Thursday, October 22, 2009

Repost: Bet John Disagrees

In honor of yesterday's long Washington Post profile on John Kent Cooke, the man who lost the Redskins to Dan Snyder a decade ago, Curly R went into the archives for our first ever repost, the story of the sale of the Redskins, originally published here on 21 December 2006, it is below in its entirety.

Curly R's comment on the WaPo profile will be published this afternoon. Enjoy this recap of the ugliness and shady dealings surrounding the sale of the Redskins.


Thursday, December 21, 2006

Those were the days

Jack Kent Cooke, the Squire, the owner Redskins fans wish was still alive, is back in the news in a Marc Fisher column titled 'Fulfilling Lives Will Be Cooke's Enduring Legacy.' If you will recall, JKC died in 1997. He gave 50 million dollars in a trust to his son John Kent Cooke, some other nicks and nacks to people, but the bulk of his billion dollar fortune was bequeathed to the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, an organization dedicated to bettering high academic achievers from lower income brackets in poverty-stricken areas such as Fairfax and Montgomery Counties. According to the foundation's website, up to 650 students a year are selected, with up to 50,000 dollars in scholarships and assistance granted per student, though the Marc Fisher piece pegs the number at about 15,000 dollars each.

Recall if you will the final days and aftermath of JKC's life. John Kent Cooke, JKC's only surviving son, toiled in relative anonymity as the president of the team, the operations guy. Bobby Beathard, then later Charley Casserly handled GM duties, and Joe Gibbs had a direct line with JKC, so John spent most of his time tending to the business of the franchise, making sure stuff got done. When JKC died, John announced his intent to keep the Redskins in the family.

But there was a problem. JKC was the owner of the team and spanking new stadium, and as such, they were his assets and they went into his estate, which was willed to the new foundation. The trustees of the estate had orders to sell the team to the highest bidder. With the new stadium doubling team revenue and boosting the team's profitability by a factor of ten, the Redskins were hot hot hot, and there was speculation the team could sell for twice the 450 million dollars that bought the new Cleveland Browns. JKC had only (only!) given son John 50 million dollars, not enough to buy the team.

The bidding started at 450 million, and eventually John put together a 680 million dollar offer. That was rejected by JKC's trustees, with whom John's relationship went south fast. The trustees, of which John was technically one, demanded final say on all decisions related to the team, everything from groundskeeping to office supplies to contract negotiations. John and Charley complained to the league that these non-football people did not have the health of the product in mind and could lead the team down a road that would take decades to recover from, so NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue stepped in and decreed John remain president of the team, retaining Charley and Norv Turner. It is in this tumultuous period that the Redskins lost Trent Green, to St. Louis.

It must have been hard for John not to think the father was punishing him from the grave, but JKC earned his money from scratch and I always thought this was meant by JKC to be John's test.

John upped his offer to 700 million dollars, but that was still not enough for the trustees. They were in love with developer Howard Milstein who, with his brother Edward and 'Bethesda businessman' Dan Snyder, put together an 800 million dollar offer which the trustees accepted.

Here is where this story gets hard to follow.

The league either actively wanted John Kent Cooke to have the team, or actively did not want Howard Milstein to have it. The JKC trustees approved Howard's offer, but the NFL Finance Committee, the body in charge of granting approval to team sales, waffled, then rejected it, nominally over concerns about how solid was the financing. The league then even took the public-pressure step of asking to 're-examine' John's bid, even as the JKC trustees were shaking hands and signing papers with Howard.

Howard eventually withdrew his offer in rage and disgust, and to add injury to insult, the league did not return his 30 million dollar application fee-deposit on the team, and this refusal was upheld in court (adding to the intrigue, Dan Snyder's portion of the deposit, 10 million, was refunded to Dan after the league accepted his bid).

