Wanna know why the NFL is so head-over-cleats in love with Dan Snyder - aside, that is, from all the cash he's putting up to buy the Redskins?
Here's why: Because at 34, he figures to be very much The Junior Partner. That's what the league likes as much as anything: New owners who know their place. Get-along guys who won't rock the boat - or squawk too loudly if they get stuck with a bad schedule. Men who are willing to pay their dues before they do much filibustering at the league meeting.
Dan Snyder is perfect for the NFL, just as Howard Milstein was perfectly wrong. Milstein is one of those change-the-world types. He had a million ideas for turning around the Redskins - and about 999,997 of them were probably lousy.
Did you see who he just hired to coach the New York Islanders? Butch Goring, whose last head job in the NHL was 13 years ago with the Boston Bruins. (He got fired after barely a season.) Thank heaven Milstein didn't get to hire a Butch Goring to coach the Redskins.
But back to the NFL - and to Snyder. The league values subservience in its new owners. It likes guys who will hold the door open for Wellington Mara, Dan Rooney and the rest of the Old Guard. And it loves, absolutely loves, owners who have never been involved with professional sports before. Owners like Dan Snyder.
When Snyder says, as he did in a recent statement, that 'Football will be a new business for me, and I'm going to need experienced personnel to run the team,' it's music to the other owners' ears. It means they might have a pigeon on their hands. After all, Snyder may be a whiz in the communications field, but the football field is a whole different deal.
And make no mistake, the NFL is as cutthroat as businesses come. The owners may look very clubby when they're together, but they all want to win - badly. A newcomer to the league once described its dynamics this way: 'It is highly competitive, as the definition was understood by Captain Morgan, the pirate.'
He was talking about an earlier time, the 1940s, when the NFL was essentially run by four teams: the Bears, Giants, Redskins and Packers. (The other clubs, the country cousins, were just along for the ride.) When a new owner came into the league, George Halas, Tim Mara and George Preston Marshall couldn't wait to 'help' him - to sell him players they didn't want or to snooker him out of his first-round draft choice. It got so bad that a rule had to be passed prohibiting teams - for their own good - from trading their No. 1 picks.
One neophyte owner who was forever getting taken was Ted Collins, who launched a Boston franchise, the Yanks, in 1944. Anyone crazy enough to start a football team in the middle of a war, the other owners decided, had to be an easy mark. And Collins was a bit naive, no doubt about it. Example: Not long after the Yanks came into being, his equipment manager told him he needed to order 54 footballs. Ted was practically apoplectic.
'Fifty-four!' he said. 'What are we going to do, eat them?'
The NFL sure enjoyed having Collins around. He was 'so grateful for the privilege of losing his money,' a competitor said, 'that it's more of a shame not to accommodate him.' So accommodate him they did.
'Need a tackle, Ted? Don't worry, I'll send one over to you for 500 bucks.'
'A little thin at fullback? No problem, I've got an extra one. All it'll cost ya is the rights to that All-American end you can't sign.'
One of the players Marshall unloaded on him 'was 45 if he was a day, didn't have a spear of hair on his head and, let alone football, was scarcely in condition for walking,' Collins complained. But then, these were the war years. Players of any description were hard to find. The situation was so desperate in '45 that the Yanks suited up a lineman, one Ellis Jones, who was missing an arm.
All in all, Collins lost more than $1 million on the franchise. Welcome to the NFL.
'In my innocence,' he said, 'I supposed my new associates would be willing to help a newcomer. Instead, I found them fierce competitors thinking only of themselves. They have no thought of building a strong league.'
Things have changed a little since then. The owners have indeed built a strong league, one in which making a profit is virtually guaranteed. But the competition is still fierce. If a team is dumb enough to offer its entire draft - plus its first- and third-rounders next year - for the fifth overall pick, another team will gladly accept. And no owner seems in much of a hurry to share his luxury-box revenue with other clubs. In a lot of ways, it's still kill or be killed out there.
Which will it be for Dan Snyder? We will have to wait and see. The last boy wonder to be admitted to the lodge, though - Philadelphia's Jeff Lurie, who was a callow 42 when he took over the team in '94 - hasn't exactly distinguished himself, has he? The Eagles are worse off than the Redskins - with no end in sight.
So you can see why the owners are so enthusiastic about Snyder's application. If he turns out to be as clueless as Lurie, nobody will have to worry about the Redskins for years. Let's hope Dan the Man has a little more on the ball than that. Let's hope he's a bit quicker on the uptake than Abe Watner, the owner of the original Baltimore Colts.
'Mr. Watner,' one of his players once recalled, 'ventured into football not realizing that players eat a lot of food.'