Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium

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Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium
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
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 or Soccer:
56,692 (1961)
45,596 (2005–present)
20,000 (2012–2017) (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)
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.
Washington Redskins (NFL) (1961–1996)
Geo. Washington Colonials (NCAA) (1961–1966)
Washington Senators (II) (MLB) (1962–1971)
Howard Bison (NCAA) (1974–1976)
Washington Whips (USA / NASL) (1967–1968)
Washington Diplomats (NASL) (1974, 1977–1981);(ASL) (1988-1989);(APSL) (1990)
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)

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, five professional soccer teams, two college football teams, a bowl game and a USFL team. It has hosted five NFC Championship games, two MLB All-Star Games, men's and women's World Cup matches, nine men's and women's first-round soccer games in the 1996 Summer Olympics, three MLS Cup matches, two MLS All-Star games 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 one of the first major stadiums designed specifically as a multi-sport facility for both football and baseball. Although there were stadiums that served this purpose before, such as Cleveland Stadium (1931) and Baltimore's Memorial Stadium (1950), 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]


Planning a new stadium

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[clarification needed] 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 $7.5 and $8.6 million.[7] From there things went quickly and the lease for the stadium 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-Saint 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.

Stadium Opens

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 spring 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 7, at a college football game called the "Dedication Game", the stadium was dedicated. George Washington became the first home team to win at the stadium when they beat VMI, 30–6.[12][9] The first sell-out at the stadium came on November 23, 1961. It was the first of the annual Thanksgiving Day high school football games between the public school champion, in this case Eastern, and the Catholic school champion, St John's. Eastern won, 37–14.[13] 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, D.C. Stadium hosted the Washington Redskins, the Washington Senators and the GWU Colonial football team, all of whom 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.

From 1961 to 1963, D.C. Stadium hosted the annual City Title game matching the D.C. public school champion and the winner of the area's premier Catholic league. That game was played before capacity crows on Thanksgiving Day each year. The 1963 game between St. John's, a predominantly white school in Northwest D.C., and Eastern, a majority black school in Northeast ended in a racially motivated riot ending the series. The City Title game hasn't been played since.[14]

In 1964, D.C. Stadium emerged as an element in the Bobby Baker bribery scandal. In August 1964, Don B. Reynolds, a Maryland insurance businessman, made a statement in which he claimed that Matthew McCloskey, a former Democratic National Committee Chairman and Kennedy's Ambassador to Ireland, paid a $25,000 kickback through Reynolds and at the instruction of Baker to the Kennedy-Johnson campaign as payback for the stadium construction contract.[15] Though Baker would go to jail for tax fraud, and the FBI would investigate the awarding of the stadium contract, McClosley was never charged.[16]

Renaming the stadium

The stadium was renamed in January 1969 for U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy,[17] 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.[18]

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 came to fruition.[19] The latter was shot down by commissioner Bowie Kuhn who wanted to bring an expansion team instead.[20]

For much of the 1970s and 1980s 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.

D.C. United moves in, Redskins move out

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 Redskins' 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.[21][22][23] 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.[24] 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.

The last team leaves

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.[25] 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.[26][27] 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.[28]


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".[29] 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,[17] who had been assassinated in Los Angeles the previous June.[18] 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] Coincidentally, following the death of John F. Kennedy in 1963, the Armory Board had directed that the stadium be renamed for him,[30] but the plan lost steam when a few weeks later the Philadelphia city council passed a bill renaming Philadelphia Stadium as "John F. Kennedy Stadium".[31]

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.[32] Along with Udall, Kennedy threatened to revoke the team's lease at the federally-owned stadium until it promised to sign African American players.[32][33] 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".[34] This plan was dropped within days, however, after several prominent members of Congress questioned the use of public funds for a stadium sponsorship.[35]

Similar proposals to sell the naming rights to the National Guard,[34] ProFunds (a Bethesda, Maryland investment company),[35] and Sony[36] were all potential names in 2005 and 2006, but no agreement was ever finalized.


Redskins (1961-1996)

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.[37]

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)

RFK Stadium during a D.C. United soccer match in March 2009

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.[38][39] 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.[37]

Senators (1962–1971)

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,[40] 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.[41][42]

The Senators only had one season over .500, in 1969, and never made the postseason. At RFK, they had an unimpressive record of 363-441 but, because of the number of games played in baseball, they won more games at RFK than any team in any sport. 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 Johnson was to throw out the first pitch in 1968, but the opening game was delayed following the death of Martin Luther King, Jr., so Vice-President Hubert H. Humphrey got the privilege.[43] 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.[44]

Diplomats (1974, 1977-81, 1988-1990)

Between 1974 and 1990, three soccer teams played at RFK using the name Washington Diplomats. In 1974, two Maryland businessmen purchased the rights to the Baltimore Bays of the semi-professional American Soccer League, moved the team to the District and renamed it the Washington Diplomats. They signed a lease agreement to play home matches at RFK Stadium where they calculated they needed to attract an average of 12,000 spectators to the 56,000-seat stadium just to break even. Despite white flight to the suburbs, owners thought that recent completion of the Beltway, the stadium's 12,000 parking spaces and future completion of a stadium Metro station would facilitate high attendance. Games were scheduled for Saturday and prices were set low. The Diplomats first game was on May 4, 1974 where a crowd of 10,175 fans - and Mayor Walter E. Washington who ceremonially kicked off the game - watched the Dips lose 5-1 to the defending NASL champion Philadelphia Atoms. Attendance dropped off over the course of the season.[45]

In 1975 the Diplomats were informed that the recently installed turf at RFK would not be ready for opening day, so they scheduled their first two home games that season for W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax, Virginia. After the games attracted more than 10,000 fans each, the Diplomats moved most of their home games to Woodson, but then moved the last five back to RFK once soccer superstar Pele was added to the roster of the Cosmos. Pele was so popular that the 1975 Cosmos-Diplomats match broke the NASL attendance record with 35,620 fans in the stands.[46] Despite the success of the Cosmos game, attendance quickly dropped off again and prior to the 1976 season the Diplomats announced that they would play all every home game, except the one against the Cosmos, at Woodson. During the season they even moved that game to Woodson.[45]

In 1977, after averaging 5,963 fans per match at Woodson, the Diplomats decided to ramp up their marketing and move back to RFK. Despite changes to everything from uniforms to the cheerleaders, the team's disappointing on-the-field performance hurt attendance (a ~31,000 fan game against Pele and the Cosmos notwithstanding). In 1978, attendance continued to drop even though the Dips made the playoffs. Despite success on the field during the 1978 and 1979 seasons (including a franchise-best 19 win season in '79) and a negligible amount of revenue from “indoor Dips” games at the D.C. Armory during the offseason, the franchise continued to suffer significant financial losses.[45]

In 1980, they signed Dutch international superstar Johan Cruyff, the Pele of the Potomac, from the Los Angeles Aztecs in the hopes of stemming the financial losses. Needing 20,000 fans per game to break even, they managed to attract 24,000 for the opener and a District record 53,351 for the game against the Pele-less Cosmos (the 5th largest soccer crowd at RFK ever), but that still was not enough for the team to break even. After racking up debts of $5 million the first incarnation of the Dips folded.[45]

Three months later the Detroit Express announced a move to DC and that they would take on the Diplomats name. They also had trouble attracting fans and after the NASL championship game, the "Soccer Bowl", was held at RFK, they too folded. The Diplomats of the NASL, despite their limited success on the field, managed to rack up an impressive 60-29 record at RFK Stadium, including 1-1 in the playoffs.[47][45]

In 1987, a new soccer team, also called the Washington Diplomats, was formed. They played at RFK, and sometimes at the RFK auxiliary field, for three seasons as part of the ASL and then the APSL. They won the ASL Championship in 1988, but still often played in front of fewer than 1000 fans. In 1990 they finished last in the Southern Division of the APSL East, were unable to pay the rent at RFK and folded in October 1990.[48][49]

Colonials (1961-1966)

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.[12][9][50][51]

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).[52] 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.[53]

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.[54]

After the season was over, GW President Dr. Lloyd H. Elliott Chose to reevaluated GW's football program.[55] 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.[56] On January 19, 1967, the Board of Trustees made it official, and voted to end the football program to focus on basketball.[57] GW decided to use the football program's funding to build a new field house for the basketball team.[57] 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.[58]

Nationals (2005-2007)

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.[59]

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.

Bison (1974–1976)

No team has a longer history with RFK Stadium than the Howard Bison football team, who played there 42 times over 46 years. Between their first game there in 1970 and their last in 2016, they had a 22–17–3 record, winning more games at RFK than any other college football program.

Looking to play on a bigger stage than Howard Stadium would allow, they began scheduling games at RFK. Howard's first game at RFK was a 24–7 victory over Fisk on October 24, 1970.[60] From 1974 to 1976, Howard played all but one of their home games at RFK and in 1977 they played half their home games there.[61] After the 1977 season they returned to Howard Stadium, but continued to play their annual homecoming game at RFK Stadium through the 1985 season.

After the 1985 season, Howard Stadium was refurbished, and renamed, and for the next 7 years Howard played all of their home games there.

