Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium

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Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium
RFK
RFK Stadium logo.png
RFK Stadium aerial photo, looking towards Capitol, 1988.jpg
RFK Stadium from the east in 1988,
looking towards the U.S. Capitol
Former names District of Columbia Stadium
(1961–1968)
Address 2400 East Capitol Street SE
Location Washington, D.C.
Coordinates 38°53′24″N 76°58′19″W / 38.890°N 76.972°W / 38.890; -76.972Coordinates: 38°53′24″N 76°58′19″W / 38.890°N 76.972°W / 38.890; -76.972
Public transit Washington Metro
WMATA Blue.svgWMATA Orange.svgWMATA Silver.svg at Stadium–Armory
Owner District of Columbia
Operator Events DC
Capacity Baseball:
43,500 (1961)
45,016 (1971)
45,596 (2005)
Football/Soccer:
56,692 (1961)
45,596 (2005–present)
20,000 (2012–present) (MLS)
Field size Pitch Size: 110 by 72 yards (100.6 m × 65.8 m)
Left Field: 335 ft (102 m)
Left-Center: 380 ft (116 m)
Center Field: 410 ft (125 m)
Right-Center: 380 ft (116 m)
Right Field: 335 ft (102 m)
Backstop: 54 ft (16 m)
Surface TifGrand Bermuda Grass[1] (Prescription Athletic Turf)
Construction
Broke ground July 8, 1960[2]
Opened October 1, 1961
57 years ago
Construction cost US$24 million
($197 million in 2017 dollars[3])
Architect George Leighton Dahl, Architects and Engineers, Inc.
Structural engineer Osborn Engineering Company
Services engineer Ewin Engineering Associates
General contractor McCloskey and Co.
Tenants
Washington Redskins (NFL) (1961–1996)
Geo. Washington Colonials (NCAA) (1961–1966)
Washington Senators (II) (MLB) (1962–1971)
Howard Bison (NCAA) (1974–1975)
Washington Whips (USA / NASL) (1967–1968)
Washington Darts (NASL) (1971)
Washington Diplomats (NASL) (1974–1981)
Team America (NASL) (1983)
Washington Federals (USFL) (1983–1984)
D.C. United (MLS) (1996–2017)
Washington Freedom (WUSA) (2001–2003)
Washington Nationals (II) (MLB) (2005–2007)
Military Bowl (NCAA) (2008–2012)
Washington Freedom (WPS) (2009–2011)
Website
http://eventsdc.com/Venues/RFKStadium.aspx

Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, commonly known as RFK Stadium and originally named District of Columbia Stadium, is a multi-purpose stadium in Washington, D.C., located about two miles (3 km) due east of the U.S. Capitol building. RFK Stadium has been home to an NFL team, two Major League Baseball teams, eight professional soccer teams, a college football team, a bowl game and a USFL team. It has hosted dozens of major soccer games including men's and women's World Cup matches, nine men's and women's first-round soccer games in the 1996 Summer Olympics and numerous American friendlies and World Cup qualifying matches. It has also hosted college football, college soccer, baseball exhibitions, boxing matches, a cycling race, a Grand Prix, marathons and dozens of major concerts and events.

RFK was the first major stadium designed specifically as a multi-sport facility for both football and baseball. Although there were stadiums that served this purpose before, such as Forbes Field in Pittsburgh (1909), Cleveland Municipal Stadium (1932), Baltimore's Memorial Stadium (1950), New York's Yankee Stadium (1923) and Polo Grounds (1890), as well as Chicago's Wrigley Field (1914) and Comiskey Park (1910), RFK was one of the first to employ what became known as the "cookie-cutter" design.

It is owned and operated by Events DC (the successor agency to the DC Armory Board), a quasi-public organization affiliated with the city government under a long-term lease from the National Park Service, which owns the land. The lease expires in 2038.[4]

History[edit]

The idea of a stadium on the west side of the Anacostia, along the axis of East Capitol Street went back to 1932 when the Roosevelt Memorial Association (RMA) proposed a National Stadium for the site and the Allied Architects, a group of local architects organized in 1925 to secure large-scale projects from the government, made designs for it.[5] A "National Stadium" in Washington, DC was an idea that had been pursued since 1916 when Rep. George Hulbert (R-NY) proposed the construction of a 50,000 seat stadium at East Potomac Park for the purpose of attracting the 1920 Olympics. It was also thought that such a stadium could attract Davis Cup matches, polo tournaments and the annual Army-Navy football game. A later effort by DC Director of Public Buildings and Parks Ulysses S. Grant III and Congressman Hamilton Fish sought to turn the National Stadium into a 100,000 seat memorial to Theodore Roosevelt, suitable for hosting inaugurations, possibly on the National Mall or Theodore Roosevelt Island. This attracted the attention of the RMA, which suggested the East Capital location. This would allow the Lincoln Memorial, then under construction west of the Capitol, and the Roosevelt memorial to become bookend monuments to the two great Republican presidents. The effort lost steam when Congress chose not to fund the stadium in time to move the 1932 Olympics from Los Angeles.[6]

The idea of a stadium began to pick up steam in 1938, when Congressman Robert Reynolds of North Carolina pushed for the creation of a municipal outdoor stadium within the District of Columbia citing the "fact that America is the only major country not possessing a stadium with facilities to accommodate the Olympic Games.” The following year a model of the proposed stadium, to be located near the current site of RFK Stadium was presented to the public. A few years later, on December 20, 1944, Congress created a nine-man National Memorial Stadium Commission to study the idea.[7] They intended the stadium to be a memorial to the veterans of both World Wars. The Commission wrote a report recommending that a 100,000 seat stadium be built near the site of RFK in time for the 1948 Olympics, but the stadium was never able to get funding. By the early 1950s the commission had numerous vacancies and Congress members were proposing legislation to disband it.[8]

After being ignored for much of the 1950s, the stadium finally began to draw interest in 1954. Congressman Charles R. Howell proposed new legislation to build a stadium, again with hopes of attracting the Olympics. He pushed for a report, completed in 1956 by the National Capital Planning Commission entitled "Preliminary Report on Sites for National Memorial Stadium," which identified the "East Capitol Site" to be used for the stadium. In September 1957 "The District of Columbia Stadium Act" was introduced. It authorized a 50,000 seat stadium to be used by the Senators and the Redskins at the Armory site. It was signed into law on July 29, 1958 by President Eisenhower. The estimated cost of the stadium was between $7.5M and $8.6M.[7] From there things went quickly and the lease for the sStadium was signed by the DC Armory Board and the Department of the Interior on December 12, 1958. The stadium, the first major stadium built as a multisport facility for both football and baseball, was designed by George Dahl, Ewin Engineering Associates and Osborn Engineering. Groundbreaking for the $24 million stadium was held on July 8, 1960 and construction proceeded over the following 14 months.[9] The previous venue for baseball and football in Washington was Griffith Stadium, about four miles (6 km) northwest.

While Redskins’ owner George Marshall was pleased with the Stadium, Senators owner Calvin Griffith was not. It wasn't where he wanted it to be (in Northwest) and he'd have to pay rent and let others run the parking and concessions. Furthermore, the Senators had had low attendance ever since Baltimore got a team and Griffith preferred the "demographics of Minnesota stating in a speech to Minnesota businessmen in the 1970s, "You only have 15,000 blacks here".[10] So in 1960, when Major League Baseball granted the city of Minneapolis an expansion team, Griffith requested that he be allowed to move his team to Minneapolis-St. Paul and instead give Washington the expansion team. Upon league approval, the team moved to Minnesota after the 1960 season while Washington fielded a brand new "Washington Senators".[7]

President John F. Kennedy throws the first pitch of the 1962 baseball season at D.C. Stadium, Washington, D.C.

The stadium opened 57 years ago as District of Columbia Stadium (often shortened to D.C. Stadium) on October 1, 1961 for its first official event, only days after the last baseball game at Griffith Stadium. It opened for football even though construction wasn't completed until the spring of 1962.[11] That day, the Washington Redskins lost to the New York Giants, 24-21, before 36,767 fans including President John F. Kennedy. This was slightly more than the attendance record at Griffith Stadium (36,591 on October 26, 1947 vs the Bears).[7] A week later, on Oct 7th, at a college football game called the "Dedication Game," the stadium was dedicated. George Washington became the fist home team to win at the stadium when they beat VMI 30-6.[12][9] The first Major League baseball game was on April 9, 1962 (after two exhibition games against the Pirates had been cancelled). President Kennedy threw out the ceremonial first pitch in front of 44,383 fans who watched the Senators defeat the Detroit Tigers 4-1 and shortstop Bob Johnson hit the first home run. The attendance figure was the largest ever for a professional sports event in Washington. The baseball record was 38,701 at Griffith Stadium on October 11, 1925. The previous largest Opening Day figure was 31,728 (April 19, 1948).[7]

When it opened, RFK Stadium hosted the Washington Redskins, the Washington Senators and the GWU Colonial football team all of which had previously used Griffith Stadium. In 1966, the Colonials disbanded their football team and in 1971, the Senators left for Arlington, Texas and became the Texas Rangers.

The stadium was renamed in January 1969 for U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy,[13] who had been assassinated in Los Angeles the previous June. The announcement was made by Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall on January 18, in the last days of the Johnson Administration.[14]

The final game of the Senators at RFK came on September 30, 1971. Fan favorite Frank "Hondo" Howard hit a game tying home run in the bottom of the 6th (the last until baseball returned in 2005) and the Senators scored two more runs in the 8th, but the game wound up being forfeited to the Yankees when fans stormed the field.[7] There were many subsequent efforts to bring baseball back to RFK, including an attempt to attract the Padres in 1973 and a plan to have the Orioles play 11 home games there in 1976, but none cam to fruition[15]. The latter was shot down by commissioner Bowie Kuhn who wanted to bring an expansion team instead.[16]

For much of the '70s and '80s RFK was primarily known as the home of the Redskins, where they played during all three of their Super Bowl seasons; though it also hosted several briefly-lived professional soccer teams and in 1983-1984 the Washington Federals of the USFL. In 1980, it hosted the Soccer Bowl the championship game of the NASL.

