A Great Day
in the Rain
By William Gildea
RFK Stadium echoed like a great foreign soccer venue yesterday. It seemed like Wembley in London, the Olympic Stadium in Rome or Barcelona. It was something rarely seen or heard in the District's venerable arena that has been the scene of a score of Washington Redskins-Dallas Cowboys classics and 1994 World Cup games.
A crowd of 57,318 huddled together in a cold rain and roared all-out approval as D.C. United beat Colorado, 2-1, to win the MLS Cup '97, Major League Soccer's championship game. The cheering, foot-stomping, horn-blowing and singing celebrated the home team's second title in the league's two years of existence.
"This is a great day for professional soccer in the United States," said D.C. United Coach Bruce Arena. "Who would have imagined this five years ago? Once again, I applaud my team. It's very difficult to repeat."
The spectacular scene at RFK was only part of a remarkable day as Washingtonians came out to play in large numbers. For the first time, the area's two sports stadiums, RFK and Jack Kent Cooke Stadium, were the sites of action on the same day, drawing a total of 132,385 fans.
Another 18,000 people ran in the 22nd Marine Corps Marathon yesterday morning, cheered on by thousands who ignored the weather to line District and Virginia streets.
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, wearing a white jacket and dark cap to protect against the elements, began the marathon and the day's activities at 8:47 a.m. by firing the starter's pistol to send the runners pouring through slick streets and sometimes muddy terrain.
At Jack Kent Cooke Stadium, fans of the Redskins and Baltimore Ravens cheered their teams side by side. It was the first time that an NFL team representing Baltimore had played at the Redskins' home stadium since Dec. 13, 1981, when the Redskins defeated the Baltimore Colts, 38-14. This time the Redskins lost, 20-17.
"We hope to restore the old rivalry," said Joe Varnadore of North Beach, Md., one of the famed Hogettes. "It's wonderful. We just like to play each other. This whole area, Baltimore and Washington, is a megalopolis one neighborhood."
It was a day when fans had to be hearty to enjoy themselves, and soccer's enthusiasts clearly were. Most garbed in rain gear, they marched resolutely on RFK in hopes of seeing a successful title defense by United. They chanted outside the stadium gates, and inside sent up cries of "D.C.! D.C.!" as the home team went on the offensive from the beginning of play. Smoke from flares sent up by some rooters floated above the field in the opening minutes as the skies darkened and the rain poured along with confetti a surreal setting if ever there was one.
The group of United devotees calling themselves Barra Brava helped shake the stands in the continuing din. Rob and Leigh Teichman, who used to live in Columbia, came all the way from St. Louis to see MLS Cup '97 even though it meant they had to take turns holding 5-month-old daughter Alison, bundled in a pink blanket.
"We've found a nice dry spot," said the father, standing on a last-row bench under cover. "We were here when D.C. United started. This is a great crowd, a great crowd."
"Awesome," said Gabriel Alarcon of Sterling. "Everybody here is having a grand time. It's difficult to control the ball in this kind of weather. My heart is with United, but you never know in this kind of weather. I hope they score first."
Shortly, United did score. Jaime Moreno fired a low flat 12-yarder in the 37th minute. It almost seemed like a soccer rout when Tony Sanneh added another goal in the 68th minute, but Colorado rallied with a goal to heighten the excitement. D.C. United, however, successfully ran the clock, and within moments its players were hoisting the MLS Cup.
Amid the celebration, about 50 fans were injured when railings on the stadium's north side collapsed. Police said the incident occurred when United players went to that side of the stadium to have their photos taken. Fans flocked to the area, and the railings collapsed under the weight. All but two people, who were taken to the hospital, were treated at the stadium for minor injuries.
Later, D.C. players hugged one another in the locker room as if they didn't care when the rain stopped; last year they won the title in torrential conditions at Foxboro Stadium.
"Last year's championship was special, but this year was different," said United's Marco Etcheverry. "With the season we had, we expected the championship. We worked hard as a team to make it happen, putting in extra hours after training to get to this game because we felt this is where we belonged."
For the most part, the mood was distinctly different at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium, where a crowd of 75,067 watched the Ravens defeat the Redskins. Boos cascaded in Landover as quarterback Gus Frerotte and his Redskins teammates were frustrated repeatedly by the Ravens, who were cheered by an outnumbered but vocal contingent from the Baltimore area. "I just want them [Ravens] to play .500 ball," said Ravens fan Tom Bradley, at the game with his friend, Tony Calvert of Glen Burnie. "Two years from now we'll be there. We've got to be patient with this team."
There was a sense of irony that subway trains carrying Redskin fans from Landover to downtown stopped at RFK long enough to pick up a few wet soccer fans who had left their game early. The soccer fans were happier than the Redskins fans.
Most who competed in the Marine Corps Marathon considered it a victory just to cross the finish line. It was an ordeal negotiating the course, with most runners realizing quickly that the elements would preclude any records. It was even tougher for wheelchair competitors, who had to negotiate the slick streets and often had their hands slip on wet wheels.
Crowds, particularly along M Street in Georgetown and at the Lincoln Memorial, cheered on the participants. And a wired Webbed world joined in, with computer users across the country seeking information on the race on the Internet almost as fast as event workers could provide it.
"We're on the net and it's all amazing," came one message from a chat room to the information tent. And: "Cool. Need more stuff. ... What mile? What pace? ... We are looking for #7461. . . . What's the weather like in D.C. today?"
The word went out that Darrell General appeared certain to repeat his victory of two years ago. He opened an insurmountable lead in the final miles and sped across the wet grass at the start/finish line near the Iwo Jima Memorial in 2 hours 18 minutes 20 seconds.
"My legs were kind of tight and cold," said the 31-year-old runner from Mitchellville. "I slipped a bit. I had to back off early in the race and just go for the win."
More than anything, the Marine Corps Marathon, known as "The People's Marathon," was a family event. In some cases, relatives jumped into the race for a few miles to encourage family members who were competing. Julie Bondroff, 28, of Bethesda, was joined by a cousin, Renee Barrish, of Philadelphia, for miles seven through 17, and later by her father, Bernie Bondroff of Baltimore. Julie Bondroff ran with a sign reading, "Run, Julie, Run," on her back, prompting encouragement from spectators.
Wet hair and cold feet were the order of the day. Along the race route. At the Redskins game. And, at least to some extent, at RFK. There, Scott Garlick stood out in the rain the entire time, but his attention never wavered, nor could it, since he was the D.C. United goalkeeper. He drew inspiration from the deafening sound all around him.
"I've never really heard anything like that crowd," he said. "They were 100 percent behind us. What a special feeling that was. It was great to win it for them."
© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company