They ended their first drought with a return in 1992 for a game against Bowie State that was marked by taunting and a game-ending scuffle.[62] From 1993 to 1999 Howard played at least one game a year at RFK including the Greater Washington Urban League Classic, at one point called the Hampton-Howard Classic, against Hampton from 1994 to 1999. In 2000 that game moved to Giants Stadium and Howard would then spend more than a decade away from RFK.

Starting in 2011 and through the 2016 season Howard played in the Nation's Football Classic at RFK, matching up against Morehouse at first and then Hampton again.[63] In 2017, Events DC announced that they would discontinue the Classic and thus the last Bison game at RFK Stadium was a 34-7 "demoralizing" loss to Hampton on September 16, 2016.[64][65]

Freedom (2001-2003)

For three seasons, RFK was home to the Women's United Soccer Association Washington team, the Washington Freedom. On April 14, 2001, Mia Hamm and the Washington Freedom defeated Brandi Chastain and the Bay Area CyberRays 1-0 in WUSA's inaugural match before 34,198 fans, the largest crowd in WUSA history and the largest crowd to watch a women's professional sports event in DC history. Over three years, the Freedom racked up a 15-9-6 record at RFK and finished as one of the league's top teams. They came in 2nd in 2002 and won the league's Founder's Cup in 2003. They played all of their home games at RFK, except for one in 2001 which they played at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis to make room for the Washington Grand Prix. Their last game at RFK as part of WUSA was on August 2, 2003 when they defeated the San Jose Cyber Rays. They won the final Founder's Cup in August 2003 and returned to RFK a few days later - minus the players who were playing in the 2003 Women's World Cup - for a victory celebration with the fans, which would be their final WUSA event at RFK. WUSA suspended operation in the next month. Their victory in the Founders Cup means that the Freedom won both the first and last games in WUSA history. For a time, their championship banner hung in RFK, but when the Nationals moved in, the banner was moved to the Maryland Soccerplex.

The Freedom maintained an existence, first as exhibition team called the Washington Freedom Soccer Club, and then as a member of the W-League and the Women's Professional Soccer league in 2006. Their home stadium was the Maryland Soccerplex, but they continued to play a few games at RFK. In 2004, the played an exhibition at Nottingham Forest, which they won 8-0.[66] They returned again on June 22, 2008 in a W-League match, which they won 5-0, against the Richmond Kickers Destiny that was part of a doubleheader with DC United.[67] In 2009, the Freedom moved to the WPS and while they continued to play most of their home games in Maryland, they played 3 of their 10 home games at RFK in 2009 and one game there in 2010.[68][69] In the years after WUSA suspended operations, the Freedom went 5-0-1 at RFK, bringing their combined RFK total to 20-9-7. After the 2010 season, the Freedom's owners had had enough, and sold the team to Dan Borislow, owner of the phone service MagicJack. He moved them to Boca Raton, Florida for the team's last season. The Freedom's final game at RFK was a 3-1 victory over Saint Louis Athletica on May 1, 2010.

Whips (1967–68)

In 1967, D.C. Stadium became the home of its first professional soccer team, the Washington Whips. They played 23 regular season games at D.C. Stadium over 16 months, putting together a 13-5-5 home record as well as a home loss in an exhibition against Pele's Santos Club.[70] 20,189 fans attended the Santos exhibition, more than three times as large as a typical Whips match, making it the most heavily attended soccer game in Washington, DC history at the time. The game was heavily promoted in the local press and the Whips, who were struggling to attract fans to their regular matches, provided additional incentive through a “Meet Pele” contest.[45]

RFK served as the venue for the inaugural match of the new United Soccer Association (USA), a May 26, 1967 match between the Whips and the Cleveland Stokers, which the Stokers won. Although the Whips secured a lease agreement to play its home games at D.C. Stadium, Armory Board officials prohibited practice sessions at the venue and so the team practiced on the old polo grounds between the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials.[45]

In their first season, the Whips were one of the league's top teams and they were staffed by the Aberdeen Football Club of the Scottish Football League, or the Aberdeen Dons. They finished 5–2–5, good enough to win the Eastern Division and play for the USA Championship against the Los Angeles Wolves. A coin toss placed the game in Los Angeles instead of D.C. and the Whips lost the championship game 6–5 on an own goal in overtime, in front of 17,842 fans on the Wolves' home field.[45]

Despite success on the field, the team struggled to make money. The owner's estimated that they needed to attract 16,000 fans per game, but they never broke 10,000 and averaged only 6,200 fans. Towards the end of the 1967 season, the Whips resorted to organizing British Isles sporting contests such as cricket, hurling, and rugby before games in hopes of luring expatriates.[45]

In 1968, in order to stay viable, they negotiated a reduction in the RFK stadium lease agreement and reduced the admission price by one-third; offering further discounts for youth under the age of eighteen, college students, and active military personnel. The USA merged with the National Professional Soccer League to form the new North American Soccer League. Despite problems on and off the field, the team found itself in a high-stakes hunt for a playoff spot and towards the end of the season crowds swelled to five figures, the largest reaching 14,227 in what proved to be the deciding match for the NASL Atlantic Division title. This September 7, 1968 match against the Atlanta Chiefs would be the last for the Whips at D.C. Stadium. That season, the team went 15-10-7 and finished 2nd in the Atlantic division, but was only able to draw an average of 6,586 fans. After a tour of Europe, the Whips folded in October 1968.[45]

Federals (1983–1984)

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.

