Robert F. Kennedy Stadium in Washington D.C. is the current home of DC United soccer and previously the Washington Nationals, Redskins and Senators. Opened in 1961, it saw 36 seasons of Redskins football and 13 seasons of major league baseball.
Brokedown Palace: RFK Stadium Is a National Treasure, Cracks and All – CityPaper
Robert F. Kennedy Stadium was the home of three Washington teams – Redskins (1961-1997), Senators (1962-71) and Nationals (2005-2007) and is still the home of DC United (1996- ). The “second act” of its life has been as a soccer stadium and that will be its final act as well. When, we’re not sure as DC United tries to get a soccer specific stadium built somewhere. It is a different soccer team though, the U.S. Men’s National Team that is bringing the multi-purpose stadium prototype its final glory.
What newer stadiums have in modern amenities and creature comforts, they frequently lack in atmosphere and character that can only be attained with age. The dented metal floor that makes up much of the 100-level stands is an outdated relic, with an almost unintentional steel drum appearance (and sound). The construction-orange seats, with terrible sight-lines for football but great for soccer, rise and fall at the whim of the excited fans with a soft boom. So many rowdy fans over the years have stood on the seats that they occasionally come crashing down, cracked from more than 50 years of stress. The arc lighting that’s hung at roof level around the stadium gives it a Latin American feel, a rarity in American sports stadia. Many of the bulbs are out, but even those sway ever so slightly when fans go crazy. A broken digital clock hangs over what was home plate for baseball. The awesome creakiness of the place makes RFK feel like an extension of the emotions of the spectators.
A co-worker was at that USMNT win over German on Sunday. He had never been there when it was truly rowdy, so I enlightened him on how it used to rock for Redskins games:
I can still her Pat Summerall saying “RFK STADIUM IS ROCKING” in my head.
In Barry Svrluga’s National Pastime about the 2005 Nats, he mentions that the broadcasters were caught off guard by the press box shaking.
As lovable as RFK is, the facility is simply falling apart. I am still holding out hope that a new DC United stadium can happen soon. When RFK’s time is done, I hope a great sendoff can be given that celebrates all the sports that were played there. That’s an idea for another post.
On this day in 1966, the first black umpire made his debut, nearly 19 years to the day after Jackie Robinson made his playing debut. Emmett Ashford umpired third base in the Cleveland Indians vs. Washington Senators Opening Day game at RFK Stadium. Cleveland would defeat Washington, 5-2 before 44,468. Boxscore – Baseball Reference. D.C. Baseball History has more about that game.
Emmett Ashford’s regular season debut took place on April 9, 1966, in Washington’s D .C. Stadium, the traditional American League opener. His first major league hurdle was getting into the ballpark. Vice-President Hubert Humphrey was in attendance to throw out the ceremonial first ball, and the secret service needed to be convinced that a black man was there to umpire the game. Humphrey later kidded Ashford, who had worked at third base, that he hadn’t had any plays to call. “No plays, no boots,” responded Ashford, “but it was the greatest day of my life.” Joe Cronin told his new employee, “Emmett, you made history today. I’m proud of you.”
Ashford’s dream was to be a major league umpire, a commitment he made when he heard Branch Rickey had signed Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1945. But first Ashford had to break the minor league color barrier for umpires, which he did.
There was no mistaking Ashford had style — French cuffs, gleaming cuff links and shoes buffed to a pristine shine. And he always brought a typewriter with him on the road so he could answer fan mail. He signed autographs before and after games.
Ashford stayed on one year past the suggested retirement age, ending his career after the 1970 World Series.
Today in Tribe History: April 11, 1966: Compiled by Jason Kaminski The Cleveland Indians are a part of history… bit.ly/YosGnz
I lived in Northern Virginia since before I turned two, but we never had a D.C. baseball team. Five days before the very first Nats game, on a whim, I check Opening Day ticket availability. They had some, but a little pricey. I went on to ebay and found four together at or below face — hit Buy It Now. I called up a friend here and he was in. Then I called a fan in South Jersey who was a Phillies fan and he responded with my invitation wtih “is the Pope German?!” My wife bailed out because she got a job interview that day (got the job). I got to see the first Washington baseball game of my lifetime.
Tickets were scarce, but there were ticket lotteries. My family all got in so I could get a chance. My father wound up winning it and he gave me tickets. Walking into brand new Nationals Park I had a feeling that the Nats were finally here for good. The Nats scored early, but a blown save left the game tied. Then Ryan Zimmerman homered off of Pete Moylan and I started screaming “RYAN ZIMMERMAN IS MR. WALKOFF!” I gave him the nickname that night. I felt like a dawn of a new era and an ascending Nats team. They started off 3-0 and after Jesus Colome blew a save in Philly, lost over 100 of their next 158 games.