1996 brought major change to the stadium. Following the success of hosting matches in the 1994 World Cup and 1996 Summer Olympics, RFK became home to one of the charter teams of the new Major League Soccer. On April 20, 1996 it played host to the first home match of D.C. United, a 2-1 loss to the LA Galaxy.

However, later that year the stadium would host the Redskin's last home game in Washington, DC. After nearly a decade of negotiating for a new stadium with Mayors Sharon Pratt Kelly and Marion Barry, abandoning them in 1992 and 1993 in search of a suburban site and then having a 1994 agreement fall apart in the face of neighborhood complaints, environmental concerns and a dispute in Congress (over what some members viewed as the team's racially insensitive name and the use of federal land for private profit), Jack Kent Cooke decided to move his team to Maryland.[17][18][19] On December 22, 1996, the Redskins won their last game at RFK Stadium 37-10 over the Dallas Cowboys, the same team they beat in their first win in the stadium back in 1961, before 65,454, the largest football crowd in stadium history. The Redskins then moved east to the brand new FedExField in suburban Maryland in 1997 leaving D.C. United as the stadium's only major tenant for much of the next decade, though from 2001-2003 they'd be joined by the Washington Freedom of the short-lived Women's United Soccer Association.

After hosting 16 exhibition games since the Senators left, baseball returned to RFK on a temporary basis in 2005.[20] That year the National League's newly renamed Washington Nationals made it their home while a new permanent home, Nationals Park, was constructed. On April 14, 2005, before a crowd of 45,496 including President Bush and MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, the Nationals beat the Arizona Diamondbacks 5-3 victory in their first game at RFK. President Bush, formerly a part-owner of the Texas Rangers (the former Senators), threw out the first pitch becoming the last president, and the first since Richard Nixon, to throw the ceremonial first pitch at a home opener in RFK Stadium.[9] The last MLB game at RFK, a 5-3 Nationals win over the Phillies, was played on September 23, 2007 and in 2008 the Nationals moved to their new stadium south of the Capitol.

In 2008, RFK was once again primarily the host of D.C. United, though it also hosted a college football bowl game, the Military Bowl, from 2008 to 2012, before it moved in 2013 to Navy–Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Maryland.[21] On July 25, 2013, the District of Columbia and D.C. United announced a tentative deal to build a $300 million, 20,000–25,000 seat stadium at Buzzard Point.[22][23] Groundbreaking on the new soccer stadium, Audi Field, occurred in February 2017 and on October 22, 2017 RFK hosted its last MLS match, and perhaps the last event at RFK Stadium, a 2-1 loss to the New York Red Bulls.[24]

Name[edit]

The stadium was opened in October 1961 as the District of Columbia Stadium, but the media quickly became shortened that to D.C. Stadium and sometimes, in the early days, as "Washington Stadium".[25] On January 18, 1969, in the last days of the Johnson Administration, Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall announced that the stadium would be renamed Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium in honor of the late U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy,[13] who had been assassinated in Los Angeles the previous June.[14] The official renaming ceremony was held in June, 1969 but by then many had already been referring to it as "RFK Stadium" or simply "RFK".[7]

Robert Kennedy was not without connection to the stadium. As attorney general in the early 1960s, Kennedy's Justice Department played a role in the racial integration of the Redskins.[26] Along with Udall, Kennedy threatened to revoke the team's lease at the federally-owned stadium until it promised to sign African American players.[26][27] His brother, President John F. Kennedy attended the first event there and threw out the first pitch. In 2008, a nearby bridge was renamed for Ethel Kennedy, Robert Kennedy's wife.

On April 14, 2005, just before the Nationals' home opener, the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission announced an agreement with the Department of Defense under which the military would pay the city about $6 million for naming rights and the right to place recruiting kiosks and signage in the stadium. In return, the stadium would be dubbed "Armed Forces Field at RFK Stadium".[28] This plan was dropped within days, however, after several prominent members of Congress questioned the use of public funds for a stadium sponsorship.[29]

Similar proposals to sell the naming rights to the National Guard,[28] ProFunds (a Bethesda, Maryland investment company),[29] and Sony[30] were all potential names in 2005 and 2006, but no agreement was ever finalized.

Tenants[edit]

Redskins (1961-1996)[edit]

As a professional football venue, RFK Stadium was home to the NFL's Redskins for 36 seasons, from 1961 through 1996.

The team's return to prominence as a football power began the same year (1960) that the original baseball Senators played their final season, relocating in 1961 to Minnesota as the Twins. The Redskins' first game in D.C. Stadium was a 24–21 loss to the New York Giants on October 1, 1961. The team's first win in the stadium came in the same year and was over its future archival, the Dallas Cowboys, on December 17. This was the only win in a 1–12–1 season, and it came on the final weekend of the regular season. The Redskins played 266 regular-season games at RFK Stadium compiling a 173-102-3 record, including an incredible 11-1 record in the playoffs.[31]

In its twelfth season, RFK saw its first pro football playoff game on Christmas Eve 1972, a 16–3 win over the Green Bay Packers. The stadium hosted the NFC Championship Game five times (1972, 1982, 1983, 1987, and 1991), 2nd only to Candlestick Park, and the Redskins won them all. They're the only team to win five NFC Championships at the same stadium. In the Super Bowls that followed, Washington won three (XVII, XXII, XXVI) of the five.

