THE PLANK AUGUST 17, 2009
Matt Yglesias is right that it would be absurd for the District of Columbia to build a new a stadium for the Redskins on the site where their old stadium, RFK, now sits. Since pro football stadiums go unused for most of the year, owing to the NFL's 16-game schedule, they don't help their surrounding neighborhoods in the same way baseball and basketball/hockey stadiums do. Better to do something else with the RFK site; Yglesias's sensible alternative plan for the site unexpectedly even includes a park!
That said, I do think something was lost when the Redskins abandoned D.C. and moved out to the 'burbs. Part of the problem is simply the new suburban stadium's size: Where RFK sat only about 55,000, FedEx field holds upwards of 90,000. It's just not as intimate a setting as RFK. And while intimacy isn't the first word you think of when you think of football, there was something special about the band-box quality of RFK--and the way the bleachers would actually shake when the fans got really excited. Throw in the stadium's own technological limitations--no JumboTron video screen, no sky suites, and no ridiculous state-of-the-art sound system, which meant that all the music at the game came courtesy of the very old school Redskins Marching Band--and RFK was truly unique in a way that it gave the Redskins a terrific homefield advantage. It can't be a total coincidence that the Redskins haven't won a Super Bowl since they left RFK.
The other great thing about RFK, and having a football stadium in a city instead of the burbs, is the connection it establishes between the team's fans and the city the team represents. Many, maybe even most, of the 55,000 season ticket holders at RFK were suburbanites. But on at least eight Sundays each year, the Redskins brought them into the city. If they took the Metro, they walked right through a city neighborhood to get to the stadium. Maybe they even bought some peanuts or a foam finger from an enterprising neighborhood vendor en route. It fostered a sense of community, however fleeting. That just doesn't exist for the people who go to Redskins games today out in Raljon Landover. In fact, it wasn't until a few years ago that they were even able to take the Metro to FedEx field.
None of this is sufficiently important to lure the Redskins back to D.C. But it is a shame they left in the first place.