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Jack Kent Cooke

Legends Profile 

Jack Kent Cooke was the best owner the Washington Redskins have ever had. It’s easy to make the argument that Mr. Cooke was the best owner in sports period. He passed away of cardiac arrest on Sunday, April 6th 1997 – just five months before the new Washington stadium that he had built was to be opened.

“He brought us the greatest 10 years of football this city has ever known or probably ever will know.” – Sam Huff

This is his profile as it appeared in the 1996 Washington Redskins Media Guide.


Jack Kent Cooke once described himself as “an indomitable optimist.” That spirit of determination was never more tested than in his eight-year quest to finance and build a modern state-of-the-art football stadium for “the best fans in the world.”

John Hawkins, writing for the Washington Times wrote … “They don’t stop to think about how owners of sports franchises in other cities hold the towns hostage: ‘Build me a new stadium or I’m taking my team elsewhere.’ Cooke doesn’t want your tax money. He’s not blackmailing to move the Redskins to Iowa. He just wants the chance to build his own ballpark. His money. His legacy. Your playground.”

On March 13, 1996, Jack Kent Cooke, Maryland Governor Parris N. Glendening, and Prince George’s County Executive Wayne Curry signed a contract paving the way for the immediate start of construction of the new home of the Redskins.

When the stadium is completed for the 1997 season, the 78,600 seat modern, state-of-the-art outdoor natural grass stadium will include over 280 executive suites, as well as 15,000 club seats.

Most important to Redskins fans is Mr. Cooke’s unwavering decision not to charge personal seat licensing fees (PSL’s) for the Redskins new stadium.

Trustee For The Best Bloody Fans On Earth

“Yes, I am the owner of the Washington Redskins,” Mr. Cooke recently told WJLA-TV sports anchor Rene Knott. “But more important, I am the trustee for the best bloody fans on the face of the earth. I have no right, morally or legally, in my opinion, to move the franchise. Charging those great fans a PSL is something that I just won’t do. It never crossed my mind. Not even once.”

The indomitable optimist. “I have always had a will to succeed, to win, however you want to phrase it,” said Mr. Cooke to Barry Lorge, the former sports editor of The San Diego Union. “I think most kids have that, but it’s knocked out of them because as young men they try so many things, and they fail … And they settle for less than the best.”

It was in 1974 when Jack Kent Cooke became the majority owner of the Redskins. More than 200 victories and four Super Bowls later, his enthusiasm is as boundless as ever.

The Best Fun There Is

“If there is anything more exciting, more invigorating, more tantalizing, more worrisome, more ebullient in the world than owning a franchise like the Washington Redskins, I wish someone would tell me what it is,” said Mr. Cooke recently. “It is the best fun there is.”

Mr. Cooke has seen to that himself, thanks to an unwavering commitment to winning. In the 21 years, since he became the majority owner of the Redskins, the team is 214-144, a .597 percentage. They have been to the playoffs 11 times, captured four NFC championships and won three Super Bowl titles.

Through it all, Mr. Cooke has been the one constant, emerging as the persona of an organization that has become a model franchise on the field and in the community.

The latest example came this past spring. Mr. Cooke volunteered a personal contribution of $3 million for a recreation center for the youth of Prince George’s County, MD, as well as $1.5 million in the form of scholarships.

Hawkins of The Washington Times also wrote this of Mr. Cooke: “No collection of gray suits and board rooms shield him from the street. No collection of guards and gates protect his Middleburg (Va) estate. He owns the Redskins by himself. He runs the show. He returns your calls. He writes his own letters.”

Do Whatever It Takes

Few can duplicate the success this formula has generated for Mr. Cooke over the years. He has won the NBA Championship with the Lakers, the Super Bowl with the Redskins, International League pennants with the independent Toronto Maple Leafs baseball club, a North American soccer championship with the 1967 Los Angeles Wolves and was the promoter for the Ali-Frazier fight in Madison Square Garden in 1971.

“Mr. Cooke has shown over the years that he wants to win and will do whatever it takes to help his team win,” says the Redskins third-year head coach Norv Turner. “As a coach, he is the kind of owner you want, someone who will give you the resources to do your job.”

As with the many other successes in his life, it’s been Mr. Cooke’s intuition for recognizing ability and character that hat served as the foundation for his achievements with the Redskins.