Team America (1983)

Team America was a professional version of the United States men's national soccer team which played as a franchise in the North American Soccer League (NASL) during the 1983 season. The team played its home games at RFK Stadium, and was intended by the NASL and the United States Soccer Federation to build fan support for the league and create a cohesive and internationally competitive national team. However, the team finished in last place and drew only 12,000 fans per game.

Team America played 19 games at RFK. In those games they went 5-10 in NASL matches and tied three friendlies against Watford (UK), Dynamo Minsk (USSR) and Juventas (Italy).

The team's initial attendance figures were decent enough: an average of 19,952 through the first seven home matches.[71] (This was a little misleading, however: the figure includes the 50,108 who attended a match vs. Fort Lauderdale that featured a free Beach Boys concert; the other six matches averaged just 14,926.) As the losses piled up, though, the fans stopped coming to RFK: barely 55,000 showed up for the last eight home games combined, lowering Team America's average to just 13,002 for the entire 1983 season.[72] After the 1983 season, Team America disbanded.


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.[citation needed] 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 58,000+ 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.[73] In August 2014, Events D.C. chose the consulting firm of Brailsford & Dunlavey to create the master plan.[74]

Seating capacity

South exterior of RFK Stadium in August 2017


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


A Washington Nationals game at RFK, June 2005

Two professional baseball teams called RFK home, the Senators and the Nationals. In between the stadium hosted an assortment of exhibition games, old-timer games, and at least one college baseball exhibition game. In addition, from 1988 to 1991 the RFK auxiliary field served as the home stadium of the George Washington Colonials baseball team, and hosted some Howard University and Interhigh League and D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association championship baseball games.

  • 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.[90]
  • 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.[91] It was the last game played in Washington by a Washington, D.C., MLB team until 2005.
  • July 19, 1982: At the first Cracker Jack Old Timers Baseball Classic exhibition game, attended by over 30,000 fans, 75-year-old Hall of Famer Luke Appling hit a home run against the National League's Warren Spahn.[92] 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. Warren Spahn applauded him as he rounded the bases. Five more Cracker Jack All Star games would be hosted at RFK before the event moved to Buffalo, NY. During that time, Hall of Famers and stars such as Joe Dimaggio, Bob Feller, Stan Musial, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Sandy Koufax, Roger Maris, Whitey Ford and Washington favorite Frank Howard would take the field. There was even a conversation about allowing then-Vice President George H.W. Bush, who'd captained Yale's College World Series team, to play one year.[93]
  • 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.[94][95]
  • May 6, 1989 - George Washington University defeated the Soviet national baseball 20-1.[96]
  • April 3, 1998: The Orioles and Mets meet for the fourth exhibition game since baseball left Washington DC.[97]
  • 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.[98]
  • 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.[99]
  • 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.[100]
  • 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.


RFK was the home of two professional football teams, two college football teams, a bowl game and more than one college all-star game. It hosted neutral-site college football games, various HBCU games, and high school championship games.[101]

