Redskins make selves at home Win tops day for fans as new stadium opens

September 15, 1997|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Bill Free contributed to this article.

LANDOVER -- The Washington Redskins' long-suffering fans, who have dutifully packed themselves into undersized, shared stadiums for decades, finally got a roomy home of their own yesterday.

The debut of Jack Kent Cooke Stadium came five months too late for the namesake team owner, who had spent the better part of a decade trying to get the project completed, but died after construction began.

The crowd cheered loudly for him when the scoreboard video screen flashed a clip of the courtly sports tycoon referring to Redskins fans as "the best bloody fans in the world."

The 80,116-seat stadium, built five miles from the team's former home at RFK Stadium in Washington, is a monument both to Cooke's entrepreneurship and stubbornness. Built with $180 million of his money, the stadium lacks some of the costly finishes and architectural flourishes found in publicly financed parks.

And his insistence on building where he wanted left fans stewing for hours in traffic jams that converted several miles of the Capital Beltway into a virtual parking lot.

But most of them seemed more than willing to endure the hassles of scarce parking and opening-day glitches yesterday to cheer their favorite team to a 19-13 victory over the Arizona Cardinals in overtime.

"I think it's neat on the inside. I think there's a cozy feel to the place," said Mary Micklitsch of Bethesda, a season-ticket holder since 1968.

The pitch of the upper deck is frightfully steep, the concession stands near her seats ran out of hot dogs in the first quarter and concerns about parking had her and her husband coming out early and worrying about sitting in long lines to get out.

"We may not get home until tomorrow," she said jokingly.

But all in all, the day was a good one, she said.

Likewise, Dan McAllister of Bowie pronounced the team's new digs homey and comfortable. But something was missing for the 10-year season-ticket holder: the soul and spirit of RFK.

"Maybe there are too many distractions. After a few games, maybe the focus will be back on the game," McAllister said.

Veteran cornerback Darrell Green said: "This is home. I didn't think the crowd was subdued; I think they were into the game. I felt comfortable in this stadium, and I'm going to tell you the truth: I never thought about RFK once."

Allen Morely, a denizen of one of the stadium's 208 skyboxes, found the facilities fit and fancy. The food was top-notch, service good and at least one of the skyboxes' two washrooms worked fine.

"It's absolutely fabulous, and it works perfectly for our business," said Morely, an account manager for Keebler/Sunshine bakers. He left his home in Richmond, Va., plenty early and braved 1 1/2 hours of backups on the Capital Beltway to munch catered pasta with colleagues and customers.

Throughout the stadium were signs of the Herculean rush employed to open the facility in a record 17 months.

Some back rooms were unfinished, the paint and wallpaper looked a bit sloppy in areas and fans complained of television sets that wouldn't turn on and toilets that wouldn't stop running.

"People just aren't getting their food, and I can't do anything to help them," said one exasperated suite attendant, battling spot shortages of food items.

Stadium manager Jeff Klein said workers were at the site right up until the kickoff, getting things ready.

"It's a great building, and I think the fans had a great time out here today. There are some things we are going to improve on. It's an educational process for us," Klein said.

But compared with cramped RFK -- which succeeded the team's first Washington home, Griffith Stadium, in 1961 -- it was the Taj Mahal.

"This is a special place," said Redskins coach Norv Turner.

"I know what Jack Kent Cooke went through to get it built. Over the last year, he only talked about three things: the team, the draft and this stadium."

Pub Date: 9/15/97

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