In 2010 we all hoped to see Stephen Strasburg’s debut, but I decided I wasn’t going to worry about when it would be and try to get a ticket for it. By chance, a Pirates fan was convinced to go to a Tuesday game with me and another friend and his girlfriend. It turned out to be Strasburg’s debut.
Nationals Park was electric in a way I hadn’t seen it, hanging on every pitch. Sure, Opening Night 2008 was like that at the start and end, but in the middle (a long middle with no Nats hits) it was just another game. Another cold game. But for Strasburg’s debut, every pitch was a moment of breathless anticipation. Fourteen strikeouts later he was done, an incredible debut. The best debut in D.C. sports history? I’ll say it was better than Alex Ovechkin’s first game and that was really good.
Thirty years ago today, the Washington Federals and the United State Football League debuted. I was pretty young, so I don’t remember too many specifics other than one of my older neighbors had his birthday party at a game and another one was still using a Federals key chain a decade later. I also remember green and white uniforms and somewhere in my parents attic, there is an old Post sports section with the story of SMU’s Craig James signing with the franchise. I would see that every year when we went up to get the Christmas stuff down. There is a USA Today sports section previewing the NFL conference championships, but I’m getting off topic.
The upstart spring football league had a national TV contract with ABC. Some of the first Federals game is posted on youtube:
That was Jim Lampley & Lee Corso on the call. The opposition was George Allen’s Chicago Blitz, so I’m sure the former Redskins coach’s appearance in RFK Stadium was a big storyline. I think Corso went on to coach in the USFL — maybe even the successor to the Feds, the Orlando Renegades.
WFY: Why were you a Washington Federals fan and what motivated you to start up the Federals tribute site?
DK: The Federals were just getting started the year the Redskins beat the Dolphins in the Super Bowl. I loved football and being a football fan. I was just in 10th grade, and my family didn’t have Redskins tickets, so I got Federals tickets and became a fan.
In 2001 my son and I went to a Birmingham Bolts XFL game, and I shared some memories of the Federals with him, which led me to building the Federals site.
WFY: How many Federals games did you attend? Did the stands ever rock like the did for the Redskins? What was the average home attendance of the Federals?
DK: The first year of 9 home games I went to 6 including the debut vs. Chicago and their first win vs. Michigan. The second year, of 9 home games, I went to 7, including the farewell vs. New Orleans. The stands never rocked for the Federals. You have to remember that the Feds home games were all played either in driving rain or scorching heat. There weren’t any nice spring days at the stadium except maybe in ’83 vs. Boston and a beautiful spring night in ’84 vs. New Jersey. I won’t speculate on “average home attendance” since the house was pretty frequently papered up.
WFY: Did the Federals receive much local coverage in print and broadcast during their stay?
DK: At first they did, there was a lot of excitement and interest since DC didn’t have baseball and the Redskins were on top of the world. As soon as the losing and foul weather set in, interest really tapered off. This was before the Internet, so you couldn’t follow the team except on ABC if you were lucky while they were showing the Herschel Walker Game of the Week, or if you caught George Michael at 11:30 on Channel 4. The Washington Times’ coverage of the Federals was much better than the Post’s; at that time the Times ran color photos every day, which was unique, and put a lot of effort into it.
WFY: Were the Federals able to develop any rivalries?
DK: Not really. The nearest team was Philadelphia, but they were just unbeatable. There was a sort-of rivalry with Chicago because of the George Allen connection. There was no Dallas team in the USFL, so a copycat rivalry wasn’t going to happen.
WFY: Other than Craig James, did any other Federals make it into the NFL? Has James subsequent broadcasting career brought shame to the legacy of the Feds?
DK: There were several Federals who made it into the NFL after they left the USFL. Obed Ariri played for Tampa Bay; Mike Hohensee, of course, was the “replacement” quarterback for the Bears during the ’87 strike; Reggie Collier was the replacement QB for the Cowboys. Joel Patten played for the Raiders; Kevin Kellin had a good career in the NFL; D.D. Hoggard played a number of years for the Browns.
I have a special place of loathing in my heart for Craig James, and not just because he is a hypocrite and thief. He took lots of money from Mr. Bernhard, played when he felt like it, quit as soon as he could, and then blamed the team for his bad performance in Washington, never mind that Billy Taylor and Curtis Bledsoe both had excellent years behind the same offensive line that Craig James couldn’t manage to work with. The whole fracas with his son in college is just more evidence that he’s a look-at-me guy with no backbone, and since he was just as much on the take as everyone else at SMU in those days, he ought to shut his stupid mouth. James’ time with the Feds is an embarrassment, but only to himself.