Professional football

  • November 27, 1966: The Washington Redskins beat the New York Giants 72–41. The 113 combined points are the most ever scored in an NFL game.
  • December 14, 1969: The Redskins defeat the New Orleans Saints 17-14 in what would be Vince Lombardi's last victory. The Redskins would lose the next week at Dallas, and Lombardi would die just before the start of the 1970 season.
  • November 20, 1972: RFK Stadium hosts its first Monday Night Football game. The Washington Redskins defeat the Atlanta Falcons 24-13.
  • December 31, 1972, the Redskins defeat the Dallas Cowboys 26–3 in the NFC Championship Game to earn a trip to Super Bowl VII.
  • October 8, 1973: In a Monday Night Football game, Redskins safety Ken Houston stops Cowboys' running back Walt Garrison at the goal line as time expired to secure a win.
  • December 17, 1977: The Redskins defeat the Los Angeles Rams 17–14 in what would be head coach George Allen's final game with the team.
  • October 25, 1981: The Redskins narrowly beat the New England Patriots 24–22 to earn head coach Joe Gibbs his first win at RFK Stadium.
  • Oct 17, 1982 First NFLPA’s all-star games during the 1982 NFL strike[102]
  • January 22, 1983: The stadium physically shakes as a capacity crowd of 54,000 chants "We Want Dallas" taunting the hated Cowboys in the NFC Championship Game. The Redskins go on to defeat the Cowboys 31–17 to earn a trip to Super Bowl XVII where they beat the Miami Dolphins 27–17 to claim the franchise's first Super Bowl win.
  • March 6, 1983: The Washington Federals of the United States Football League play their first game, losing to the Chicago Blitz 28-7 before 38,007 fans at RFK stadium in the USFL's first nationally televised game.[103] The Federals never draw more than 15,000 fans again.[103]
  • September 5, 1983: Redskins' rookie cornerback Darrell Green chases down Cowboys' running back Tony Dorsett from behind to prevent him from scoring. However, the Redskins ended up losing late in the fourth quarter.
  • May 6, 1984: The Washington Federals play their final game, losing in overtime to the Memphis Showboats at RFK Stadium before 4,432 fans, the smallest crowd in USFL history.[103]
  • November 18, 1985: Giants' linebacker Lawrence Taylor sacks Redskins' quarterback Joe Theismann, severely breaking his leg and ending his NFL career. Backup quarterback Jay Schroeder comes in and leads the Redskins to a 23–21 victory on Monday Night Football.
  • January 17, 1988: Cornerback Darrell Green knocks down a Wade Wilson pass at the goal line to clinch a victory over the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship game. The Redskins go on to defeat the Denver Broncos 42–10 in Super Bowl XXII.
  • January 4, 1992: In a pouring rain, the Redskins beat the Atlanta Falcons 24–7 in the Divisional round of the playoffs. After a touchdown scored by Redskins fullback Gerald Riggs with 6:32 remaining in the fourth quarter, the fans shower the field with the free yellow seat cushions given to them when they entered the stadium.
  • January 12, 1992: The Redskins beat the Detroit Lions 41–10 in the NFC Championship Game earning a trip to Super Bowl XXVI where they beat the Buffalo Bills 37–24. This was the last time the RFK held a post-season game.
  • December 13, 1992: Redskins' head coach Joe Gibbs coaches what would be his last win at RFK Stadium. The Redskins defeat the Cowboys 20–17.
  • September 6, 1993: RFK Stadium hosts its last Monday Night Football game as the Redskins open their season by defeating the Dallas Cowboys 35-16.
  • December 22, 1996: The Redskins won their last game in the stadium, defeating their arch-rivals, the Dallas Cowboys, 37–10. A capacity crowd of 56,454 fans watched the game, tying the football record set against the Detroit Lions in 1995. It was the last professional football game played at RFK. In a halftime ceremony, several past Redskins greats were introduced, wearing replicas of the jerseys of their time. After the game, fans storm the field and rip up chunks of grass as souvenirs. In the parking lot, fans are seen walking away with the stadium's burgundy and gold seats.

Bowl games

HBCU games

  • September 30, 1972 - Grambling beat Prairie View, 38-12.
  • Timmie Football Classic (1974-1975) Grambling vs. Morgan State[105]
  • Nov 4, 1978 - Tennessee State vs North Carolina-Central faced off in an attempted reboot of the Capitol Classic, though renamed "A Touch of Greatness".[106]
  • Nation's Capital Football Classic (1991) - Delaware State defeated Jackson State 37-34[107]

College All-Star Games

  • U.S. Bowl (1962) - A college all-star game that lasted only one season. Galen Hall was the game's only MVP.[108]
  • Freedom Bowl All-Star Classic (1986)[109]
  • All-America Classic (1993)[110]

Neutral site games for local colleges

  • October 17, 1965: Navy beat Pitt, 12-0.[111]
  • October 17, 1970: In their 4th ever meeting, Air Force beat Navy 26-3.[112]
  • November 4, 1972: Kentucky State defeated Federal City 26-8, in the only football game by a UDC school.[113]
  • October 4, 1975: Navy beat Air Force, 17-0.[114]
  • November 11, 1995: Virginia Tech clinched a share of the Big East title with a win over Temple.[115]
  • November 11, 2000: Salisbury defeated Frostburg State, 18-8 to win the 2nd Regents Cup.[116]
  • November 10, 2001: In the only college football game at RFK to go into overtime, Frostburg State beat Salisbury 30-24 to win the 3rd Regents Cup.[117]
  • September 30, 2017: Harvard defeated Georgetown, 41-7 in what may be the last football game at RFK.[118]


D.C. United after their win in the 2004 MLS Eastern Conference finals

Although not designed for soccer, RFK Stadium, starting in the mid-1970s, became a center of American soccer, rivaled only by the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, in terms of its history as a soccer venue.[37] It is the only facility in the World to have hosted the FIFA World Cup (in 1994), the FIFA Women's World Cup (in 2003), an Olympic group stage (in 1996), the MLS Cup (in 1997, 2000, and 2007), the North American Soccer League's Soccer Bowl (in 1980) and CONCACAF Champions' Cup matches (in 1988 and 1998).[37] The United States men's national soccer team played more of its matches at RFK stadium than at any other site,[37] and D.C. United played 347 regular-season matches there.

