Monday, December 12, 2011

How the Dallas Cowboys got into the National Football League...for a song

I grew up in the Washington, DC area in the 1970s, and therefore am very familiar with the song "Hail to the Redskins," the fight song for the National League Football team the Washington Redskins. But I didn't know all of the history of the song.

The website helpfully provides information on the song's origins:

"Hail to the Redskins" made its debut on Aug. 17, 1938 as the official fight song of the Washington Redskins. The song was written by renowned band leader Barnee Breeskin and the lyrics were penned by Hollywood movie star Corinne Griffith, the wife of team founder and owner George Preston Marshall.

The official Redskins site ends the story there...and doesn't continue the story. Other sources, however, do.

[I]n 1958 Texas oilman Clint Murchison thought he was finally closing in on his dream of bringing pro football to Dallas. Two previous attempts to purchase teams had failed, but now word reached Murchison that Redskins owner George Preston Marshall was eager to sell his club because the team was doing poorly and Marshall needed money. Imagine! The 'Skins in Dallas! But that blasphemy was not to be. For just as the sale was about to be announced, Marshall demanded a change in terms. Murchison told him to go to hell and canceled the deal.

Unfortunately for Marshall, he was not only having problems with Clint Murchison. He had also fallen out with Redskins band director Barnee Breeskin. Breeskin saw an opportunity:

Breeskin, smelling an opportunity for revenge in the strained negotiations, approached Murchison lawyer Tom Webb and asked if he'd like to buy the rights to "Hail to the Redskins." Webb agreed, paying $2,500. He figured this would at least be good for an occasional joke on Marshall.

Meanwhile, Murchison was still trying to land an NFL franchise, and had decided to go the expansion route.

Murchison decided that his best chance of owning a team was to start one himself. In that endeavor he got support from the chairman of the NFL expansion committee, George Halas. Halas agreed to put the proposition of a Dallas franchise before the NFL owners. Unanimous approval would be required for the proposition to pass.

However, Halas and Murchison met a roadblock:

Marshall wanted none of this and he put up roadblocks to Dallas getting a franchise. He feared his Southern Dixie team would be under challenge from a Dallas team.

While a person of today thinks of Washington and Dallas as residing in vastly different areas of the country, a person in 1958 perceived the two cities as being southern cities. At that time (1959), the then-current lyrics for "Hail to the Redskins" contained the line "Fight for old Dixie!" This line was later discarded, along with other lines such as "Scalp em."

But with Murchison requiring some leverage to counter Marshall's opposition to a Dallas franchise, that song that was purchased by Muchison became VERY valuable. You'll recall that Marshall's wife wrote the lyrics to the song, so Marshall was very partial to it, and didn't like losing it.

When word of Murchison's "dirty trick" leaked out, one Washington columnist wrote that "Taking 'Hail to the Redskins' away from George Marshall would be like denying 'Dixie' to the South, 'Anchors Aweigh' to the Navy, or 'Blue Suede Shoes' to Elvis." So a deal was struck. For Marshall's approval of the Dallas franchise, Murchison returned the song. Thus, Murchison's Cowboys were free to be born.

As I mentioned, the Redskins website doesn't tell this part of the story. But a Dallas Cowboys fan site, The Landry Hat, has a lot to say about it:

Marshall not only failed to prevent Murchison from starting a new franchise, but he also failed basic business economics because he did not get ownership rights of his own fight song. Doh!...

The Dallas Cowboys never used the fight song. They certainly did not STEAL the fight song.

The truth to the story is a fan and friend of the Redskins stabbed his own brothers in the back and sold it. There was no theft involved. The transaction was legal.

And the moral of the story is never, ever, ever trust a Redskins fan.

Incidentally, I discovered an alternative version of the story in a comment on this post:

Band leader Barnee Breeskin lost the rights to the song in a divorce. His estranged wife's lawyer also was a lawyer for Murchison... that's how that came about.

According to yet another source, the second version of the story is half right:

Murchison met bandleader Barnee Breeskin, who had written the song. The recently-divorced Breeskin was in need of money; Murchison just needed a favor.

I searched YouTube for more information on Barnee Breeskin, and this song was presented:

Somehow this song doesn't seem appropriate for the Marshall-Murchison story...
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