Saturday, October 08, 2011

Political Venue: The History of RFK Stadium, Part Two

Shovel ready

By the 1960 season, the Washington Redskins had long faded from their heights of the 1930s and 40s, attendance was winding down and the city was rapidly falling out of love with NFL football. Who better to rescue the team than the government? Curly R's special series on the history of RFK Stadium continues.

Part One: Faded Glory
Part Two: Government Intervention
Part Three: Race and Football
Part Four: A Complex Relationship
Part Five: Ernie Davis, Bobby Mitchell and Ron Hatcher
Part Six: Wednesday
Part Seven: Thursday
Part Eight: Friday


With Griffith Field already forty-six years old and no new local stadium projects on the horizon, in June of 1957, US Representative Oren Harris, Democrat of Arkansas, proposed legislation to authorize construction of a fifty thousand seat, municipal stadium in the District of Columbia. Representative Harris was a well known supporter of sports business, also proposing in 1957 that the NFL be granted an antitrust exemption in the style of baseball's, in place since 1922.

By June of 1958 the US Treasury had agreed to guarantee bonds worth up to six million dollars, the principal projected cost of the stadium project. One month later in July President Dwight Eisenhower signed a bill authorizing construction of the stadium into law. The new venue would be called District of Columbia Stadium, or DC Stadium for short. It would be located at the end of East Capitol Street, hard by the Anacostia River.

The first shovel went into the dirt on the site of RFK Stadium in July 1960. What emerged over the next fifteen months was the first of a generation of multiuse, or 'cookie-cutter' stadiums. Round or slightly oblong, with cantilevered roofs and miles on concrete, these venues were designed to accommodate 1960s appetites for both football and baseball, though in the end by modern standards they did both relatively poorly.

Other stadiums that would rise in the decade that followed and look an awful lot like DC Stadium included Shea Stadium (1964), Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium (1965), Busch Stadium (1966), San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium (1967), Three Rivers Stadium (1970), Riverfront Stadium (1970) and Veterans Stadium (1971).

That fall and winter the Redskins would stagger through their 1960 season, finishing 1-9-2. In a move trumping even future owner Dan Snyder's postgame firing of head coach Jim Zorn in January 2010, team owner George Preston Marshall fired head coach Mike Nixon before the team's 38-28 season ending loss to future Redskins quarterback Sonny Jurgenson and the Philadelphia Eagles.

In coach Nixon's place the owner would promote 34 year old Bill McPeak, an assistant under Mike Nixon with no previous head coaching experience.

The Redskins were limping into their new home by the river.

Political Venue: The History of RFK Stadium continues tomorrow with part three, Football and Race.

RFK Stadium: Dudley Brooks / Washington Post photo from here via here.