In addition to being the home stadium of DC United, the Diplomats, the Freedom, the Whips and Team America, RFK also hosted three friendly Washington Darts games in 1970.[119]

Notable soccer dates at the stadium include:

  • May 26, 1967: Professional soccer's debut game at D.C. Stadium is also the inaugural game of the new United Soccer Association. 9,403 fans show up to watch the Washington Whips lose 2-1 to the Cleveland Stokers.[120]
  • July 14, 1968: Pelé's D.C. Stadium debut, before a District record soccer crowd of 20,189 fans. Pele's Santos squad defeated the Washington Whips 3 to 1.
  • September 7, 1968: In a de facto Atlantic Division championship game, the Whips lost to the Atlanta Chiefs before 14,227 fans, the largest, non-exhibition home crowd in Whips history. It would be the last Whips game at D.C. Stadium.
  • September 19, 1970: In what we be the largest crowd to ever watch a Washington Darts match, 13,878 fans come to RFK to watch them take on Pelé and his Santos squad. They lost 7-4. The Darts also lost their two other RFK matches, against Hertha Berlin and Coventry City the prior May.[121]
  • May 4, 1974: The Washington Diplomats play their first game at RFK, a 5-1 loss to the Philadelphia Atoms. 10,145 fans attend.
  • June 29, 1975: A District record 35,620 fans show up to see Pelé in his first game in DC with the New York Cosmos as they take on the Washington Diplomats. Cosmos wins 9-2.
  • August 6, 1977: Playing for the New York Cosmos, Pelé plays his final regular-season game in the North American Soccer League, facing the Washington Diplomats at RFK Stadium. He scores the Cosmos' only goal, but the Diplomats upset the Cosmos 2-1 before 31,283 fans.[122]
  • October 6, 1977: The United States men's national soccer team plays its first match at the stadium versus China.
  • August 19, 1979: The Diplomats drop their first-ever home playoff game to the Los Angeles Aztecs 4-1.
  • June 1, 1980: In a nationally televised game, before a then District record crowd of 53,351 - the largest ever for NASL game in DC - the Diplomats lose a controversial game to the Cosmos, 2–1.[123][124]
  • August 27, 1980: The Diplomats top the Los Angeles Aztecs 1-0 in the only home playoff victory in the franchise's NASL history.
  • September 21, 1980: In the Soccer Bowl '80, before a crowd of 50,768, the New York Cosmos defeat the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, 3–0.
  • August 16, 1981: The Washington Diplomats of the NASL play their last game at RFK, a 5-1 victory over the Toronto Blizzard.
  • April 23, 1983: Team America, a Washington, D.C.-based NASL franchise, plays its first game, defeating the Seattle Sounders 1-0 at RFK Stadium.[125]
  • June 14: 1983: 50,108 fans come to watch Team America play Fort Lauderdale followed a Beach Boys concert. The largest NASL crowd in RFK history saw Team America win 2-1 after a shootout.
  • September 3, 1983: Team America plays its last game, a 2-0 loss to the Fort Lauderdale Strikers at RFK Stadium. The team folds after a single season, leaving Washington, D.C., without a professional soccer franchise until 1988.[125]
  • April 17, 1988: In the first pro soccer game in DC in over 4 years, the new Washington Diplomats lost 2-1 to the New Jersey Eagles in front of a crowd of just 2,451.[126]
  • June 28, 1988: The Washington Diplomats lose to Monarcas Morelia 2-1 in the first of a two-game second-round series between the teams as part of the CONCACAF Champions' Cup. The second game, two days later, would also result in a 2-1 loss.[127]
  • August 13, 1988: In their first ever home playoff game in the ASL, the Diplomats top the New Jersey Eagles, 4-1.
  • August 21, 1988: In the first game of the 1988 American Soccer League finals, the Washington Diplomats defeat the Fort Lauderdale Strikers 5-3 before 5,745 fans at RFK Stadium. The Diplomats will defeat the Strikers again at Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for a surprising American Soccer League championship in the league's first season.
  • June 29, 1989: The Diplomats host the ASL All-Star game, losing to the All-Stars 2-1 in front of a crowd of 4,375
  • June 24, 1990: In their last game at RFK Stadium, the Diplomats lose to the Maryland Bays 4-2. Because of conflicts with concerts, they played their last two home games at RFK Stadium's auxiliary field, losing their last one 4-0 to the Miami Freedom on July 22, 1990.[48] Pro soccer wouldn't return for more than five years.
  • June 13, 1993: a record-setting crowd of 54,118 show up to watch England tie Brazil 1-1 in the US Cup.[124]
  • August 21, 1993: A.C. Milan defeats Torino F.C. 1–0 to win their second consecutive Supercoppa Italiana.
  • June 28, 1994: 53,186 fans show up to watch Italy and Mexico during the World Cup in what becomes the 6th highest attendance soccer match in RFK history.[124]
  • June 29, 1994: Saeed Al-Owairan of the Saudi Arabia national football team sprints the length of the field and weaves through a maze of Belgium national football team players to score a stunning individual goal, giving Saudi Arabia a 1-0 upset victory over Belgium in Group F of the FIFA 1994 World Cup. The goal later is voted the sixth-greatest FIFA World Cup goal of the 20th century. The win helps Saudi Arabia to advance to the second round of the FIFA World Cup for the first time.[128][129]
  • July 2, 1994: The 1994 FIFA World Cup concludes its play in RFK as Spain defeats Switzerland 3–0 in the Round of Sixteen (RFK had earlier hosted four group-play games).
  • June 18, 1995: In the U.S. Cup the United States defeats Mexico 4-0, with goals by Roy Wegerle (3' min), Thomas Dooley (25th min), John Harkes (36' min) and Claudio Reyna (67' min).
  • April 20, 1996: D.C. United plays its first game at RFK Stadium, losing 2-1 to the LA Galaxy.
  • July 24, 1996: Soccer at the 1996 Summer Olympics includes the final match for the US side, which needed a win against Portugal to advance out of group play, but tied 1–1 (five other Olympic matches were played in RFK as part of the Atlanta Olympics).[130] Attendance for the U.S. match versus Portugal was 58,012 – the largest crowd ever for a sporting event at RFK Stadium.[124]
  • October 30, 1996: Ten days after winning the first Major League Soccer title, D.C. United defeats the Rochester Raging Rhinos 3–1 in the U.S. Open Cup final, achieving the first "double" in the modern American soccer era.
  • October 26, 1997: D.C. United defeats the Colorado Rapids 2–1 to win their second consecutive MLS Cup. 57,431 fans attend, the 2nd largest soccer crowd in DC history, and the largest for a professional league match.[124]
  • August 16, 1998: D.C. United defeats CD Toluca of Mexico 1–0 to win the CONCACAF Champions' Cup, becoming the first American team to do so and marking their first victory in an international tournament.
  • October 15, 2000: the Kansas City Wizards defeat the Chicago Fire 1–0 to win their first MLS Cup.
  • April 11, 2001: D.C. United defeats Arnett Gardens 2–1 in the second leg of the CONCACAF Giants Cup quarterfinals.
  • April 14, 2001: The Washington Freedom defeats the Bay Area CyberRays 1–0 in the inaugural match of the Women's United Soccer Association.
  • Sept. 1, 2001: 54,282 people, the largest ever for a world cup qualifier at RFK, show up to watch the USA men vs. Honduras.[124]
  • August 3, 2002: In the MLS All-Star Game, a team of MLS players defeat the U.S. Men's National Team 3–2. D.C. United midfielder Marco Etcheverry is named MVP.
  • July 30, 2003: Ronaldinho makes his debut for FC Barcelona against A.C. Milan in a pre-season tour of the United States. Ronaldinho had a goal and an assist as Barcelona defeated defending European champion Milan 2–0 in an exhibition game that drew 45,864 to RFK Stadium.[131][132]
  • August 2, 2003: The Washington Freedom defeat the San Jose Cyber Rays in their last game at RFK as part of WUSA. The win clinches them a playoff spot and the Freedom go on to win the last Founder's Cup, which is awarded to the winner of the post-season playoff.
  • September 21, 2003: 2003 Women's World Cup opening ceremonies and first match. RFK would host 6 matches during the tournament.
  • April 3, 2004: Freddy Adu debuts with D.C. United at RFK with a capacity soccer crowd of 24,603.[133] At age 14, Adu was, and still is, the youngest player to play in MLS.
  • November 6, 2004: D.C. United win the Eastern Conference final by tying the New England Revolution 3–3 and advancing on penalty kicks in what is generally regarded as one of the greatest games in MLS history. They would go on to defeat the Kansas City Wizards 3–2 in the MLS Cup.
  • July 31, 2004: RFK Stadium hosts its second and last MLS All-Star Game. The East beats the West 3-2.
  • August 9, 2007: David Beckham debuts for the MLS Los Angeles Galaxy, losing to home team D.C. United before a sellout crowd of 46,686 fans, the fourth largest to watch MLS at RFK Stadium.
  • September 2, 2009: Seattle Sounders FC defeats D.C. United 2–1 in the 2009 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final. This marked the first of Seattle's record-tying three consecutive Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup titles.
  • October 23, 2010: Jaime Moreno scores on a penalty kick in his final game as a D.C. United player to retire as the all-time leading scorer in MLS history. United would lose the match, 3–2, to Toronto FC.
  • May 1, 2010: The Washington Freedom's last game at RFK, a 3-1 victory over Saint Louis Athletica
  • June 19, 2011: Quarterfinal of 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup, USA vs. Jamaica. US defeats Jamaica 2–0 and moves onto the Semi-Final. In the second game of the double header El Salvador played Panama to a 1–1 tie. Panama won in a shoot out in front of 46,000 people.
  • June 2, 2013: The United States defeated #2 ranked Germany 4–3 in a friendly commemorating the 100th anniversary of the U.S. Soccer Federation.[134]
  • September 3, 2014: RFK hosts a triple-header on the first day of the group stage of the Central American Cup USA 2014[135]
  • October 20, 2014: The United States women's national soccer team defeats the Haiti women's national football team 6-0 in the 2014 CONCACAF Women's Championship, which also acts as a qualifying tournament for the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup.
  • March 1, 2016: Querétaro eliminated D.C. United from the CONCACAF Champions League with a 1-1 tie, the last of four Champions League matches at RFK during the 2015-2016 season.[136]
  • October 22, 2017: In front of 41,418 fans (the highest attendance at the stadium since David Beckham's debut game), the New York Red Bulls beat D.C. United 2-1 in United's last match at RFK Stadium.[39]

