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Dallas Redskins? Yes, that almost happened

NFL history lesson: Some background on how Washington’s team nearly ended up in Dallas

Jacksonville Jaguars v Washington Redskins Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

If you are a fan of the NFC East, your endearment is for two things to happen each and every weekly during the National Football League (NFL) season: 1. for your team to win, and 2. that every other team in the division has a loss.

The New York Giants vs. the Philadelphia Eagles is certainly a dogfight. If the game is at Philadelphia, the dogfight is in the stands just as much as on the playing field. Just as exceptional is that the Dallas CowboysWashington Redskins rivalry is fierce.

But few folks realize that the Redskins are the reason why the Cowboys even have an NFL team; and that the Redskins fight song “Hail to the Redskins” was once owned by the Cowboys themselves.

Dallas Redskins

In 1958, two Texas oilmen named John and Clint Murchison, Jr. desired an NFL team. These men were so wealthy they owned a private island in the Bahamas. At the same time they wanted to base the club in their hometown of Dallas. Their attempts to buy the 1952 Dallas Texans failed and later they tried to purchase the San Francisco 49ers. They heard that the longtime owner of the Redskins, George Preston Marshall, might be interested in selling his franchise if the right deal came his way.

The negotiations for Murchison to purchase the Redskins went quite well. Marshall was willing to sell and was reported to need funds for his laundry operations across Maryland. An agreement was set to finalize the deal for $600,000 with the provision that Marshall would manage the team for five years even though the club would relocate to Dallas.

On the day that Clint, Jr. arrived at Marshall’s attorney’s office to sign the agreement, terms of the deal had been changed. It seems that Marshall now had inked a 10-year management clause as one of the contract’s unauthorized deviations. This angered Murchison - who then nixed the entire sale.

So, the Redskins remained in Washington and Dallas still did not have pro football. However, there would a twist on the horizon to this saga.

“Hail to the Redskins” Is Born

The pro game was not as popular as college football back then but Marshall wanted a college feel to Redskins home games. Several aspects included cheerleaders and music – specifically a marching band. By 1938 a full marching band called the “Wigwam Band” had been assembled. Marshall had commissioned the band leader, Barnee Breeskin, to compose an appropriate fight song that the team could embrace and call its own just like the colleges have. Interesting enough, Breeskin’s melody was similar to the Christian anthem “Jesus Loves Me” with more of a southern angle laid in. Marshall’s wife Corinne Griffith contributed the lyrics. The song was labeled “Hail to the Redskins.”

The song became the very essence of each and every Redskins home game. Marshall had orchestrated very ostentatious pre-game and halftime shows with his new song the cornerstone. The band wore headdresses and Indian garb such as buckskins. A full chorus line accompanied the band with elaborate dancing Indian princesses. Just as today’s Super Bowl halftime routine are not to be missed, such were the festivities at a Redskins halftime show.

Dallas Enters the NFL

In the late 1950s several rich businessmen wanted to own an NFL team. Each one was told the same thing: the league is not entertaining the idea of expansion and if you want in, purchase an existing team. Period.

One of these men was a 26-year-old oilman from Dallas named Lamar Hunt. He thought he was going to buy the Chicago Cardinals then relocate the club to Texas only to be rebuffed about the sale. With expansion off the table, Hunt decided to start his own league – the American Football League (AFL). When it finally sank in with the powers of the NFL that this new league was legit, it was announced from the NFL Expansion Committee that the league was indeed going to expand into two cities – Dallas and Houston (Houston was soon dropped and changed to Minneapolis as the second city); and that other cities were under consideration.

With the Dallas franchise, the league wanted the team to start right away for the 1960 season to coincide and compete with the AFL’s maiden season. The league hurriedly named the team the “Steers” even though there wasn’t a coach, any players and devoid of an owner. The league contacted Murchison about taking the Dallas franchise to which he said yes. He renamed the team the “Rangers” because the longtime local minor league baseball Rangers were about to disband. There was only one obstacle left – the NFL owners had to vote on the proposition of the expansion Dallas franchise.

Marshall made it well-known that he was not going to vote for the expansion team in Dallas and even threatened legal proceedings that he claimed infringed on his southern territory. Only a unanimous vote would make the new team a reality. The two men still had bad blood since the sale of the Redskins fell through. Marshall’s objections, other than the territorial rights, was that the league was only producing new teams in order to squash the newly-formed AFL and not to improve conditions within the league.

League representatives countered that the timing was circumstantial and that the two new teams added was simply free enterprise.

“Hail to the Cowboys”

During this same time period, Marshall was in disagreement with his band leader Breeskin. Marshall expected the fight song to be owned by the franchise to which Breeskin claimed ownership as its composer and felt it had financial merit. An opportunity was presented by Breeskin to Murchison’s attorney to buy the rights to the “Hail to the Redskins” fight song - to which he paid $2,500 for the song’s rights. Even though the Dallas entry into the NFL was not “officially” a franchise, the club (and Murchison) now owned the Redskins fight song.

Leading up to the expansion vote, every owner was in favor of the two new teams with the exception of Marshall. He made it clear that he was still steamed about how the sale of his Redskins did not come to fruition and blamed Murchison whom he called “obnoxious.” His reasoning to the other owners, however, was that he did not want any other teams in the South (i.e. Dallas and Houston) and was afraid of losing fan loyalty.

Murchison then made it known to Marshall that he owned the rights to “Hail to the Redskins.” Marshall not only loved the song, but his wife had written the lyrics. An agreement was struck in Marshall’s hotel room for Murchison to concede the rights to the fight song in exchange for Marshall’s vote on expansion. The price for the new Dallas franchise? The same $600,000 he had agreed to buy the Redskins two years earlier. The team would later be renamed the Cowboys when the minor league baseball Rangers decided to continue operations.

Besides, “Hail to the Cowboys” just wouldn’t have the same ring.

About the song

Several of the lyrics to “Hail to the Redskins” have been changed over the years. At the time, Washington was the southern-most NFL franchise just south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Within the lyrics the song goes “Fight for old D.C.!” The original lyrics were “Fight for old Dixie!” Another part of the song today goes “Beat ‘em, swamp ‘em, touchdown! Let the points soar!” Originally the words were cleaned up in the 1960’s from “Scalp ‘em, swamp ‘em, we will take ‘em big score!”