Pro Sports Stadium Review: RFK Stadium

Opened in October 1961, Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium a.k.a RFK or RFK Stadium and originally known as District of Columbia Stadium in Washington, D.C. is the first of a stadium design called cookie-cutter or Multi-purpose stadiums that were constructed throughout North America during the 1960s and 1970s. Besides RFK, other examples of this type of stadium include Three Rivers in Pittsburgh; Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta; Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati; Busch Memorial Stadium in St. Louis; Municipal Stadium in Cleveland and Memorial Stadium in Baltimore

Designers wanted the stadium to host multiple events including professional football and baseball, soccer, boxing, concerts, and more.

Graphic via thebullelephant

The stadium was constructed as a joint venture of the DC Armory Board and the United States Department of Interior and was the home stadium for the Washington Redskins of the National Football League (1961 through 1996) and the Washington Senators of Major League Baseball (1962 through 1971). It has served as the home of DC United of Major League Soccer since in 1996 and was the temporary home of the Washington Nationals (2005 through 2007) until the permanent home of the team, Nationals Park, was completed. Other professional teams that called the stadium home included the Washington Federals of the United States Football League (USFL), the Washington Diplomats of the North American Soccer League (NASL), the Washington Darts of the American Soccer League (ASL) and NASL, The Washington Freedom of World Professional Soccer (WPS), and the Washington Whips of the USA. The George Washington University football team also played there.

It has hosted international soccer matches including games of the 1994 FIFA World Cup, the 1996 Summer Olympics, and the 2003 Women’s World Cup. It has also hosted college football bowl games and, more recently, the Military Bowl from 2008 to 2012 and 2014.  The Beatles performed there on August 15, 1966.

The federal government used the stadium to force the Washington Redskins to desegregate before the team was allowed to play there.

Stadium Quirks

Many little quirks about the stadium endear it to Redskins fans to this day. For example, the lower deck bleacher section was very unstable compared to other sections of the stadium and bounced violently as Redskins fans jumped up and down in rhythm shouting “WE WANT DALLAS! WE WANT DALLAS!” during big rivalry games against the Dallas Cowboys and during NFC Title games against Dallas in 1972 and 1983.

Moreover, the configuration of the stadium and the location of the seats put fans very close to the field causing their shouts and yells to be very loud on the field.

And dare it be told, there is a legend that former Redskins Head Coach George Allen would command stadium personnel to roll open the door in the side of the stadium facing where the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers converge and generated strong winds that blew away field goal attempts tried by visiting teams during crucial games.

The Redskins

The Washington Redskins called RFK their home for a total of 36 years. Although the team was not very good, they consistently achieved sell-out seasons.

The offensive unit of the Redskins led by quarterback Sonny Jurgensen, and receivers Charley Taylor, and Bobby Mitchell attracted the crowd because they were able to score a whole lot of points. A case in point was the game against the New York Giants in April 1964. The Skins won that marathon 72-41. Legend has it that Sam Huff, who the Giants traded to the Redskins the year before, called time out and sent in the field goal team with only seconds left to go when the score was 69-41. Redskins’ kicker Charlie Gogolak closed the game out with a field goal getting the score to the final tally of 72-41. Huff was not happy with the trade and wanted to embarrass then Giant coach Allie Sherman, who traded him.

The best decade for the Redskins in RFK was the 1980s. During those 10 years their record was 97-55. During the run they suffered only one losing season in 1988. They played 11 playoff games in RFK in the ‘80s.

The Redskins lost their first game at RFK (then DC Stadium) 24-21 to the New York Giants. They lost their last game at RFK on November 24, 1996 to the San Francisco 49ers 19-16.The Senators

The Washington Senators played in RFK Stadium from 1961 through 1971.

Right fielder Frank Howard hit a number of home runs at the stadium many of which landed in the upper deck. The seats Howard hit with his home runs were painted white to differentiate them from the regular seats that were painted gold. He hit the Senators’ last home run in the park during the last game played there on September 30, 1971.

That last game was officially forfeited when fans rioted.

The Senators then moved to Texas and became the Rangers.

Graphic via andrewclem

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