College soccer

RFK hosted at least two college soccer games, once when Maryland moved their game there due to wet field conditions at Ludwig Field and again for a scheduled game following their national championship season. It has hosted several other Maryland games at the auxiliary field.

  • November 8, 1997: Maryland Terps defeated Ohio State 2-1[137]
  • April 20, 2009: Maryland lost to Wake Forrest 3-1.[138]

United States men's national team matches

The United States men's national soccer team has played more games at RFK Stadium than any other stadium.[139] At times it was 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.[140][141] 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

1994 FIFA World Cup matches

Date Time (UTC−5) Team #1 Res. Team #2 Round Attendance
1994-06-19 16:00  Norway 1-0  Mexico Group E 52,395
1994-06-24 19:30  Netherlands 2-1  Saudi Arabia Group F 50,535
1994-06-25 12:30  Italy 1-1  Mexico Group E 52,535
1994-06-29 12:30  Belgium 0-1  Saudi Arabia Group F 52,959
1994-07-02 16:30  Spain 3-0   Switzerland Round of 16 53,121


On May 22, 1993 Riddick Bowe, in front of a crowd of 9000, recorded a second-round knockout over Jesse Ferguson to retain his WBA heavyweight title. On the same day Roy Jones recorded a unanimous decision over Bernard Hopkins to capture the vacant IBF middleweight title.

Motor sports

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.[142] Prior to the race, residents living near the stadium were concerned about traffic, parking, and the noise 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.[143] 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.[144] 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).[145][146]


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.[147][148] He won $50,000 and a kiss from Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly.[149] Steve Hegg won the stage.[150]

Rugby union

On 26 February 2018 it was announced that Wales national rugby union team would play a "ground-breaking fixture[151]" against South Africa national rugby union team at RFK Stadium on 2 June 2018. It is "Wales’ fifth test on US soil, the previous four outings all against the United States national rugby union team.[152]"


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.

List of concerts

Other events

  • 1960–1962 – Record crowds of more than 47,000 packed the then-new D.C. Stadium on Thanksgiving Day for the City Title football game.[158] The stadium would continue to host the city's interhigh championship game every year thereafter until the 1990s.[159]
  • May 26–27, 1995 – 52,000 men attended a two-day long Promise Keepers event.
  • November 27, 1997 – At an event called "Blessings '97", Reverend Sun Myung Moon and his wife, Hak Ja Han Moon, officiated over a mass wedding that drew 40,000 people including 2,500 Unification Church couples who consented to arranged marriages.[160]
  • 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.[161]
  • June 26, 2015 – RFK hosted the Opening Ceremony for the 2015 Police and Fire Games.[162]

In film

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.[163] (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

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

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.


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Further reading

  • "Remembering RFK as a Truly Multipurpose Stadium" (September 2007), The Washington Post

External links

  • Official website
  • D.C. United RFK Stadium page
  • Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium at the Wayback Machine (archived August 19, 2000)
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