Reporting David Elfin
Growing up in Washington, D.C. Stadium was my field of dreams. I fell in love with the then-sparkling facility at 22nd and East Capitol N.E. as soon as I caught my first glimpse of the green expanse of the outfield grass when my father took me to my first Senators game in 1966.
Three years later, the Stadium was re-named for assassinated Senator Robert F. Kennedy, which only added to my affection for the place since I had been the chief advocate of his presidential campaign in my third grade classroom.
I celebrated my 11th birthday at RFK on Fan Appreciation Day, got to serve as a batboy during the annual Congressional baseball game (alongside a fellow 9-year-old named Roger Goodell) and attended dozens of Redskins games with my dad in Section 536, Row 18, Seats 9 & 11. The 26-3 rout of the hated Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship Game on New Year’s Eve 1972 was probably the happiest day of my childhood other than when we got our beloved spaniel when I was six.
As a journalist, I chronicled the Redskins for five years from the rickety press box at RFK while also covering a heavyweight championship bout, motocross and a baseball old-timers game. From the stands, I saw Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones and Elton John and Billy Joel perform and the Redskins clinch their first playoff berth in six years in the swirling snow in December 1982.
But the idea of the Redskins moving their practice facility from Ashburn to the Hill East site near RFK leaves me as cold as Randy Edsall.
District Mayor Vincent Gray and Councilmen Jack Evans and Michael A. Brown want to bring back the Redskins, who left the capital for Landover in 1997 after late owner Jack Kent Cooke failed to obtain permission to build a new stadium on the RFK parking lots much as the New York Giants and Jets would do at the Meadowlands more than a decade later.
“They are not ‘the Prince George’s County Redskins,” Gray said at an informational meeting for local residents on March 22. “They are not ‘the Northern Virginia Redskins. They are ‘the Washington Redskins.’ I don’t know whether it’s a training facility or what, but we need to find something to jump-start Hill East.”
However, the clear majority of the approximately 300 people in attendance that night seemed to overwhelmingly prefer that the 67-acre site that was once home to D.C. General Hospital be re-developed with retail, housing, offices and perhaps a medical facility, as called for under the 2003 master plan, rather than as a private playground for billionaire Dan Snyder and his millionaire players.
And while some nearby properties are for sale for more than half a million dollars, the long-downtrodden area also contains much low-income housing and is far from crime-free, which would make it a major negative as the Redskins would try to lure players and coaches to sign with the organization. That’s in stark contrast to booming Ashburn which is not only full of huge, new homes and plenty of restaurants and stores but is also an easy drive for those who want to live in more bucolic Loudoun County burgs like Purcellville.
If the Redskins moved to Hill East, but the players lived say, in Alexandria or Fort Washington, then the District wouldn’t even gain the benefit of their tax dollars.
Playing 10 homes games a year in front of packed crowds at a new stadium in a depressed neighborhood is one thing. Working there to all hours day after day is quite another. The only restaurant within seven blocks of RFK is Hong Kong Carryout, not exactly the sort of establishment where Snyder likes to wine and dine free agents.
And after spending nearly $700 million in tax dollars to build Nats Park less than a decade ago, I can’t imagine how Gray, Evans and Brown could convince their fellow elected leaders or District voters to invest countless millions to bring back the Redskins, whose lease at FedEx Field lasts for another 15 seasons and to whom the entire Washington area, not just the city proper, can lay claim.
In theory, the Washington Redskins belong in the city where they played for their first 60 seasons. In reality, it ain’t happening anytime soon.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since last March. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin.