The 100th season of the National Football League has dawned upon us, and professional football fans can tip their cap to a man with roots in Romney for making the gridiron game the spectacle it is today.
50 years ago, on Aug. 9, 1969, George Preston Marshall, founder and owner of the Washington Redskins, died in his sleep at the age of 72 in his home in Georgetown.
Known by many nicknames including George the Gorgeous, G. Presto, Marshall the Magnificent and Wet Wash, George Preston Marshall was buried here in Romney near the entrance of Indian Mound Cemetery, adjacent to the Confederate Monument which was erected 100 years earlier, upon approval by his children George Preston Marshall Jr. and Catherine Marshall Price.
Marshall’s final resting place is appropriate given his fascination with Native Americans and his family’s connection with the town of Romney.
As stated on HistoricHampshire.org, although Marshall was not born in Romney, both his father and grandfather were natives of the village and both are buried near the Confederate monument which was erected near the entrance in Indian Mound which is one of the best-known Indian burial mounds in the Eastern United States.
George’s plethora of stage monikers suited his desire for attention as he viewed himself as the ultimate showman.
Similar to the Wizard of Oz, Marshall was a master at shaping a spectacular performance while hiding behind a curtain that covered up an ugly set of truths, Marshall was an unapologetic racist.
The Washington Redskins were the last professional football team to integrate their roster as Marshall instituted a no-negro policy instructing his scouts to ignore black talent asserting that no African American was good enough to make the team.
Marshall’s aggressive opposition to integration has overshadowed his contributions to the success of the NFL, however, his understanding of sports marketing and entertainment reached new heights starting in the midst of the Great Depression.
George Preston Marshall made his fortune in the laundry business after inheriting a chain of stores in Boston and Washington upon his father’s death in 1918.
In July 1932, the NFL awarded an expansion franchise to a team placed in Boston and George Preston Marshall won the bid.
During the 1920’s and 30’s it was customary of new NFL teams to be named after the MLB team that played in the same city.
In 1931 there were 10 teams in the NFL and five of those bore the name of a city with an MLB team (NY Giants, Brooklyn Dodgers, Cleveland Indians, etc.)
Searching for a venue to play was a challenge in Boston as Fenway Park was not an option due to a city ordinance that prohibited staging of athletic events on Sundays if the venue was within 1000 feet of a church.
Therefore, Fenway Park was out and Braves Field was in, and the new NFL team was labeled the Boston Braves.
Shortly after taking control of the franchise Marshall changed the name from Braves to the Redskins to avoid confusion with the MLB team.
It was long rumored that Marshall outfitted his players in burgundy and gold, because he had spent so much gold for burgundy.
Marshall strengthened the ties of his team with the image of Native Americans by hiring head coach William “Lonestar” Dietz, a successful college coach with Indian descent.
An accomplished artist as well as a football coach, Dietz is credited with designing the famous Redskins Indian head logo shortly after joining the team.
During his life, George Preston Marshall was well-known for his spectacular ideas to better professional football. He was instrumental in opening up the passing game allowing a forward toss to be thrown from anywhere behind the line of scrimmage.
It was Marshall who came up with the notion of 2 divisions and a championship playoff.
Marshall’s 2nd wife Corinne Griffith contributed to the Redskins legacy as she penned the lyrics to the famous song, Hail to the Redskins.
The orginal song goes:
Hail to the Redskins,
Braves on the warpath,
Fight for old Dixie.
Scalp ‘em, Swamp ‘em
We will take ‘em big score.
Read ‘em, weep ‘em,
Touchdown we want heap more.
Fight on. Fight on till you have won.
Sons of Wash-ing-ton.
Mr. Marshall was also the originator of the first all-star game known as the Pro Bowl and he was the first to establish extensive radio and television networks to carry Redskins’ games.
The Redskins did have success on the field winning the NFL championship in 1937 and 1942, but perhaps Marshall’s biggest accomplishment and source of pride was the halftime shows that attracted women to the stadium.
The Redskins are credited with having the first band organized by a pro football club as 250+ musicians stormed onto the field in full Indian garment with headdresses.
Conflicting reports from different sources have clouded the accuracy of the final days of his life, and that is where I am asking for your help.
Do you have a vivid memory of the funeral and burial in Romney 50 years ago?
If so, I would like to hear your story so I can piece together the puzzle that is George Preston Marshall.
Part 2 of the George Preston Marshall story will be published next week. o