The Washington Monument. The Lincoln Memorial. RFK Stadium. Years from now, when the latter is a fixture on open top bus tours of the nation’s capital, guides will likely opine about the Founding Fathers. Jeff Agoos, Eddie Pope and Marco Etcheverry. No disrespect to the Washington Diplomats, who played in RFK before DC United. They were more like colonists pre-1776.
This weekend, DC United will play their final game in Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium after 22 glorious - and some not so glorious - seasons. The House that Harkes Built (Please don’t question hyperbole in this eulogy, GFOPs. There is more to come.) is like that 1984 Honda Accord that still sits in your driveway. Even though it takes a half hour to start and the tape deck was stolen in ‘94, you can’t bring yourself to sell it. It’s not big on functionality. But it’s huge on heart. And filled with memories. With friends. With family. Awkward double dates (who knew love wouldn’t blossom at Jaime Moreno’s last game?). In an attempt to honor a stadium in which I’ve seen more football than any other, I give you my three favorite RFK memories.
1. USA vs. Costa Rica (Oct. 2009) - This was meant to be a massive party. We had clinched a spot at the World Cup in South Africa days prior in a 3-2 win at Honduras. But the mood was somber. Less than 48 hours before the game, Charlie Davies, then seen as Jozy’s strike partner for the next decade, was severely injured in a horrific car wreck. The night of the game, the scriptwriters went all Thomas Hardy and delivered a driving, cold rain on those who turned out, portending the USMNT’s sluggish first half performance. Two goals down after 23 minutes thanks to a pair of Brian Ruiz goals and someone had officially peed in the punch. But midway through the second half, Michael Bradley clawed one back, and RFK got a little of its swagger back. The crowd started to drive the U.S. toward an equalizer. And in the 95th minute, it was American Peter Crouch, Jonathan Bornstein, who headed home a corner right in front of where I sat with three friends. In “researching” (see emailing my buddies) this out, my longtime friend Fuj sent me THIS AMAZING VIDEO of that goal he shot from our seats.
It gives me chills to relive. It also captures RFK in all its pomp. Stands shaking (literally). Beers flying. The World Cup send off party was officially back on. After the game, the players walked around the soggy turf holding No. 9 signs for Davies. It was all love, laced with an unbridled optimism for the future of our men’s team. Ah, optimism.
2. DC United vs. LA Galaxy (April 1996) - The very first DC United regular season game at RFK Stadium. My family - fresh back from four years living in England where my military father was stationed - purchased a six-game season ticket. And we were treated to the first of 371 MLS games played at RFK. We sat in the lower bowl and I remember being taken aback at the emotion of genuine happiness that filled the place. Keep in mind I’d just spent four years watching games in the UK, primarily at Ipswich, Leicester and Coventry, where the predominant emotion was anger. I don’t remember the goals in a 2-1 DC loss, but looking back, I see that Raul Diaz Arce scored the first of his impressive haul that day. The game was like witnessing a first date between the team and the city. The chemistry was obvious from the jump. Side note: I want to say - but cannot confirm - Andrew Shue was on the bench for the Galaxy. Would love to hear from GFOPs with a better memory than myself.
3. DC United vs. Chivas (July 2008) - The most RFK-y of all my RFK experiences. A stadium that did not put on airs for anyone. It is old and dilapidated. Equal parts eyesore and safety hazard. But when it hummed, hot damn was it fun. All of this was on full display during a North American Superliga (a short-lived tournament for Mexican, American and Canadian clubs that I had to look up to remember what it was) tilt with Chivas. Actual Chivas. Not Bradley Edwin Guzan Chivas. The result, a 2-1 Chivas win, stands out less than two other occurrences during the match, for which about 10 friends and I sat in the sparsely populated upper deck. The first happened a few minutes into the second half when my friends Kevin and Ted returned to our seats with 22 oz. beers in GLASS bottles. My friend Kevin recalls, “I remember going to the concourse and all the concession stands were closed. There were guys with folding tables and coolers of beer. Some of the bottles were glass.” A perfect encapsulation of how RFK rolls. No concession stands. No problems. Some random dudes will set up folding tables and sell beers. The second incident happened shortly after their return when the vast majority of the stadium lights went out. Just shut off. And play continued in the shadows, until the referee stopped the game. It took about 20 minutes, but eventually the lights went back on and normal service resumed. Peak RFK.
Sunday, the lights go out at RFK for good. I’m thrilled that what is oft-slept on as a truly great soccer region in this country, the DMV, is finally shedding its MLS 1.0 skin and moving on up. And I absolutely cannot wait to visit Audi Field in Buzzard Point next season. But Sunday, around 4 p.m., I’ll pour a sip out for what is this country’s Jamestown settlement of soccer, as the Barra Brava makes the stands in Southeast shake one last time. GFOPs, we want to relive your favorite RFK Moments. Send them to us HERE.