The Redskins are re-connecting with a large segment of their fan base by holding training camp this summer for the first time in Richmond.
Waves of Redskin fans from the Richmond area, Chesapeake, Fredericksburg, other parts of central and southern Virginia, and the Carolinas are making their way to Virginia’s capital to see their favorite team prepare for the 2013 season.
That a large percentage of the crowd is from the region is no surprise.
The South, once a Redskins stronghold, still consists of sizeable pockets of fans who bleed burgundy and gold.
From the year the Redskins moved to D.C. in 1937 until 1960, when the Cowboys were formed, the Redskins were the NFL’s southern-most team.
Long-time owner George Preston Marshall regarded the region as his team’s natural territory.
Shortly after the Redskins came to D.C., he launched a radio network that stretched from New England as far south as Florida. He later added television.
He arranged for the Redskins to play exhibition games in such cities as Mobile, Ala., Norfolk, Va., Memphis, Tenn., Shreveport, La., Winston-Salem, N.C, and Amarillo, Texas.
The Redskins thus built a loyal southern following and became known as the “Team of the South.”
Redskins booster clubs popped up in southern cities, and caravans of Redskin fans from the Carolinas, Georgia, Virginia and elsewhere traveled to see their team play in the nation’s capital.
Sportswriters from southern newspapers, including many in North Carolina, covered the Redskins like a home team.
A reporter was once startled to find a small Redskins contingent from Winston-Salem in Chicago for a game.
“We spent a lot of time in North Carolina, and there were a lot of Redskins fans down that way,” said Hall of Fame receiver Charley Taylor, who played for the Redskins from 1964 to 1977. “In cities in North Carolina like Raleigh and Durham, they loved the Redskins, they grew up with the Redskins, they learned football through the Redskins.
"That’s what was presented to them – the Washington Redskins.”
Eddie LeBaron, a great Redskins quarterback in the 1950s, also tasted Redskins fever in the South.
“I used to speak at luncheons and quarterback clubs all over the South, and we were the ‘Team of the South,’ ” he said. “The Redskins were in Atlanta and the Carolinas and southern Virginia. That whole area was just a hotbed of Redskins fans.
"They would come to Griffith Stadium (in D.C.) by train. It would be South Carolina day and Virginia day and North Carolina day and Georgia day. It was a big thing.”
Marshall’s most powerful promotional tool was his radio and TV network, which was sponsored by the American Oil Co., otherwise known as AMOCO, and Marlboro Cigarettes.
The network included about 40 TV and 100 radio stations at its peak and included stations in northeastern states such as New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut.
The owner’s slogan was, “The Redskins every Sunday … in your living room or at the stadium.”
All the while, Marshall made sure southern fans – whether those in the stands or others tuning in – connected with their regional brethren.
He recruited standout players from that part of the country such as North Carolina’s Charlie “Choo Choo” Justice, a Redskins running back in the 1950s.
The owner also coordinated extravagant halftime entertainment shows that reflected southern culture. He once invited a female band from Mississippi Southern College to perform.
“Naturally, they will play southern-style music,” the Washington Daily News quoted Marshall as saying on June 19, 1958. “Also for the South, we’ve got the George Wythe Band coming in from Whytheville, Va. They’re a corking good outfit, too.”
Mike Richman is the author of The Redskins Encyclopedia and the Washington Redskins Football Vault. His web site is redskinshistorian.com and his email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.