman spent eight years compiling The Redskins Encyclopedia.

"I can safely say it is the most comprehensive book ever written on the Redskins in a journalistic fashion," said R

ichman. "They will see a lot of original interviews that I did with players. Get a feel for what took place during certain eras. I actually go all the way back to the late 1930s in terms of interviewing people. And they will just learn a lot about Redskins history."

This season, the Washington Redskins are celebrating 75 years in the National Football League. Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs is again leading the team. And that long history provided Mr. Richman with more material than he expected.

"I uncovered so many facts about the Redskins that I never knew," he said. "And I love doing research. My background is in print journalism. So I just kept writing and writing and writing. I know I went way more than originally intended in terms of the manuscript. And I also felt like I was reliving my childhood, having the opportunity to interview guys particularly from the 1970s, and 1980s for that matter, the first glory era under [coach] Joe Gibbs. I remember vividly the games, and just having the opportunity to interview them I was having flashbacks to what actually took place."

Among those flashbacks were five Super Bowl appearances in the past 35 years and three championship titles. But the memories for some Washington fans span almost to the beginning of several other teams and the National Football League itself.

"The Redskins were one of the first franchises in the league," said Richman. "I would not put them in the group of the very first teams such as the [Chicago] Bears and the [Green Bay] Packers. The Redskins were sort of in the next tier. They came along in the early 1930s, 1932 was their first season actually in Boston. They were known as the Boston Braves. And they were renamed the Redskins prior to the 1933 season. The [Pittsburgh] Steelers, if I am correct, were formed in 1933, as were the [Philadelphia] Eagles. And also the Chicago Cardinals came along around the same time."

George Preston Marshall first owned the Redskins and moved the team from Boston to Washington. He was a master promoter of entertainment, introducing the first marching band and team fight song in the NFL. Marshall also cultivated a following for the team that extended well beyond Washington and into the deep south of the United States.

In recent years, team owner Daniel Snyder has continued to build on the perennial financial success of the Redskins. As Redskins historian Michael Richman notes, the team is valued at over one-and-a-quarter billion dollars ($1,264,000,000).

"Forbes magazine has recognized the Redskins as the wealthiest NFL franchise year after year since about the beginning of this century, and one of the wealthiest around the world," he said.

The Washington Redskins franchise is ranked in value just behind English soccer power Manchester United ($1,373,000,000). Other top sports franchises in terms of financial value include Major League Baseball's New York Yankees ($1,026,000,000) and the National Basketball Association's New York Knicks ($543 million).

But as Richman explains, the excitement on the field - season after season - is what keeps attracting the fans.

"Win or lose for the most part, the Redskins are still going to have a major following in this area," he said. "There are diehard fans that follow the Redskins. And that dates back to when the Redskins first moved here in 1937. They won a championship in their very first season here in Washington. So they had a huge following immediately."

And Mr. Richman says the following in recent decades has watched one of the best matchups in professional American-style football between the Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys.

"Nothing tops the rivalry they have had with the Cowboys," he said. "That is one of the greatest rivals if not the greatest rivalry in NFL history. And I wrote a separate chapter on that rivalry because there has been so much history to it. There has been so much finger pointing over the years, and bad mouthing, and so much intensity when these two teams play."

That story and more is chronicled in The Washington Redskins Encyclopedia, published by Temple University Press. Author Michael Richman is also a journalist at the Voice of America.