The Redskins' last win at RFK was in their last game at the stadium. It was a 37–10 victory over the Cowboys on December 22, 1996.

D.C. United (1996-2017)[edit]

D.C. United of Major League Soccer played nearly 450 matches at RFK Stadium from the team's debut in 1996 until 2017, when they moved to a new stadium. During that time, RFK hosted three MLS Cup finals, including the 1997 match won by D.C. United. With its new stadium, Audi Field, due to open on July 14, 2018, D.C. United played its final game at RFK on October 22, 2017, completing 22 seasons at the stadium, during which the team won four league titles.[32][33] At the time, RFK Stadium was the longest-used stadium in MLS and the only one left from the league's debut season. When they shared the stadium with the Nationals from 2005 to 2007, there was criticism regarding problems with the playing surface and even the dimensions of the field that resulted from baseball use. D.C. United′s departure left RFK Stadium with no professional sports team as a tenant, however after moving to Audi Field, D.C. United will continue to use the outer practice fields at RFK Stadium for training and will lease the locker rooms and basement space at RFK.[31]

Bison (1974-1975)[edit]

When the Redskins, Colonials and Senators left Griffith Stadium in 1961, the Howard Bison stayed behind. However, when Griffith Stadium was demolished in 1965, Howard began playing at the 2000 seat Howard Stadium. Looking to play on a bigger stage they began, in 1970, scheduling games at RFK. It's first game at RFK was a 24-7 victory over Fisk on Oct 24, 1970. In 1974 and 1975, Howard played all their home games at RFK and in 1976 and 1977 they played half their home games there. In 1977 Howard Stadium was expanded to 9000 seats, and the Bison returned to playing most of their home games there.

But even after the Bison moved most of their games to Howard, later Greene, Stadium, they continued to play sporadic games at RFK, Between 1992 and ending with the annual Nation's Football Classic, which ran from 2011 to 2016, they played 8 more games at RFK. The last Bison game at RFK Stadium was a 34-7 "demoralizing" loss to Hampton on September 16, 2016.[34]

Senators (1962-1971)[edit]

D.C. Stadium in 1963, looking west

The expansion Washington Senators of the American League played at RFK Stadium from 1962 through 1971. They played their first season in 1961 at Griffith Stadium, now the site of the medical center for Howard University.

In its ten seasons as the Senators' home field, RFK Stadium was known as a hitters' park. Slugger Frank Howard, (6 ft 7 in (2.01 m), 255 lb (116 kg), hit a number of tape-measure home runs in his career, a few of which landed in the center field area of the upper deck. The seats he hit with his home runs are painted white, rather than the gold of the rest of the upper deck. Left fielder Howard came to the Senators from the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1965. He also hit the last home run in the park's tenure as the Senators′ home field, in the sixth inning on September 30, 1971. With two outs in the top of the ninth,[35] a fan riot turned a 7–5 Senators lead over the New York Yankees into a 9–0 forfeit loss, the first in the majors in 17 years.[36][37]

The Senators only had one season over .500, in 1969, and never made the postseason. The stadium hosted the All-Star Game twice, in 1962 (first of two) and 1969, both won by the visiting National League. President Kennedy threw out the first ball at the 1962 game, and Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon would all attend games there. President Nixon was to throw out the first ball at the 1969 game, which celebrated baseball's centennial, but it was postponed due to rain and so Nixon skipped it to instead greet the Apollo 11 astronauts after splashdown. Instead, Vice President Spiro Agnew filled in.[38]

Colonials (1961-1966)[edit]

In addition to the Redskins and the Senators the other team to move from Griffith Stadium to D.C. Stadium was the George Washington University Colonials football team. The stadium was dedicated during the October 7th, 1961 game against VMI, the first college football game at the stadium, which the Colonials won 30-6. The Colonials were forced to play their first 3 games of the season on the road to allow the stadium to be completed. In following years, because the Senators had priority, they would have to wait until October when baseball season was over to schedule games at D.C. Stadium. From 1961-1964 they played road games in September and in 1965 and 1966 they played at Arlington and Alexandria high school stadiums in Virginia.[39][9][40][41]

The Colonials were only a few years removed from their best season, the 1956 Sun Bowl championship season where they went 8-1 and finished ranked #17 in the nation, but they had no real success at D.C. Stadium. The team went 22-35 during the D.C. Stadium years and never posted a winning record. The team went 11-13 at D.C. Stadium, facing off against Army twice and against a Liberty Bowl-bound West Virginia in 1964 (all losses).[42] Perhaps their biggest win was the 1964 upset of Villanova, a team that came to Washington with a 6-1 record. Sophomore quarterback Garry Lyle, the school's last NFL draftee, led the team to a 13-6 win.[43]

The final George Washington football game to date, and the last at D.C. Stadium, came on Thanksgiving Day, November 24, 1966, when the team lost to Villanova, 16–7.[44]

After the season was over, GW President Dr. Lloyd H. Elliott Chose to reevaluated GW's football program.[45] On December 19, 1966, head coach Jim Camp, who had just been named conference coach of the year, resigned citing the uncertainty caused by the school's intention to re-evaluate the football program as his reason. The next day, a member of the Board of Trustees announced that the school would drop football.[46] On January 19, 1967, the Board of Trustees made it official, and voted to end the football program to focus on basketball.[47] GW decided to use the football program's funding to build a new field house for the basketball team.[47] Poor game attendance and the expense of the program, estimated at $254,000 during the 1966 season, contributed to the decision. A former GW player, Harry Ledford, believed that most people were unwilling to commute into Washington, D.C., which did not have metrorail at the time, on Friday nights to D.C. Stadium, which was perceived as an unsafe area. Additionally, Maryland and Virginia were nationally competitive teams that drew potential suburban spectators away from GW.[48]

Nationals (2005-2007)[edit]

Formerly the Montreal Expos, the Washington Nationals of the National League played their first three seasons (20052007) at the stadium, moving to Nationals Park in 2008. While the Nationals played at RFK, it was the fourth-oldest active stadium in the majors, behind Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, and Yankee Stadium.[49]

Unlike during the Senators era, RFK was known as a pitchers' park while the Nationals played there. While Howard hit at least 44 home runs for three straight seasons (1968–70), the 2005 Nationals had only one hitter with more than 15 home runs, José Guillén with 24. However, in his lone season with the team in 2006, Alfonso Soriano hit 46 home runs.

Like the Senators though, the Nationals did not find much success during their years at RFK, as they failed to make the playoffs, or post a winning record, all three years.

Washington Federals (1983-1984)[edit]

Washington's only USFL team, the Washington Federals played two seasons at RFK and during that time, they had both the league's worst record each season, and, in 1984, the lowest per-game attendance. For the opening game, 38,000 fans showed up to see the return of former Redskins coach George Allen, the coach of the Chicago Blitz, in a game the Federals lost 28-7. But attendance quickly dropped off, with as few as 7,303 showing up for a late-season game against the Boston Breakers. The team went 4-14, but won 3 of their last 4. In 1984 they did worse, going 3-15 and only averaging 7,700 fans per game with a low of 4,432 against the Memphis Showboats. That season featured George Allen's last game at RFK, a March 31, 1984 game when the Blitz squeaked past the Federals 21-20.

With 6 games remaining in the 1984 season, owner Berl Bernhard sold the team to Florida real estate developer Woody Weiser, who announced plans to move the Federals to Miami. In the off-season, when that deal fell through, Donald Dizney bought the team, moved it to Orlando and renamed it the Renegades.

After going 7-29 overall, and 5-18 at RFK, the Federals ended their run with a 20-17 win over the New Orleans Breakers on June 24, 1984.

Professional soccer[edit]

Design[edit]

The stadium's design was perfectly circular, attempting to facilitate both football and baseball. It was the first to use the so-called "cookie-cutter" concept, an approach also used in Philadelphia, New York, Houston, Atlanta, St. Louis, San Diego, Cincinnati, Oakland, and Pittsburgh. Except for the stadiums in Houston, San Diego, and Oakland (the former is still standing but is no longer actively used, while the latter two are still active), RFK Stadium ultimately outlasted all of the aforementioned stadiums.

When the stadium opened it represented a huge step forward in luxury. It opened with 50,000 seats, each 22 inches wide (at a time when the typical seat was only 15-16 inches), air conditioned locker rooms and a lounge for the player's wives. It had a machine-operated tarpaulin to cover the field, yard-wide aisles and ramps that made it possible to empty the stadium in just 15 minutes. The ticket office was connected to the ticket windows by pneumatic tubes. The press boxes could be enclosed and expanded for big events. And the stadium had a jail, or holding cell, for drunks and brawlers. It had 12,000 parking spaces and was served by 300 buses. It also had lighting that was twice as bright at what was at Griffith Stadium.[11]

However, as would become the case with every other stadium where this was tried, the design was not ideal for either sport due to the different shapes and sizes of the playing fields. As the playing field dimensions for football and baseball vary greatly, seating had to accommodate the larger playing surface.

As a baseball park, RFK was a particular target of scorn from baseball purists, largely because it was one of the few stadiums with no lower-deck seats in the outfield. The only outfield seats are in the upper deck, above a high wall. According to Sporting News publications in the 1960s, over 27,000 seats—roughly 60% of the listed capacity of 45,000 for baseball—were in the upper tier or mezzanine levels. The lower-to-upper proportion improved for the Redskins, with end-zone seats filling in some of the gaps. On the debit side, however, the first ten rows of the football configuration were nearly at field level, making it difficult to see over the players. The baseball diamond was aligned due east (home plate to center field).