It was that intuition that led him to Turner, a young, hard-working, assistant coach with a keen offensive mind and no head coaching experience, matching almost exactly the resume of another coach Mr. Cooke introduced to Redskins fans in 1981.

That coach was Joe Gibbs who went on to win 140 games and three Super Bowls in 12 seasons, and a place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

“Norv is the most professional, dedicated, intelligent young football brain I have run across,” says Mr. Cooke. “I have such complete irrevocable confidence in Norv. Nothing in my mind will change it. We’re lucky to have him guiding the Redskins.”

Sixth Sense For Business

Mr. Cooke has what associates describe as a sixth sense for business. He also has a sixth sense in discovering young, untapped talent and turning that talent into greatness. It’s been that way from the beginning.

While owner of the Maple Leafs, his minor league baseball team, Mr. Cooke had an infielder on his team named Sparky Anderson. At the owner’s suggestion, Anderson stopped playing and became the manager of the Maple Leafs in 1964. Thirty-two years later, Anderson is on route to baseball’s Hall of Fame.

And Mr. Cooke does not stop with the best people. In August of 1992, the new Redskin training facility opened. The state-of-the-art Redskin Park includes three grass and one astroturf practice field, spacious weight room, locker room, training and equipment facilities along with large team meeting rooms and office space. Located in Ashburn, VA, the 75,000 square foot building is buffered by 161 acres of rural countryside. It is regarded as the finest training facility in the pros.

Another of Mr. Cooke’s buildings bears a similar appelation. In 1967, as Chairman of the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers and NHL’s Los Angeles Kings, Mr. Cooke ran into a concrete wall with that city’s Coliseum Commission on an arena lease for his teams. He retaliated by building the first privately funded indoor arena in the United States. Chick Hearn, the voice of the Lakers, called it the Fabulous Forum.

Premier Sportsman

While the Redskins may be the crown jewel of his sporting interests, they do not stand alone in his successees. For over forty years, Mr. Cooke has been a premier sportsman, beginning with minor league baseball. He purchased the Maple Leafs in 1951 and a year later was named Minor League Executive of the Year by The Sporting News.

As owner of the Maple Leafs, Mr. Cooke formed a close association with Branch Rickey, and developed much of his sporting philosophy through their friendship.

Then came expansion into professional basketball and hockey in Los Angeles, where he became Chairman of the Board and President of California Sports, Inc., corporate parent of the Forum, the Kings and the Lakers.

Chances are one of the records set by his World Champion 1971-72 Laker team — a remarkable 33 consecutive game winning streak — may even outlast the Forum. In addition, Mr. Cooke laid the foundation of Laker championships for years to come when he traded for Kareem Abdul Jabbar and drafted and signed Magic Johnson.

Mr. Cooke’s sporting interests also included a flirtation with golf, becoming a scratch player, and professional soccer ownership, but horses and horse racing has remained a continued passion. He purchased Elmendorf Racing and Breeding Farm in hopes of producing a Kentucky Derby winner in the future. It is one of the few prizes that has eluded him in sports or business, but chances are that will change if history is a barometer.

Born October 25, 1912 in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, Mr. Cooke was an avid hockey player and fan. He played in the Ontario Hockey Association, and was offered a scholarship to play for the University of Michigan. However, the Depression redirected him to a career in business, beginning as an encyclopedia salesman. He later joined Northern Broadcasting and Publishing, Ltd; and before he was 26, was one-third partner in Thomson Cooke Newspapers. Subsequently a 50-50 partner with Roy Thomson, the two men operated radio stations and newspapers throughout Canada. Thomson was later elevated to the peerage becoming Lord Thomson of Fleet. Their friendly business partnership lasted until Thomson passes away in 1985.

Communications Industry Ties

Mr. Cooke still maintains his interest in the communications industry with ownership of the Los Angeles Daily News. His hand also extends to many other endeavors, including ownership of the Chrysler Building, cable television systems and real estate enterprises.

Mr. Cooke’s father, Ralph E., was a picture frame manufacturer. His mother, Nancy, helped him develop an interest in music. As a youngster he played clarinet and saxophone, playing in bands in Toronto with Percy Faith, famous orchestra leader and composer, and the late Murray McEachern, outstanding trombonist. Mr. Cooke still plays the piano, and is a member of ASCAP and BMI, having written and published many songs.

Variety accentuates his life. His love for the English language is reflected in every conversation and he continues to read 60 to 70 books a year. His hobbies include antiques, wine, and riding his prize collection of Tennessee Walkers.

