When Redskins would ‘Fight for old Dixie’

On this day in 1951: WBTV in Charlotte and WFMY-TV in Greensboro carry the state’s first Washington Redskins telecast. The image is grainy black and white and the Redskins lose to the Browns 45-0, but North Carolinians like what they see.

The Redskins network was created by team owner George Preston Marshall and sponsored by Amoco gasoline – the NFL’s lucrative TV packages are years away.

Marshall plays to white Southern fans, maintaining an all-white roster until 1962. He signs such regional favorites as Charlie “Choo Choo” Justice, plays exhibitions in Winston-Salem and even includes in the team fight song “Hail to the Redskins” the line “Fight for old Dixie” (later changed to “Fight for old D.C.”).

16 thoughts on “When Redskins would ‘Fight for old Dixie’”

  1. Interesting stuff, Lew, as always. Marshall’s Amoco-Redskins TV Network actually started in 1950, but WFMY-TV and WBTV were not able to carry the games because AT&T’s coaxail cable had not been completed through the South at that time. So North Carolina’s first two TV stations hooked on in ’51 like you say.

    On June 14, 1950, Redskins owner George Preston Marshall signed a contract with the American Oil Company to do Redskins games on TV. That was a NFL first. Since there were no NFL teams in the South, Marshall knew he had a built-in market. To attract that Southern audience he drafted players like Justice, Harry Gilmer from Alabama, Harry Dowda from Wake Forest and Billy Cox from Duke. It worked…the Redskins became THE team for the South. WFMY-TV and WBTV became anchor stations on the Network. Another of the anchor stations was WTAR-TV in Norfolk. The network existed through the 1955 season. Then, in 1956, CBS came into the picture with their regional telecasts. As Woody Durham said at Charlie Justice’s memorial service in October 2003… “There are folks in North Carolina who cannot commit to the Carolina Panthers, because Charlie Justice first made them Redskin fans.”

    As you say, Lew, Marshall played preseason games (called Exhibition games in those days), in Raleigh and Winston-Salem. That first game in Raleigh in September of 1954 had the Justice-led Redskins against the Green Bay Packers. 16,000 fans turned out in old Riddick Stadium at $4.00 per ticket. In 1955 Marshall moved the game to Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, but Justice had retired. So Marshall made him an offer to come out of retirement for this one game. Justice declined the offer, but did make a pre-game appearance. Those games in Winston continued through the 1960 season.

    But, Redskins broadcast history goes back to the early 1940’s with radio. In 1942, Marshall hired Harry Wismer to do radio broadcasts of Redskins games. Soon after Wismer started broadcasting, he was able to bring on board the American Oil Company to sponsor the broadcasts. Then in 1943, there was a young announcer at Washington radio station WMAL who began reading commercials and doing commentary during the games. Marshall added him to the team. He was Jim Gibbons. That relationship continued through the 1951 season. The 1950 and 1951 seasons were simulcast on radio and TV. I remember Wismer’s commercial line. He would say: “All around town for all around service, visit your Amoco dealer and Lord Baltimore filling stations.”

    In 1952, according to a story in the June 24, 1996 issue of The Washington Times, the voice of the New York Yankees, Mel Allen, “descended from Mount Olympus” to replace Harry Wismer as Redskins play-by-play man. Allen joined Gibbons for the 1952 and 1953 seasons on radio and TV. In 1954, Gibbons took over the play-by-play duties. Then, in 1955, Charlie Justice stated doing color commentary. Justice had retired from playing in 1954, but back in 1952 in an exhibition game in Los Angeles he had broken his wrist and missed 4 games. Marshall, determined to make Justice earn his $12,000 yearly salary, put him in the broadcast booth. So he had a little experience. After one season, Justice decided to return to his North Carolina. He may have been the very first player to wind up in the broadcast booth. (A side note to that ’55 season. It was October 23, 1955 and the Redskins were playing the Colts in Baltimore. Following the game Charlie Justice had dinner with then Maryland Head Coach Jim Tatum. It was at this meeting that Justice convinced Tatum that it was time for him to return to Chapel Hill). He did in ’56…but that’s another story for another time.

  2. Many thanks for filling in the blanks, Jack. I knew Wismer went on to own the New York Titans (later Jets) of the American Football League, but I was surprised to find that as Redskins announcer he held a quarter interest in the franchise until he and Marshall fell out. He must’ve been a good talker in more ways than one.