Panoramic view of Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium in 2012, looking east (from the west corner, the former home plate area)

A complex conversion was necessary, at a cost of $40,000 per switch, to convert the stadium from a football configuration to baseball and back again; in its final form, this included rolling the third-base lower-level seats into the outfield along a buried rail, dropping the hydraulic pitcher's mound 3 feet (0.9 m) into the ground, and laying sod over the infield dirt. Later facilities were designed so the seating configuration could be changed much more quickly and at a lower cost. The conversion was only required several times per year during the Senators' joint tenancy with the Redskins, but became much more frequent while the Nationals and D.C. United shared the stadium during the mostly concurrent MLB and MLS seasons; in 2005, the conversion was made more than 20 times. Originally the seats located behind the stadium's third-base dugout were removed for baseball games and put back in place when the stadium was converted to the football (and later soccer) configuration. When these sections were in place, RFK seated approximately 56,000 fans. With the Nationals' arrival in 2005, this particular segment of the stands was permanently removed to facilitate the switch between the baseball and soccer configurations. These seats were not restored following the Nationals' move to Nationals Park, leaving the stadium's seating capacity at approximately 46,000. The majority of the upper-deck seats normally were not made available for D.C. United matches, so the stadium's reduced capacity normally was not problematic for the club.

The football/soccer field alignment is northwest to southeast, approximately along the baseball diamond's first base line.

During the years when the stadium was used only for Redskins games, the rotating seats remained in the football configuration. If an exhibition baseball game was scheduled, the left-field wall was only 250 feet (76 m) from home plate, and a large screen was erected in left field for some games.

Some of RFK's quirks endear the venue to fans and players. The large rolling bleacher section is less stable than other seating, allowing fans to jump in rhythm to cause the whole area to bounce. Also, despite its small size (it never seated more than 56,000 people), because of the stadium's design and the proximity of the fans to the field when configured for football, the stadium was extremely loud when the usual sell-out Redskins crowds became vocal. Legend has it that Redskins head coach George Allen would order a large rolling door in the side of the stadium to be opened when visiting teams were attempting field goals at critical moments in games so that a swirling wind from off the Potomac and Anacostia rivers might interfere with the flight of the kicked ball.

Since the stadium is on a direct sight line with the Washington Monument and the U.S. Capitol, light towers were not allowed; instead, arc lights were placed on its curved, dipping roof.

Events D.C. —the city agency which operates RFK Stadium— began a strategic planning process in November 2013 to study options for the future of the stadium, its 80 acres (320,000 m2) campus, and the nonmilitary portions of the adjacent D.C. Armory. Events D.C. said one option to be studied was demolition within a decade, while another would be the status quo. The strategic planning process also included design and development of options. The agency said that RFK Stadium has generated $4 million to $5 million a year in revenues since 1997, which did not cover operating expenses.[50] In August 2014, Events D.C. chose the consulting firm of Brailsford & Dunlavey to create the master plan.[51]

Seating capacity[edit]

The South Exterior of RFK Stadium in August, 2017

Dimensions[edit]

Satellite view of stadium in pre-2005 soccer configuration; the darker red seats at the northwest end are not part of the current setup.

The dimensions of the baseball field were 335 feet (102 m) down the foul lines, 380 feet (116 m) to the power alleys and 408 feet (124 m) to center field during the Senators' time. The official distances when the Nationals arrived were identical, except for two additional feet to center field. After complaints from Nationals hitters it was discovered in July 2005 that the fence had actually been put in place incorrectly, and it was 394.74 feet (120.3 m) to the power alleys in left; 395 feet (120 m) to the right-field power alley; and 407.83 feet (124.3 m) to center field. The section of wall containing the 380-foot (116 m) sign was moved closer to the foul lines to more accurately represent the distance shown on the signs but no changes were made to the actual dimensions.

The approximate elevation of the playing field is ten feet (3 m) above sea level.

Sports events[edit]

Baseball[edit]