Despite denials and no findings by the league (surprise the league found nothing in its investigation of itself), it was obvious to me at the time that Charley Casserly and John Kent Cooke ran interference with the league and persuaded the Finance Committee to reject the offer, with the idea being that John would be the last man standing, and the league would pocket 30 million from Howard. Was Howard blackballed by the fraternity of NFL owners, or was his bid really too debt-heavy, as was the official reaction from the NFL? Great NYT article on the aftermath of Howard's failed bid.

Then in swept Dan Snyder with his own 800 million dollar offer, essentially identical to Howard's only without Howard. It was strange because Dan had been quiet, like a little mouse as Howard's bid went down in flames. The trustees approved Dan's offer, and the NFL Finance Committee approved it. What did the fans get? After Giants owner Wellington Mara died last year, the NYT quoted Michael MacCambridge, author of NFL history tome America's Game:

It was clear to me that Mr. Mara viewed Daniel Snyder in roughly the same way that Frank Sinatra might have viewed Eminem

(You may remember Dan had TVs installed over the urinals in the owner's box at Redskins Stadium so he would not have to miss a play while recycling his juice box.)

John subsequently withdrew his offer and lived out a few years in Middleburg before slinking off to Bermuda with his 50 million, but not before buying a newpaper chain. He and Richie Petitbon now hang out at the Bitter Bitter Man's Club.

Always the pioneer, JKC will now forever be remembered for brigning Super Bowls to Washington, and now as the rich guy that wanted to give back to the community, and in the end, had the courage to help middle class white people.*


Everything you wanted to know about Jack Kent Cooke: Special Washington Post section (why doesn't this stuff appear in the Washington Post or Google searches? I came across this in an image search and followed it back). Another Washington Post special section on JKC. Wikipedia. JKC's will. Feel like reliving the tragicomedy of the NFL and John Kent Cooke sabotaging Howard Milstein's attempt to buy the team while minority partner Dan Snyder was oddly silent? Washington Post section of key stories on the sale of the team. Unfortunately, many of these links are long broken. Another special online section, looking like it has not been updated since about 1997.

* This link s the google image search for Jack Kent Cooke. Follow it and tell me what you see. Since he's been dead for almost ten years, there are fewer pictures of the man and more related to the JKC Foundation. The recipient students pictured in the first 5 pages of this search are overwhelminly white.

Interestingly, in the course of researching this piece, I came across an NYT piece on former NYC top cop and failed DHS Secretary nominee Bernie Kerik that ties into this story. After September 11, 2001, Anthony Bergamo, a vice chairman in Howard Milstein's real estate empire, at Bernie's request, donated an apartment overlooking the rubble as a place for weary police and firefighters to rest. Many involved in the recovery and cleanup simply refused to go home between shifts, and it was a gesture meant to show solidarity in the city. After the initial 24-hour cycle of effort slowed to a predictable pace, Bernie asked if he could rent it for himself, which brings into question in my mind his real motivation for securing the residence in the first place. I am sure when Howard's company agreed to rent it to Bernie, they were not thinking Bernie might use it as a loveshack where he could take his recently fired OJ=dollar signs anti-semite floozy Judith Regan and bang her out of sight of his wife and children, which is in fact what he did with it. What is the tie-in to this story? After the whole Redskins thing collapsed and Howard realized he not only was not getting the team but was not getting his 20 million dollars back, he sued John Kent Cooke, then already in Bermuda, for 100 million dollars. In an effort to get some incriminating evidence on John or Charley Casserly, Howard spent 6500 dollars sending Anthony Bergamo to Bermuda under an assumed name where he wore a wire and arranged to bump into John and Charley and try and get them to talk. Ultimately, Anthony got nothing and the lawsuit was tossed.

Jack Kent Cooke and Marlene Ramallo Cooke, April 9, 1992: AP photo
Joe Theismann, Jack Kent Cooke, John Riggins and Joe Gibbs after winning Super Bowl 17 and John Kent Cooke: Washington Post