District Celebrates 50th Anniversary of RFK Stadium

Dorothy Rowley | 10/5/2011, 6:20 p.m.
City officials, accompanied by a contingent of local sports organization heads and former athletes who...

City officials, accompanied by a contingent of local sports organization heads and former athletes who once proved their mettle on the field at RFK Stadium, gathered there Wednesday in commemoration of the iconic landmark's 50th anniversary.

During the hour-long ceremony, Mayor Vincent Gray, City Council Chairman Kwame Brown, legendary Redskins' football player Charles Mann and former George Washington University gridder Norm Everson were among those who shared memories of the stadium, located in Northeast.

"This [anniversary kick-off] event has great significance," said Gray, who referred to facility where the Washington Redskins played their last game in 1996, as a "venerable stadium after providing 50 years of service" to the District and its residents.

In addition to displaying the official anniversary logo, Events DC announced activities slated to take place through December that coincide with the celebration theme, "I Remember." Through the "I Remember" campaign, fans will be able to share videos, photos and comments on their most memorable RFK Stadium stories and experiences.

The facility, which has become synonymous with the nation's capital, first opened in 1961 as the District of Columbia Stadium. It was renamed in 1969 in honor of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy who was assassinated in June of that year. Since then, in addition to housing a variety of sports events, the stadium has drawn hundreds of other attractions, including the 1984 Victory Tour brought to town by the Jacksons and their brother Michael.

Everson, 68, still lives in D.C. He recalled playing on the stadium's field when racism was still very prevalent in the District.

"Please appreciate the fact that we sit on hallowed ground," Everson said. In putting RFK on the same level of the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials, he insisted that the stadium must be preserved. "It took D.C. from the dark ages to the age of enlightenment," said Everson.

Mann, 50, said his heart raced when as he walked onto the field for the first times in years. He said the experience took him back to game time. "It was a sad day when the Redskins left," Mann said of team's departure.

Today, RFK is mostly used to host college football games such the recent inaugural AT&T Football Classic and the Military Bowl.

In recent years, RFK has been noted for problems with its infrastructure that include inadequate plumbing. There has also been concern over possible rodent infestation.

While Gray mentioned that some people prefer to focus on what the stadium lacks, he said it remains rich in "history, legacy and soul."

Brown said District residents want to see RFK restored to its prime, and that he felt confident that the city "has all the right components in place to take plans [for restoration] to the next level."

Official RFK Stadium 50th Anniversary Events include:

Oct. 15: D.C. United 's game versus the Chicago Fire to recognize RFK's history

Oct. 29: RFK Fan Appreciation Day with free guided tours of the stadium, as well as a display of historic memorabilia

Nov. 19: RFK 50th Anniversary Dinner at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center

Dec. 28: The Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman Corp. will be held at RFK