A Washington Nationals game at RFK, June 2005.
  • April 9, 1962: The Washington Senators defeat the Detroit Tigers 4-1 in the first baseball game played at D.C. Stadium. President John F. Kennedy – the brother of the stadium′s future namesake, then-United States Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy – throws out the ceremonial first pitch.
  • July 10, 1962: With 45,480 in attendance, D.C. Stadium hosts its first Major League Baseball All-Star Game, the first of two All-Star Games Major League Baseball held during the 1962 season. President John F. Kennedy throws out the first pitch. The game ends in a 3-1 National League win.
  • June 12, 1967: The Senators defeat the Chicago White Sox 6-5 in the longest night game in major league history up to that time. The 22-inning game lasts 6 hours and 38 minutes and ends at 2:43 a.m. EDT.
  • April 7, 1969: With President Richard Nixon and a crowd of about 45,000 looking on, Ted Williams makes his managerial debut as manager of the Washington Senators in a game against the New York Yankees at RFK Stadium. The Yankees win 8-4.[67]
  • July 23, 1969: The stadium hosts its second and last Major League Baseball All-Star Game, a National League 9–3 victory before 45,259 fans. Postponed by a rainout the night before, the game takes place in the afternoon, the final MLB All-Star Game played during daylight hours on the United States East Coast. President Richard Nixon, scheduled to attend and throw out the first pitch the evening before, misses the game because of the postponement, and Vice President Spiro Agnew throws out the first pitch.
  • September 30, 1971: In the Senators' final home game, the Senators lead the New York Yankees 7–5 with two outs in the top of the ninth. After an obese teenager runs onto the field, picks up first base, and runs off, fans storm the field and tear up bases, grass patches, and anything else they can find for souvenirs. The Senators are ruled to have forfeited the game, 9–0.[68] It was the last game played in Washington by a Washington, D.C., MLB team until 2005.
  • July 19, 1982: At an Old-Timers' Day exhibition game attended by over 29,000 fans, 75-year-old Hall of Famer Luke Appling hit a home run against the National League's Warren Spahn.[69] Although he had a .310 lifetime batting average, Appling only hit 45 home runs in 20 seasons. However, because the stadium had not been fully reconfigured, it was just 260 feet (79 m) to the left-field foul pole, far shorter than normal. However, Warren Spahn applauded him as he rounded the bases.
  • April 5, 1987: RFK Stadium hosts an exhibition game between the Philadelphia Phillies and the New York Mets, the first MLB game played in Washington, D.C., since a pair of exhibition games in 1972. The game is a sell-out, with 45,614 tickets sold, and a crowd of 38,437 actually attends on a cold, rainy afternoon. Mets pitcher Sid Fernandez throws a one-hitter, and the Mets win 1-0.[70][71]
  • April 3, 1998: The Orioles and Mets meet for the fourth exhibition game since baseball left Washington DC.[72]
  • April 2 and 4, 1999: Montreal Expos and St. Louis Cardinals meet in a pair of exhibition games. The stadium was restored to its full baseball configuration for the first time since the Washington Senators departed after the 1971 season. Rumors were already swirling that the Expos could soon call RFK home.[73]
  • April 14, 2005: The Washington Nationals (formerly the Montreal Expos) defeat the Arizona Diamondbacks 5–3 before a crowd of 45,596 in their first game in Washington, D.C. President George W. Bush throws out the first pitch. The Nationals go on to sweep the four-game series.
  • June 18, 2006: Washington Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who will become known as "Mr. Walk-Off" for his penchant for hitting game-ending home runs, hits his first walk-off home run off New York Yankees pitcher Chien-Ming Wang in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the Nats a 3-2 victory.[74]
  • September 16, 2006: The Washington Nationals' Alfonso Soriano steals second base in the first inning of the game against the Milwaukee Brewers to become the fourth player to hit 40 home runs and steal 40 bases in a season.[75]
  • September 23, 2007: The Washington Nationals defeat the Philadelphia Phillies 5–3, before a crowd of 40,519, in the final baseball game played at RFK Stadium. The win gives the Nationals an overall home record of 122–121 in three seasons at the stadium.

College football[edit]

  • Timmie Football Classic (1974-1975) Grambling vs. Morgan State[76]
  • Freedom Bowl All-Star Classic (1986)[77]
  • Nation's Capital Football Classic (1991) - Delaware State vs. Jackson State[78]
  • All-America Classic (1993)[79]
  • EagleBank Bowl (2008–2009)
  • Military Bowl (2010–2012)

College Soccer[edit]

  • November 8, 1997: Maryland Terps defeat Ohio State 2-1[83]

Professional football[edit]

Soccer[edit]

D.C. United after their win in the 2004 MLS Eastern Conference finals
RFK Stadium during a D.C. United soccer match in March 2009

Although not designed for soccer, RFK Stadium became a center of American soccer, especially in the last 30 or so years before D.C. United departed, rivaled only by the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, in terms of its history as a soccer venue.[31] It is the only facility in the United States that hosted the North American Soccer League's Soccer Bowl (in 1980), the FIFA World Cup (in 1994), an Olympic group stage (in 1996), the MLS Cup (in 1997, 2000, and 2007) and the FIFA Women's World Cup (in 2003).[31] The United States men's national soccer team played more of its matches at RFK stadium than at any other site,[31] and D.C. United played 347 regular-season matches there. Notable soccer dates at the stadium include:

United States men's national team matches[edit]

The United States men's national soccer team has played more games at RFK Stadium than any other stadium.[95] Some have suggested that due to the nature of RFK and its quirkiness that it would be a suitable national stadium if US Soccer were ever to seek one out.[96][97] Several prominent members of the national team have scored at RFK, including Brian McBride, Cobi Jones, Eric Wynalda, Joe-Max Moore, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, and Landon Donovan. Winners are listed first.