Mr. Cooke still finds time to take in practice of Redskin Park, rain or shine. He and his wife, Marlena, also make regular, mid-summer trips to the team’s training camp to check the progress of the Redskins.

Finally, John Hawkins of The Washington Times had to say this about Nancy Cooke’s eldest son, “. . . he knows how to grip the reins. The good Lord dressed Jack Kent Cooke in a bulletproof vest, gave him a ready holster and opened his eyes wide to the promise land. For those who never get out of the barn, that puts him on top of the American dream. The lead horse is riding toward the sunset. Can you think of a more suitable man to have climbed in the saddle?

No, especially if that man continues to be ‘an indomitable optimist.’ ”

Jack Kent Cooke Timeline

Here are some of the highlights of this great man’s life.

Early Years

1912 — On October 25th, Jack Kent Cooke is born in Hamilton, Ontario. A city just outside of Toronto.

1934 — To make money during the Depression, Cooke starts selling encyclopedias across Canada.

1937 — Cooke gets his first job in the television and communications industry, working for press magnate Roy Thomson. Cooke is hired to manage a radio station called CJCS, in Stratford, Ontario.

1951 — Cooke buys baseball’s Toronto Maple Leafs of the AAA International league. It his first sports business venture.

1960 — Cooke moves to California.

Sports Ownership

1965 — Cooke buys the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers from trucking magnate Bob Short. At $5.2 million, it’s considered a huge price tag in 1965.

1966 — The NHL expands, and Cooke buys a franchise and they are called the Los Angeles Kings.

1967 — Cooke builds the “Fabulous” Forum. It was a wonderful arena at the time, and spotlighted both his Lakers and Kings.

1971 — Cooke gets into the fight game, and promotes the “Fight of the Century,” at Madison Square Garden – the first fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier.

Washington Redskins

1974 — Cooke becomes the Washington Redskins’ majority owner.

1978 — Cooke moves to Washington.

1979 — Cooke sells both the Lakers and Kings to Dr. Jerry Buss. At $67.5 million, it becomes the largest business transaction in sports history.

1979 — Cooke divorces first wife, Jeannie Carnegie. The presiding judge was Joseph Wapner who went on to star in “People’s Court.” At $49 million, it was the largest settlement ever and was even logged in the Guinness Book of World Records.

1980 — Cooke takes over full operation of the football team from Edward Bennett Williams.

1980 – On October 31st, Cooke marries Jeanne Maxwell Williams, and divorces her just 10 months later.

1981 — On January 13th, Cooke hires then San Diego offensive coordinator, Joe Gibbs to come coach up the Redskins.

Super Bowl Number One

1983 — On January 30th, the Redskins win Super Bowl XVII, beating Miami 27-17. It is their first.

Cooke, Riggins and Gibbs

1985 — Cooke buys the Los Angeles Daily News from the Chicago Tribune.

1987 – On July 24th, Cooke marries a third time, to Suzanne Martin. The marriage was dissolved after 73 days. She later claimed that she was supposed to abort a fetus conceived by Cooke, but decided to have the baby.

1987 — On August 28th, Cooke announces plans for a new stadium stating that the Redskins are losing money.

Super Bowl Number Two

1988 — On January 31st, Washington win their second Super Bowl – Super Bowl XXII – crushing Denver 42-10.

1990 — On May 5th, Cooke marries Marlena Remallo Chalmers. Chalmers served three months in federal prison for conspiring to import cocaine in the 1980s. The marriage is later declared void because Chalmers’ divorce from a previous husband was ruled invalid.

Super Bowl Number Three

1992 — On January 26th, the Redskins win Super Bowl XXVI, beating Buffalo 37-24.

1992 — On August 24th, Washington take up residence in a brand new state-of-the-art training facility in Ashburn, Virginia named Redskin Park.

1993 — Joe Gibbs resigns.

1995 — Cooke re-marries Marlena Remallo Chalmers in July.

1995 — On September 11th, Cooke’s eldest son – Ralph Kent Cooke – dies at 58 years old. He ran Cooke’s horse breeding farm in Lexington, Kentucky.

Stadium Site Secured

1996 — On March 13th, Cooke secures a site to build his new stadium. After eight years of rejection from the District of Columbia and from Virginia and Maryland, he signs a contract for a $160 million complex to be built on a farm in Landover, Md.