  3. I don’t dispute ”Carolina Day” as a feature during the 50’s era, and played ”Dixie” during halftime music…at no time was ”Fight For Old Dixie” the lyrics to the fight song. I have an original 1938 copyright Music Sheet filed for patent @ 6301 Sunset Blvd.Hollywood Calif 1938….also I own 150 Redskin Programs from 1936 – 1969… Also my family has lived in D.C from at least 1880 and I have never seen or collected anything that belittled an Indian Mascot or refered to ”Fight for Old Dixie”….prove it or stop propetuating an urban legend please !

  4. The era of the “Old Dixie” version of the Redskins fight song has been recalled many times. In “Showdown: JFK and the Integration of the Washington Redskins,” longtime Washington Post columnist Shirley Povich is quoted as criticizing George Preston Marshall’s “passion for identifying the Redskins as the South’s team, even to rewriting the lyrics of the team’s song to make them read ‘Fight for Old Dixie’….”
    http://books.google.com/books?id=H-FNn0tf85oC&printsec=frontcover&dq=showdown+jfk+and+the+integration+of+the+washington+redskins&hl=en&sa=X&ei=9ox3UpXCG5C-sQSerYLABA&ved=0CC0Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=showdown%20jfk%20and%20the%20integration%20of%20the%20washington%20redskins&f=false

  5. Lew and Randy…what a timely topic in light of the current name controversy swirling around Redskins’ owner Dan Snider.

    I remember, as a little kid, attending Redskins – Packers exhibition games in Winston-Salem in 1959 and 1960 and when the Redskins would score, the Reynolds High School band would strike up “Hail to the Redskins,” and the fans, at least the half-dozen or so that sat around me, would sing along. They sang the “fight for old Dixie” version. My fellow fans back then didn’t have the Internet, but a check there today gives possible explanations:

    From Wikipedia:

    “The song’s original first stanza is often mistakenly thought to have ended with the line “Fight for old Dixie”, but in fact this line was only used between 1959 and 1961, as a glance at contemporary game day programs will verify. Each of these programs printed the lyrics, and “Old D.C.” can be seen in all years except 1959 through 1961. The original version of the song also closed to the open of the well known southern folk song, “Dixie”. This phrase has since been replaced with “Fight for ol’ D.C.!”

    (I have a copy of the Redskins vs. New York Giants program from October 1, 1961 and on page 24 there is the “fight for old Dixie” version of the song.)

    Here are three links with additional possible explainations:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hail_to_the_Redskins

    http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_are_the_original_lyrics_to_Hail_to_the_Redskins#slide5

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/01/21/AR2011012106487.html

    Also from espn.com there is this:

    “Where today’s song cheers fans to “Fight for old D.C.!” the original version’s “Fight for old Dixie!” played directly to the fans’ Southern identity. And while the Redskins still use a racial slur for their team name, some words in the original fight song didn’t do much to deflect accusations of racism. Where the song now says, “Beat ’em, swamp ’em, touchdown! — Let the points soar!” it once went, “Scalp ’em, swamp ’em — We will take ’em big score / Read ’em, weep ’em, touchdown! — We want heap more!” The lyrics were subsequently cleaned up in the ’60s, after Marshall’s Redskins were, notoriously in 1962, the last pro team to integrate.”

    Here is the ful espn.com link:
    http://espn.go.com/page2/wash/s/closer/020315.html

    A check of David Elfin’s 2011 book, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History,” on page 17, there is yet another version of the song that also includes the words “fight for old Dixie.”

    This morning, I spoke via email with Redskins historian Michael Richman and here is what he said about the song:

    “… Yes, there was another version of Hail to the Redskins with the words “fight for old Dixie in it.” The Redskins’ founder and original owner, George Preston Marshall, liked it because the Redskins were long the Team of the South. I believe it was changed to “fight for old D.C.” in the mid-1960s after the Redskins integrated their roster.”