Date Competition Team Score Team Attendance
October 6, 1977 Friendly  China PR 1–1  United States Unknown
May 12, 1990 Friendly Netherlands AFC Ajax 1–1  United States 18,245
October 19, 1991 Friendly  North Korea 2–1  United States 16,351
May 30, 1992 1992 U.S. Cup  United States 3–1  Republic of Ireland 35,696
October 13, 1993 Friendly  Mexico 1–1  United States 23,927
June 18, 1995 1995 U.S. Cup  United States 4–0  Mexico 38,615
October 8, 1995 Friendly  United States 4–3  Saudi Arabia 10,216
June 12, 1996 1996 U.S. Cup  Bolivia 2–0  United States 19,350
November 3, 1996 1998 FIFA World Cup qualification (CONCACAF)  United States 2–0  Guatemala 30,082
October 3, 1997 1998 FIFA World Cup qualification (CONCACAF)  Jamaica 1–1  United States 51,528
May 30, 1998 Friendly  Scotland 0–0  United States 46,037
June 13, 1999 Friendly  United States 1–0  Argentina 40,119
June 3, 2000 2000 U.S. Cup  United States 4–0  South Africa 16,570
September 3, 2000 2002 FIFA World Cup qualification (CONCACAF)  United States 1–0  Guatemala 51,556
September 1, 2001 2002 FIFA World Cup qualification (CONCACAF)  Honduras 3–2  United States 54,282
May 12, 2002 Friendly  United States 2–1  Uruguay 30,413
November 17, 2002 Friendly  United States 2–0  El Salvador 25,390
October 13, 2004 2006 FIFA World Cup qualification (CONCACAF)  United States 6–0  Panama 22,000
October 11, 2008 2010 FIFA World Cup qualification (CONCACAF)  United States 6–1  Cuba 20,249
July 8, 2009 2009 CONCACAF Gold Cup  United States 2–1  Honduras 26,079
October 14, 2009 2010 FIFA World Cup qualification (CONCACAF)  Costa Rica 2–2  United States 36,243
June 19, 2011 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup  United States 2–0  Jamaica 45,424
June 2, 2013 US Soccer Centennial Match  United States 4–3  Germany 47,359
May 31, 2015 Friendly  El Salvador 0-2  Honduras Unknown
September 4, 2015 Friendly  United States 2-1  Peru 28,896
October 11, 2016 Friendly  United States 1-1  New Zealand 9,012

Boxing[edit]

Motor sports[edit]

  • On July 21, 2002, the American Le Mans Series held its first event in Washington, D.C. The Grand Prix of Washington, D.C. was run on a temporary circuit laid out in the RFK stadium parking lot, and was the first major motor sports event held in the District of Columbia in 80 years.[98] Originally a ten-year agreement was signed to host the race on a yearly basis.[99] Residents living near the stadium were concerned about traffic and parking, but also about the excessive noise levels, the lengthy event would create. Citizens were outraged when they learned that District officials had ignored laws and regulations requiring an environmental impact assessment for the race, and that Le Mans officials had lied to the city about noise levels.[100] Local citizens were further angered when American Le Mans racing officials reneged on a promise to remove the Jersey barriers outlining the racecourse from stadium parking lots, leaving the unsightly structures behind and preventing the lots from being used for parking.[101] When the American Le Mans organization tried to hold a second race at RFK in 2003, outraged residents successfully forced D.C. officials to cancel the city's ten-year lease with the company (no more races were ever held).[102]

Cycling[edit]

The final stage of the 1992 Tour DuPont was a 14.7 mile time trial from RFK to Rock Creek Park and back. Greg LeMond came in 3rd for the stage and won the Tour, the last major win of his career.[103][104] He won $50,000 and a kiss from Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly.[105] Steve Hegg won the stage.[106]

Other events[edit]

Concerts[edit]

The Beatles performed a concert here in August, 1966. From 1993 to 1999 and from 2001 to 2004, rock radio station WHFS held its annual HFStival rock concert at RFK Stadium.

Volunteer service[edit]

  • On January 19, 2009, the day before the presidential inauguration, A Day Of Service for Our Military was held at RFK Stadium as a part of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Day of Service. This was a joint operation by Serve DC and Operation Gratitude. At this event, 12,000 volunteers made over 80,000 care packages for American troops overseas.[112]

In film[edit]

The stadium was prominently featured in the climax of the film X-Men: Days of Future Past, released in May 2014. In the film, Magneto uses his powers to place the stadium as a barricade around the White House; the stadium is partially damaged. At the end of the film, a newspaper article announces the stadium is to begin reconstruction.[113] (RFK is shown being prepped for a baseball game; however, the movie is set in 1973, two years after the Senators left for Texas.)

Washington Hall of Stars[edit]

See also Washington Nationals Ring of Honor

During the Redskins' tenure, the Washington Hall of Stars was displayed on a series of white-and-red signs hung in a ring around the stadium's mezzanine, honoring D.C. sports greats from various sports. With the reconfiguration of the stadium, it was replaced by a series of dark-green banners over the center-field and right-field fences in order to make room for out-of-town scoreboards and advertising signage. There are 15 separate panels honoring 82 figures. Nationals Park also hosts a smaller version of the display.

To the right of Panel 15 are four banners honoring D.C. United's MLS Cup wins: 1996, 1997, 1999 and 2004. To the right of these banners is D.C. United's "Tradition of Excellence" banner, which honors John Harkes and Marco Etcheverry. To the left of those banners are four banners honoring D.C. United's MLS Supporters Shield wins: 1997, 1999, 2006 and 2007.

Public transportation[edit]

RFK Stadium is within 12 mile (0.80 km) of and easily accessible from the Stadium-Armory station of the Washington Metro. The station is served by the Blue, Orange, and Silver Lines. It is also served directly by Metrobus lines B2, D6, E32 (at Eastern High School), 96 and 97.

References[edit]

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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]