1996 — On November 10th, Cooke falls ill in the owner’s box at RFK Stadium during the Redskins-Arizona Cardinals game. He is hospitalized for five days.

1996 — On December 22nd, Cooke misses the final Redskins game at RFK Stadium because of osteoarthritis. It was the only home game he ever missed after moving to Washington.

The Prince Passes

1997 — On April 6th, Cooke dies of cardiac arrest after collapsing at his northwest Washington home.

1997 — On September 14th, the first home game is played at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium.


Jack Kent Cooke Quotes


“Having this interest here in the Redskins is the chief hobby of my life. And I would bet you that if you had your choice of any hobby in the world, an angel fairy came down and said, ‘[You can have anything] in the world you would like to own,’ I wouldn’t be surprised if you said a football club and particularly the Washington Redskins.”

– Redskins Mini Camp 1996

“I am in a state of ecstasy. Never mind that nonsense about euphoria and so on, it is sheer unadulterated, uncompromising ecstasy.”

– During the locker room celebration after the Redskins won the 1983 Super Bowl.

“I don’t intend to die.”

– In Sports Illustrated, Dec. 16, 1991

“Nobody’s going to write a book about me 50 years from now, because nobody’s going to find anything worth writing a book about.”

– Summer of 1995

“I have spoken to many, many Indian chiefs who say they have no objection whatsoever to the nickname. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a dead issue. I’m not even interested in it. The name of the Redskins will remain the Redskins.”

– March 1994.

Quotes About Jack Kent Cooke

“He was a tough negotiator. He wouldn’t have made all his money if he had been a softy. … I regret that he didn’t live long enough to see the stadium completed. It was one of his dreams. In fact, he was almost obsessed with it.”

– D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, who fought with Cooke for several years over a new stadium.

“He was one of those rare people who was a tough guy, a super-smart guy and he was always better when things were at their worst. We are all really going to miss him, particularly the people in Washington. I just sent him a letter three months ago and told him that I hoped we could spend some time in heaven, kind of share things together. He assured me that was going to be the case. I feel good about that.”

– Joe Gibbs, who won three Super Bowls as Redskins coach under Cooke from 1981-1993.

“His straight-shooting style and love of the fans earned him respect and admiration throughout the sports world.”

– President Clinton

“Jack Kent Cooke will be remembered as one of the premier owners in NFL history and one of the great sportsmen and entrepreneurs of American business. A self-made man of wide-ranging talents, Jack Kent Cooke loved the game, loved to win and knew how to field a winner, including three Super Bowl championship teams.”

– NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

More To Read:

The Washington Post put together a special section when Mr. Cooke died. Thankfully the Post keeps these articles online in their longterm archive. All of these pieces are very worth reading if you’re a fan of Jack Kent Cooke.

He had this colossal ambition, with ego to match, and was an authentic genius in the art of the deal who parlayed fortunes in a variety of ventures. Yet the same man who was the hard-fisted negotiator was a pussycat in sentimental situations. Among children, he could be their fun-loving, adoring playmate, this man of many characters.

Tell Him It Couldn’t Be Done, Cooke Did It  – Shirley Povich, Washington Post

But I was never into Cooke-watching as much as I was into watching his teams, and the people he hired to run them. You didn’t have to be close to Cooke to make this case: He was the best owner in the history of sports. Not pro football, all of sports.

Owning Up to the Truth: Cooke Was the Best – Michael Wilbon, Washington Post

I close my eyes and I can see him in that box at RFK, wearing those wraparound bat shades, that tweed hat on his head, a scarf thrown jauntily around his neck. And he’s standing up to get a better look at his beloved Redskins, bellowing with delight at a first down, accepting congratulations on a touchdown, enjoying every moment “every bloody moment, my dear boy,” as he liked to say. I never saw a man more alive than Jack Kent Cooke in the owner’s box. What good is being rich and powerful if you can’t enjoy it? In that box Jack Kent Cooke threw his head back like Secretariat and snorted at the field.

In His Way, The Squire Was a Prince – Tony Kornheiser, Washington Post

“If you had a question, you called him. If you had a problem, you called him. It didn’t make any difference if it was 10 o’clock at night, 11 o’clock, midnight, 7 in the morning. A lot of people want to win. A lot of people spend money to win. But not many people know how to win. That was one of the great things: he knew how to win. Was he tough? We all know he was tough. More importantly, he was fair.”

The Redskins Family Mourns A Great Loss – Richard Justice, Washington Post