Jennifer Byler was a true Redskins fan

We all owe thanks to certain people in our lives for their unexpected help. Those whom we meet by chance have a lasting effect.

If it weren't for Jennifer Byler, I don't know if I would be covering the Washington Redskins today. While looking for work, I came across this Virginia couple who owned a weekly paper on the Redskins. Eight years later, I'm still covering the team. Jennifer died on May 6 in a boating accident. Many Warpath readers may recall the name because Gary and Jennifer Byler owned the Redskin Review for five years before selling in 1995.

Jennifer loved the Redskins more than anyone I ever met. Oh, she didn't have all the knicknacks some of you have, but she was a true die-hard fan. After all, how many people have owned a newspaper that lost money every year just because they loved the team? Gary and Jennifer never missed a home game despite the five-hour drive from their home near Virginia Beach. Gary is a prominent attorney and the couple bought the paper thinking it would be fun.

They had seats in the upper deck of RFK Stadium where one of them would always sit while the other would be on the sidelines shooting pictures. They distributed the latest copies of the paper to fans seated around them like they were showing off family pictures. It was personal.

There was even a year-end party in the parking lot thrown by the couple. They just loved hanging out with other fans. Maybe Redskin Review wasn't the slickest, most professional-looking paper. OK, it was amateurish. The Bylers didn't care. They were fans and did things like fans, not journalists.

They loved Riggo and the Hogs. They idolized Joe Gibbs. I'm surprised their kids weren't called Art, Gary, Clark and Ricky - even though three were girls.

Jennifer taught me to remember the fans when writing stories. She couldn't tell me anything about writing a news story, but knew how to reach a target audience.

There are many stories that I write because it's something fans like Jennifer want to know. Stuff like favorite this or that. The "Player Perspective'' we often publish is something Jennifer would have devoured.

Jennifer loved insider stories. The kind most sports writers really hated or felt were beneath them to write. I heard that lecture all too often. Write more for the fans, she would say. I'm thinking, "Jennifer should be grateful someone with my background would write for this rag and she's giving me grief for slave wages."

But Jennifer was right. She knew people were paying $29 annually to read something they couldn't read elsewhere. They wanted full-page photos, coaching profiles, cheerleader shots. She loved "SuperFan'' stories. Gary and Jennifer wrote "The Chief'' column that was often funny in its own weird way.

Anything and everything was important to Jennifer.

I returned to the Washington Times in 1995 and continued covering the Redskins. Same job, different phone number to transmit stories. The Bylers sold the paper to their staff, who later resold it to the current owners. I've somehow managed to keep writing for it, no matter the name. It's a much better newspaper today, but it will never be as fun. Jennifer was only 42. She was a prominent Republican fundraiser and Virginia Board of Education member. Whatever Jennifer did, it was a whole-hearted effort, just like her love of the Redskins. It wouldn't have surprised me if she was buried wearing Redskins garb.

Goodbye, Jennifer. Thanks for showing me how much fans truly love this team.

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