WFY: Some USFL teams have had reunions, have the Federals? Have any of them found your site?
DK: I have reached out to a number of ex-Feds like Kim McQuilken and Walker Lee, who scored the first TD in Feds history. Most of them speak fondly of the Feds and the USFL but clearly have moved on. There was a sort-of reunion in ’88 at a benefit for Gurnest Brown, who was having severe health issues and later passed away. I’ve been in contact with Mr. Bernhard and have an invitation to interview him about it the next time I’m in D.C.
WFY: Which version of the uniforms did you prefer, the white/green or the silver/green combo? Did they typically wear white or green at home?
DK: I never really cared for the silver/green/black combo. A lot of team events in ’84 still used the team’s ’83 uniforms and merchandise, like the press conference to introduce Reggie Collier had “1983 Inaugural Season” team pennants in the background.
In 1983, they wore white at home and away for the first part of the season because their green jerseys were delayed. For the rest of ’83 and all of ’84 it was green at home and white on the road.
For a while my site linked to a company called Ra Ja Sha, which made USFL memorabilia merchandise like jerseys and hats, but they folded after a year or so.
WFY: What was the high-water mark for the Federals? Was the owner calling them “trained gerbils” the low point?
DK: No, the low point was the ’84 game vs. Vince Evans and the Chicago Blitz at RFK. They would have won the game with a chip shot field goal – their kicker then was Jeff Brockhaus, who wasn’t bad. The holder, I think it was Dave Smigelsky, dropped the snap, dove on it, and the game was over. I don’t think Smigelsky would have been able to do anything with the ball if he’d picked it up and tried to make something happen, but still, it’s the last play of the game! You’re a professional football player! Don’t just FALL ON THE BALL with ZERO ON THE CLOCK and you’re LOSING!!!
The official USFL retrospective video has a whole section on how bad the Federals were. They called Feds fans “Impervious to the obvious.” That’s embarrassing.
The high point was the Friday Night Surprise in ’84 against Brian Sipe, Herschel Walker and the New Jersey Generals. Greg Taylor returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown, from somewhere they came up with a 98-yard scoring drive, and they won the game. The weather was perfect, cool and dry; the stadium was pretty full with Donald Trump’s traveling all-star show in town; the Federals showed up ready to play. That was the high point.
WFY: How tough was it for you when you found out the Federals were moving away?
DK: Not tough at all. It was understood that Mr. Bernhard had lost his shirt, so to speak, and couldn’t endure the financial losses any more. The writing was on the wall, and the first sale of the team, to Sherwood Weiser in Miami, was actually announced before the ’84 season was over. At the farewell game everyone knew it was over. They won the game over New Orleans on a drizzly gray day. Afterward the players started throwing equipment to the fans in the stands; I almost caught Dave Pacella’s helmet – and we all knew it was over. Weiser was going to move the team to Miami, but that deal fell through, and eventually they were sold to the guy from Orlando who moved them to Florida and renamed them the “Renegades.”
WFY: Where else online can we learn more about the USFL?
DK: There is a pretty good site called RememberTheUSFL which covers the entire league. Wikipedia should be avoided; like all crowdsourced media, it’s full of nonsense.
AFTER YOU CHECK OUT KENDRICK’S FEDS SITE
It Was Up, Up And No Way – Sports Illustrated (May 14, 1984)
“For the hapless Washington Federals, the USFL ain’t what it used to be”
I think we are in Round 62 in the ongoing saga that is a new D.C. United stadium — the team’s managing partner Jason Levien is hopeful, according to Soccer Insider (The Post):
“The stars are aligning in a good way for us. We’re working closely with the right people and we feel better about it today than we did three months ago, no question.”
Levien declined to go into detail about negotiations or provide a timetable for a possible agreement. “We want to honor the process and confidentiality of the proceedings,” he said. “We feel we have positive momentum and we don’t want to do anything to deter it.”
I will believe that DCU has a new stadium when I’m sitting in it. The current speculation has them winding up in Buzzard’s Point, about 6 blocks from Nationals Park.
I am at the point of “I’ve enjoyed watching World Cup and Olympic soccer, I think I’m ready to get into D.C. United, but I’m wary of doing so in case they leave.” Nonetheless, I am going to try to get out to RFK Stadium to see them this year. 2013 Regular Season Schedule
What we are not going to do is denigrate RFK in any way because there have been some amazing moments in people’s lives there. It’s hallowed ground, and while we are there, we want to respect it and enjoy it because at some point we are going to look back and not be there, and it’s going to remain a hallowed ground.”
Oh and they said Baltimore is out of the picture which sounds nice, since that was a concern. I am actually in favor MLS putting a team in Baltimore, so long as it isn’t United.
Last night was the 30th anniversary of 75 year old Luke Appling hitting a home run off Warren Spahn in the 1982 Cracker Jack Old Timer’s Baseball game. I was hoping to embed the video of it — there used to be a pretty good clip on youtube, but it’s gone. This ESPN retrospective video has Appling’s homer at 10:37.
Appling, a Hall of Fame shortstop with the Chicago White Sox, was never a power hitter and the left field stands were in football configuration, but the homer was one of the great moments in RFK Stadium history.
Last week I noted the 50th anniversary of the final game at Griffith Stadium. Several days later (50 years ago today), District of Columbia Stadium opened for a Washington Redskins vs. New York Football Giants. The visitors won 24-21 and it would be years before it became an intimidating and beloved venue. During the Joe Gibbs era, it was probably the toughest place to play for visitors in the NFC. The USFL’s Washington Federals also played football at RFK for two seasons in the 1980s.
The Washington Senators moved into D.C. Stadium in 1962 saw very little success, having a winning season there only once, 1969, the same year the stadium was renamed after slain senator, Robert F. Kennedy. It is worth noting that the Senators were the first winning team to play there, at least based on overall season record. The Senators moved out of town following the 1971 season.
For years, RFK Stadium was a handy piece of leverage for MLB teams looking to get a new venue built. The threat of moving to RFK Stadium got a stadium built for the Houston Astros and helped the cause of several others. It wasn’t until 2005 that it got to be used as a baseball stadium permanently when the Washington Nationals were created out of what was left of the Montreal Expos. The Nats played there for 3 seasons before moving to Nationals Park. I think I saw 32 games there and here are the RFK memories I wrote up in 2007
DC United is the lone regular tennant at RFK and I am disappointed I didn’t get out to see them this season. I did get there in 2006 and had a great time. That being said, I hope DCU gets a new venue and RFK can eventually torn down to make may for a new Redskins stadium.
RFK Stadium has alsobeen the home of many international soccer games, including some of the 1994 World Cup. The Washington Diplomats also played at RFK.
The darkest day in D.C. baseball history was 40 years ago today. That night, the Washington Senators played their final game which they forfeit after fans overran the field at RFK Stadium. They appeared to be on their way to a 7-5 win over the New York Yankees when bedlam ensued. The Shirley Povich column in The Post the next morning, “The Senators final game” is one of his most famous:
…Arlington, Tex., which, to embittered Washington fans, is some jerk town with the single boast it is equidistant from Dallas and Fort Worth…
…The mad scene on the field, with the athletes of both teams taking refuge in their dugouts, brought official announcement of Yankees 9, Senators 0, baseball’s traditional forfeit count almost since Abner Doubleday notched the first baseball score on the handiest twig at Cooperstown. But by then the crowd-mood was philosophical, “So what?” Or more accurately, “So whatha hell?” The Senators were finished, even if the ball game wasn’t.
The villain in the matters was Bob Short, the Senators owner who, according to some, planned to move the Senators along. At the very least, Short was under-capitalized and his tactic of selling the highest priced tickets in the league did not help D.C. baseball’s cause or improve his cashflow since he drove fans away.
Struggling with crumbling RFK Stadium, D.C. United is desperate for a new home – The Post
Washington’s most successful team over the last two decades, DC United, plays in its worst facility. Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, home of 312 United matches (and by my calculation approximately 810 Senators games, 243 Nationals games and 255 Redskins games and that’s just regular season and I did not take in account the Federals of the USFL and Diplomats of the NASL), will be 50 years old this fall and is falling apart DC Sports Bog, The Post. The cockroaches and raccoons don’t seem to mind though.
DCU thought they would be in their own stadium at Poplar Point by now, but then Mayor Adrian Fenty nixed the redevelopment deal. An attempt to move to Prince George’s County, Md. also fell through. DC United says it is eying locations in the District, but Baltimore is openly trying to poach them. I hope that United finds away to stay in this area and I think they have certainly tried. I am inclined to go to a game or two a season, but who knows, maybe my son will really like soccer — I’d really like there to be a team around in case he does.
If United does move to Baltimore, they are dead to me and they better leave the name and colors behind. I don’t mind Baltimore having a soccer team, so long as it does not come at the expense of Washington’s.
RFK Stadium was almost LBJ Stadium – DC Sports Bog, The Post I never knew that D.C. Stadium was nearly renamed Lyndon B. Johnson Stadium, but at the last minute in 1969 it was changed to Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium. Now I do. Good work, Dan Steinberg.
That would have been an old name for the home of the Redskins, no? Not a bad one for the Senators though.