    Finally, last month during the Redskins – Bears game, Redskins Radio Network broadcasters broke out in song…but they sang the “fight for old DC” version.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/dc-sports-bog/wp/2013/10/21/redskins-broadcast-booth-sings-hail-to-the-redskins/

  6. An interesting question Ray… A quick check of the Pro Football Archives web site doesn’t show a Redskins game in War Memorial Stadium in Greensboro, NC. However, the Chicago Cardinals played an exhibition game against the Greensboro Patriots in Greensboro’s War Memorial Stadium on September 13, 1946. A crowd of 5000 saw the Cards win 47 to 0.

  7. I see where the 2014 Washington Redskins lost yet another game on Sunday. Their record so far this season is 3 and 11 with two game left and I feel safe in saying they have two games remaining… with no playoff games possible.

    Last week the “The Washington Post” listed the 10 worst Redskins’ seasons and predicted that 2014 will become a part of that list down the road.

    The “Post’s” worst season as listed is 1954…and here’s one of the stats they used to back up the claim. (I didn’t understand their other stat).

    The ‘54 team had a minus 225 point differential making it the absolute worst defense in the league. The ’54 Redskins scored a total of 207 points while their opponents scored 432.

    Having been a fan since I was 9 and since I remember the 1954 season, I can add a couple of additional items to that “worst” season claim.

    In 1973, while I was a producer/director at WFMY-TV in Greensboro, we were preparing a Charlie Justice documentary and I called NFL Films to see if I could get films from the 1950s. I told the film librarian that I was looking for Redskins Highlights from the early 1950s…there was a long pause and then he said, “but Jack, there were no Redskins highlights in the years 1950-1954.”

    When the ’54 Redskins played the Cleveland Browns in Cleveland on November 7, 1954, the final score was 62 to 3. As the Browns scored their final points that afternoon, Redskins’ play-by-play TV announcer Jim Gibbons said he could count only 8 Redskin defensive players left on the field. In 1994, I asked Gibbons about those teams from the early 1950s. Here’s what he said: “I guess you can say we learned how to lose. One thing, however, we never did lose and that was the loyalty of Carolina listeners and viewers. You are the greatest.”

    I wonder if there are any of those fans (except me) still around today. In my opinion, that Carolina loyalty was fueled by one player and he was why we tuned in each Sunday and watched and cheered for obviously an inferior team. Of course, his name was Justice.

    So, I must respectfully disagree with the “Post’s” choice of worst team as well as with the NFL Films guy who says there were no highlights in 1954.

    I believe the 1961 team was the worst…they won only one game, while the ’54 team won 3.

    And …there were some highlights in 1954 on and off the field.

    On September 26, the Redskins played the 49’ers in San Francisco and the game was televised back to the east coast live…first coast-to-coast broadcast on the Amoco Redskins TV Network.

    On October 17, the Redskins and the entire District of Columbia celebrated Charlie Justice Day…honoring the man from Carolina.

    On December 5, the Browns came to Washington, and Redskins’ Quarterback Al Dorow teamed with Justice on an 80-yard scoring pass play.

    The following week, on December 12, the Redskins beat the Chicago Cardinals 37 to 20, as Justice ended his playing career at age 30.

    The “Post” says the current Redskins team could possibly finish sixth on their all time worst list.

  8. Yep, old loyalties die hard (as I’m reminded by the splotches of non-Panthers colors in the stands when they play Pittsburgh, Buffalo, etc.)….

  9. The Washington Redskins hosted the Philadelphia Eagles this afternoon (12/30/18) in their final regular season NFL game. It was a must-win for the Eagles in order to remain in the playoff picture.

    That’s a familiar scenario. I remember as a little kid, watching these same two teams in a similar situation. It was December 14, 1952. Many of my neighborhood buddies came over to my parents’ house to watch the game on a 14-inch, black and white, General Electric TV.

    The 7-4 Eagles faced the 3-8 Redskins in Griffith Stadium in Washington. With less than a minute to play, the Eagles led 21 to 20. The Redskins had the ball at the Eagle 28. Redskin Quarterback Eddie LeBaron took the snap from center and handed off to Charlie Justice who took the ball around right end all the way inside the Eagle 1-yard-line. With 18 seconds in the game, LeBaron then sneaked over for the winning score. The final, Redskins 27, Eagles 21. The Redskins had eliminated the Eagles’ playoff chances.

    In 1986, when NFL Films produced a 50-year highlight film to celebrate the teams 50 years in DC, the Justice run was included in the film.

    Today, however, the Eagles won 24 to 0, and will be in the 2018 playoffs.

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