For two sets of NFC East fans, Week 7 is the week they have been waiting for. On Sunday The Washington Redskins host the Dallas Cowboys marking another chapter in one of the most storied rivalries in NFL history. So where did it all begin? Two subjects are often credited for this decades old animosity – a song, and racism.
“Hail To The Redskins”
The Redskins song “Hail To The Redskins” is the second oldest football fight song in NFL history after “Go! Packers! Go!”. It was composed by Barnee Breeskin after then Redskins owner George Preston Marshall, having moved the team to the Nation’s capital from Boston commissioned him to write a song full of “pomp and circumstance” to emulate those of college football. At the time the Redskins were the southernmost team East of the Mississippi and Marshall enjoyed his lucrative hold of fan support, and most importantly radio coverage of most of the Southern states. In 1960, oil tycoon Clint Murchison proposed bringing a football team to Dallas, but needed the support of all current NFL owners. All but Marshall agreed, as he was clearly worried that a team in Texas would cut into his radio listenership and fanbase.
Unfortunately for Marshall, a disgruntled Barnee Breeskin had agreed to sell the rights to the fight song he had composed to Murchison. Marshall realised that if he wanted to continue to play his fight song at Washington games he would have to acquiesce to Murchison’s demand for a team or be bankrupted by the royalty fees he would subsequently owe. He begrudgingly agreed to the expansion, and the Dallas Cowboys were born.
Many believe that it is this ‘fight over a fight song’ that led to the rivalry but in reality the animosity is based on a far deeper social reason. When I lived in Washington D.C. there were always a lot of older African-Americans that would be wearing Cowboys jerseys and I, having known of the rivalry but not knowing the origins found it confusing. For I had been to Dallas, and there was never anybody wearing a Redskins jersey. One day I asked a friend why it was he lived in D.C but supported the Cowboys. He said “Because the Redskins are the most racist team in football.” I assumed he meant because of the questionable name, but I was wrong.
“Fight For Ol’ Dixie”
The Redskins song now ends with the line “Fight for Ol’ D.C.!” but the original lyrics were changed from “Fight for Ol’ Dixie!” Dixie referring to the area South of the Mason/Dixon line that traditionally separated the North from the, ahem, very racist South. George Preston Marshall was born in West Virginia to native Washingtonians who counted among their family heirlooms, the Confederate flag. If you don’t know what that signifies, you will often see it flying today on the back of pickup trucks, often alongside a red flag with a white spot containing an angled black cross… Marshall was a racist.
Pro football had had a small number of black players through the ‘20’s and ‘30’s but it wasn’t until 1946 that the true integration of black players began. Many team owners held off for a while, claiming that blacks simply weren’t good enough to play for their teams; an idea that, looking at today’s NFL is simply laughable. However Marshall did not fall into that camp despite once being quoted as saying “We will start signing them as soon as the Harlem Globetrotters start signing Whites”. He refused to sign black players simply because he didn’t want them around. As with the origins of his team’s fight song, he wanted to emulate college football which, at the time was more popular and according to an interview he did with the New York Times in 1961 he said “We take most of our players from Southern colleges and are trying to appeal to Southern people. Those colleges don’t have any Negro players.”
It wasn’t until he was threatened by the Federal Government with regards to blocking a proposed move to a new stadium in 1961 that Marshall finally agreed to integrate black players in 1962, becoming the last pro football team to do so.
Chris Milner aka “Proper Football” is co-host of the Same Level Fantasy Football podcast, a former Washington D.C. resident and Redskins fan (for his sins) he is a self styled fantasy football expert having won his league one time. He is also clearly a comedian.. Follow him on Twitter
@chrismilner or listen to the pod @samelevel #HTTR
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