Football Helmets on Fire and Parking Lot Edibles: Washingtonian Staffers Share Memories of RFK Stadium

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The stadium, which is set to be demolished in 2023, was an eyesore. But it was our eyesore.

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RFK Stadium is all cleared out. Photograph by Andrew Beaujon.

Today, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser ceremoniously removed the last of RFK stadium’s orange wooden seats (which you can buy) from its lower bowl. It was a bittersweet moment considering the stadium hosted major sports and concerts for nearly 60 years, and scores of memories are tied to the place. With the stadium’s demolition set for sometime in 2023, our staffers share some of their own recollections, which range from childhood nostalgia to rambunctious crowds to indifference:

“Some of the fondest memories of my childhood were heading down to RFK—when we were lucky enough to get football tickets—and bouncing up and down on the stands. The crowds were terrific. Absolutely deafening. And we always had something to cheer for.”

-Luke Mullins, senior writer

Crowds at RFK Stadium in 2006. Photograph courtesy of Flickr/Scott Ableman.

“In 1983, my parents took me to a Team America game at RFK. (Team America was a short-lived professional soccer team based in DC.) I remember nothing about the game; I did not then, nor do I now, care remotely about soccer. But afterward, fans were invited to stick around for a concert by the Beach Boys, who had recently been dismissed by Interior Secretary James Watt as attracting “the wrong element.” What kind of element my family and I represented is not something I am in a position to judge, but this was my first-ever real concert experience, and it made a huge impression on me, even if the band wasn’t exactly at its peak. Google tells me that both Brian and Dennis Wilson were in the lineup for that gig; I was too young to have any clue who either of them were or why their presence was significant. Dennis died not long after.”

-Rob Brunner, politics and culture editor

“I didn’t grow up in the DC area, so when I originally moved here in the mid-1990s, the sheer intensity of the passion and interest in the local NFL team surprised me. And nothing captured that better than the last Washington-Dallas game at RFK Stadium in 1996. I couldn’t tell you who actually won. But I will never, ever forget the image of fans in the stands holding aloft a Cowboys helmet that they had set on fire. There’s a picture of this still floating around online; if you’ve ever wondered how Commanders owner Dan Snyder has been able to milk so much money out of the region despite being so very bad at his job, just Google that moment.”

-Patrick Hruby, deputy editor

D.C. United vs L.A. Galaxy game. Photograph courtesy of Flickr/Shameek.

“HFStival 2004 was one of my first concerts. I’ve always loved stadium architecture, and I remember seeing the drooping stadium roof for the first time getting off the metro as Yellowcard blared over the speakers. Inside, Cypress Hill, JAY-Z, The Offspring and The Cure had the orange and yellow seats rocking. From then on, whenever I’d travel by DC on 295 or climb to the top, I’d always look for the donut stadium’s drooping roof out the window. Once the stadium became dormant and I became interested in city planning, I learned how RFK Stadium is the gold standard for underutilized land use and how cities can reimagine parking lots. Still, when that wrecking ball drops, a piece of me will miss catching a glimpse of DC’s beloved droopy-roofed, dilapidated stadium.”

-David Andrews, editorial fellow

“I remember going to my first DC United game when I was around 8 and getting beer thrown on me for the first time! We also saw David Beckham when he played for LA Galaxy against DC United. When Beckham took his shirt off, the crowd went crazy.”

-Katie Kenny, editorial fellow

RFK Stadium HFStival in 2001. Photograph courtesy of Flickr/Dave Hudson.

“Eating grilled cheeses laced with…I’m honestly not sure what, in the RFK parking lot before a Grateful Dead show in the summer of 1995. It was about a month before Jerry Garcia died, and the grilled cheeses came from some rando guy with a little camping stove. Edibles, Gen X-style.”

-Ann Limpert, executive food editor/critic

“My only real memory of attending anything at RFK was going to HFStival in May of 2002—I was in high school and somehow convinced my mom to let my college-aged sister take me (this was not a typical thing my parents let us do at the time!) It was my first “festival” experience, and the first time I’d ever tasted alcohol—Skyy Blue (malt!)—remember those? (Totally on brand for me at the time, I was so nervous I didn’t finish it.) And yet, that blue bottle is a stronger core memory than seeing Papa Roach and Sum 41, which I only vaguely recall.”

-Amy Moeller, weddings editor

“I am the world’s biggest non-sports fan! I did go there once for a concert after a big gay rights march. It was good. Cyndi Lauper was there! That is the one and only time I was ever there, and I’ve lived here all my life!”

-Bill O’Sullivan, senior managing editor

“In my 21 years of living in the area, I’ve never ventured to RFK, and that just about speaks for itself.”

-Carmen Honker, digital media producer

The deteriorating RFK Stadium in 2020. Photograph couresty of Flickr/Der Berzerker.

Jessica Ruf

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