Goodbye, RFK Stadium

The April issue of Washingtonian magazine has extensive coverage of Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium. RFK is slowly being torn down.

My recollections

I think I went to roughly 40 events inside RFK over the years:

Exhibition baseball

In the early 1990s, there were regularly games right before the start of the regular seasons. The Baltimore Orioles often appeared, but so did the Boston Red Sox and New York Mets. An exhibition between the Mets and New York Yankees was postponed after the gates opened. At least we got to see Frank Howard’s number 33 “retired” and have a bucket of fries. I also recall two fans at a Baltimore – Boston game parading around the upper deck with an “O’s ≠Nats” banner. Indeed.

Concerts

I went to two concerts there, an HFStival and the 2005 Foo Fighters July 4 show. HFStival was a really big deal back in the 1990s.

Soccer

Although I’m a causal soccer fan at best, DC United games at RFK had a pretty good vibe. I went to the penultimate game there with my oldest so that he could experience it once. The stadium, which seemed really old in the 1990s, really showed its age in 2017.

RFK has also been called the “cathedral of American soccer” but so have a lot of other places. The US Mens National Team played at RFK many times. Matches from the 1994 World Cup and 1996 Olympics were also played there. There are still, at last check, signs (or more accurately, artifacts of…) from those events on the Anacostia Freeway (DC 295).

The Washington Whips, Darts, Diplomats and Freedom also called the RFK pitch home.

Washington Redskins

The big omission is that I never went to a football game at RFK. Tickets were always hard to get, you had to know someone, and I wasn’t a fan of the burgundy and gold growing up. My experience with football there is through television. I can summon the sound in my head of Pat Summerall saying “RFK Stadium is rocking” and visualize the sight of the Mobil seat cushions flying during the last Super Bowl run. The perpetually muddy turf and mystique made it a very difficult place to play for visiting teams. The all-time RFK playoff record was 11-1 at 2400 East Capitol St NE.

Washington Nationals

More than anything else, I went to lots of Nats games between 2005-2007. Lots of games in cheap seats of the upper deck outfield. It probably took me 7 or 8 years to go to as many games at Nationals Park as I did at RFK. It wasn’t a great baseball stadium, but if there were more than 30,000 fans, it would come alive during rallies. The circular construction really kept the noise in. Also, the heat.

RFK with its sloping roof, baseball shape, antiquated features and most of all, bouncing stands had a sense of place. I don’t think other “cookie-cutter” stadiums of the area were quite as distinct, outside of maybe Busch Stadium II in St. Louis. I never went to any others, so I can’t say for sure.

Between RFK and the red curly W caps, there was a shared history between the Senators teams (particularly the expansion franchise) and the modern Nats. It’s a link that I though the Lerner ownership should have embraced more.

In a very real sense, RFK’s greatest baseball legacy is that it represented hope and maybe a chance to bring major league baseball back. After being passed over by multiple expansion efforts, MLB finally couldn’t ignore that RFK was in a top-10 market and could serve as a temporary home until a modern ballpark could be built.

What’s next?

What will replace RFK Stadium? TBD. Perhaps multi-use urban redevelopment. The possibility of a new football stadium will also be explored (WTOP) now that Dan Snyder is apparently selling the Washington Commanders. Ted Leonsis has also hinted he wouldn’t mind a hockey/basketball arena there.

I get the feeling District residents would prefer the former. I know football fans want the latter. It’s possible, but I don’t know if the new Commanders owner will have the stomach to work through the many barriers to building there. I don’t know if it’s even worth it. Even if a new stadium is built there, it’ll almost certainly have a roof and artificial turf. The painted mud of RFK lore will remain in the 20th century.

More RFK Stadium posts

Leave a Reply