Dips Fan Day

Dips Fan Day

Thursday, May 7, 2015

John Carbray

John Carbray, April, 1977
It might be strange to think of a franchise that only had a life span of 7 years as having two tenures, but that was the case of the late, great Washington Diplomats. 

During their first three years of existence, the Dips struggled to present an image of a major sports franchise, playing the vast majority of their home games at Woodson Stadium, a high school facility in suburban Virginia. The man who brought the team out of the doldrums of suburbia and placed them on Washington’s biggest athletic stage is John Carbray. His conception of what soccer in the District could be, as opposed to what it had been, galvanized the franchise.
Steve Danzanky, team owner and president, knew he had found someone special in Carbray when searching for a new general manager in the autumn of 1976. “We were at Woodson (High School) and looking to move to the next step. Phil Woosnam (NASL Commissioner) told me about a guy in San Jose who was turning NASL soccer into a happening.” That guy was John Carbray, who was the GM for the San Jose Earthquakes. "We called John, he came to DC and I introduced him to some of the board members." The team interviewed more than 15 candidates during the search process. "John had a vision that if you play in a small-time venue, you give the appearance of being small-time."
Carbray left a career in
baseball for the NASL.

Team management was instantly sold on Carbray's vision. "I got the best and I'm tickled to death about it," Danzansky told the Washington Post at the time. "He (Carbray) is a pro and he believes in making sports events a fun bargain for people." Carbray, who had turned down offers from five other NASL clubs and one from the San Francisco Giants in order to transform the Dips, was equally sold on his new employers. "I decided to go with an ownership that realizes it takes talent, a good stadium and solid ownership to make a professional sport franchise really take off."

Carbray officially took the reins on Monday, October 3, 1977, and immediately set out to change the franchise's image. On December 22, the team announced it would play all home games at RFK Stadium, leaving their old humble abode in Northern Virginia. "Whatever city you're in, you've got to play in the best facility available to be truly in the major leagues," Carbray said. "It's very hard to project the image of a major league team if people ask where you play and you say at a high school." On the same day Steve Danzansky announced the team's first TV deal, in which five road games would be televised on WTTG, now known as Fox 5 Washington. A radio deal was completed with WTOP, 1500 AM, to broadcast all games.

Carbray designed the classic Dips jerseys, perhaps the team's most enduring legacy.
Aesthetically, Carbray personally redesigned the Diplomats conservative uniforms and primary color scheme from navy blue and white to a flashy red, white and black coupled with a new logo. Collaborating with Angelo Anastasio, an Adidas representative from Los Angeles, several different versions were created and scrutinized. Carbray wanted to honor Adidas and their relationship with the NASL, thus the tri-stripes across the chest and trefoil logo dotting the letter I. 

In February of 1977, Carbray officially changed the emphasis of the team name from Diplomats to Dips. The local press used the circumstance as fodder whenever they could, but it caught on instantly with fans. "It's easier to yell, 'Go Dips' as opposed to 'Go Diplomats'," Carbray reasoned.

Carbray combined an innovative sports mind with a P.T. Barnumesque flair to make the summer of 1977 the most attended season in franchise history at the time. In an era when it was unheard of for a professional sports team to televise home games, the Dips GM did just that. John Feinstein described Carbray's local broadcast of the Dips vs San Jose Earthquakes game at RFK Stadium "a major departure from professional sports tradition." This idea was the forerunner of the Comcast and MASN type networks that thrive today. 

The 1977 Dips lacked rhythm and consistency on offense. They were shutout eight times and scored a modest 31 goals in 26 games. Heading into a July 4 match against the Rochester Lancers, the team had lost seven of their last eight games, during which they only found the back of the net five times. With his genius for showmanship, Carbray turned the evening into part soccer, part exorcism (see right). How much supernatural help the team received is unknown, but the Dips won, 1-0.

Carbray continued to remold the franchise during the off-season prior to the 1978 campaign. His most important decision was hiring Gordon Bradley, who would lead the team to the playoffs each year while he was in DC, as the new head coach. The two would build the '78 roster into one that was respected league wide. Additionally, Carbray again demonstrated his creativity in promoting and enhancing the soccer experience for Diplomats fans. He implemented a multicolored field to augment the games visual appeal, painting the penalty area red, the goal box black and a ball at midfield. "When you walked into the stadium, it just looked fun already," Carbray's wife Diane recalls.

The field at RFK: The picture at left shows the pitch before Carbray's innovative and colorful modifications.

Musically speaking, the summer of 1978 in America belonged to Andy Gibb's Shadow Dancing and the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. In Dips country, however, it was a Carbray tune that ruled the airwaves. Elliott Dannenberg's ad agency created, at Carbray's behest, a jingle that was heard on local radio ads and Dips games as the team took the field, Get Your Kicks With the Dips

The franchise continued its ascent under Carbray during the 1979 season. The addition of Don Droege, Joe Horvath, Bob Iarusci and the return of Alan Green, who remained in England during the 1978 season, helped the Dips achieve a club best 19-9 record. In just three years Carbray transformed the Dips from an afterthought on the DC sports scene to a NASL contender and source of pride and entertainment for tens of thousands in the national capital area.

The relationship between Carbray and the Danzansky family was instrumental in this transformation. Joseph Danzansky, father of team president Steve Danzansky, took Carbray "under his wing," without intruding on his role as GM. In turn, Carbray "respected how the Danzansky's were, and still are, giants in the community." Steve Danzansky describes Carbray as, "a great guy with a big heart. I have nothing but respect and admiration for John and his family."

Grateful thanks to the Carbray family and 
Steve Danzansky for their help with this piece.