The MMQB presents NFL 95, a special project—unveiled every Wednesday, from May through July—detailing 95 artifacts that tell the story of the NFL, as the league prepares to enter its 95th season. See the entire series here.
Married to a film actress and partial to wearing a full-length fur coat on the sidelines of football games, George Preston Marshall was perhaps the first NFL owner who was in it for the show as much as for the sport. The presentation was a big part of Marshall’s 37-year ownership of the NFL franchise that he relocated from Boston to Washington, D.C., in 1937. He introduced a marching band, cheerleaders and elaborate halftime shows, and supported rules changes that added to the game’s drama, such as opening up the forward pass and splitting the league into two divisions with one championship game.
But Marshall is also one of the most controversial owners in league history, because of his resistance to signing African-American players. His franchise was the last to integrate, in 1962, and it did so only after pressure from the federal government. That history is commonly invoked today, as many Native Americans and allies campaign against the team name “Redskins,” which Marshall selected in 1933 to distinguish his club from Boston’s baseball team, the Braves. The ranks of NFL ownership have included many polarizing figures, including Jerry Jones, the Cowboys’ big-spending oil billionaire, and Al Davis, Oakland’s bold contrarian. Marshall polarizes to this day.