The House Was Rockin', the Players Were Knockin'By Richard Justice
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 12, 1997; Page G10
Whatever Gibbs said that afternoon has long since been forgotten. What Grimm and his teammates experienced hasn’t.
At first, it resembled the roar of a jet engine parked outside their door. Then it was accompanied by the rocking of an earthquake.
"It sounded like the place was going to come apart," Grimm recalled 15 years later. "It was like nothing you’d ever heard."
Finally, the roar became decipherable and players nodded and smiled in awe as they understood that what they were hearing was a long, loud chant.
We want Dallas!
In the hearts and minds of Redskins fans, that afternoon—and others like it—was one of the reasons that RFK Stadium was the best place on earth to watch an NFL game. It had the loudest fans, the most intimidating atmosphere, and for 35 seasons, no NFL team had a better home-field advantage.
In 35 seasons at RFK Stadium, the Redskins lost one playoff game. They never lost an NFC championship game there, and between 1969 and 1992, never had a losing record at home. It was where Sonny Jurgensen played and George Allen coached. It was Billy Kilmer’s home field. And Joe Theismann’s. And Art Monk’s. It was where Dexter Manley knocked out Danny White, and Ken Houston collared Walt Garrison and where fans threw their seat cushions in celebration of a 1992 playoff victory.
When RFK Stadium was rocking, opposing teams simply could not call audibles and had trouble getting off plays of any type. Former Redskins linebacker Monte Coleman remembers the crowd noise as sending "a cold chill over me."
So as the Redskins move to Jack Kent Cooke Stadium, one of the questions being asked by fans and players is this: Has that magical home-field advantage been lost? Will Jack Kent Cooke Stadium be as noisy and intimidating as RFK? Will the Redskins lose some of their advantage by moving into a stadium that has 25,000 more seats? Where RFK Stadium seemed cozy, Jack Kent Cooke Stadium is monumentally huge. Will that lack of coziness mean a loss of something else?
Millions of fans who loved RFK Stadium won’t like that answer. In Washington, it was always assumed that there was no place like RFK Stadium, but around the NFL, a variety of players, coaches and club executives know the truth to be otherwise.
RFK Stadium was special because the Redskins were special. Allen transformed a losing franchise into one of the NFL’s best teams, and a city fell in love with its NFL team. Gibbs kept the magic going by taking the Redskins to the playoffs in eight of his 12 seasons, and he, too, urged fans to make RFK Stadium a tough place for the Cowboys and Giants.
When the Redskins ceased being one of the NFL’s best teams, their home-field advantage vanished. Fans stopped coming, and when they did come, stopped cheering as loudly. In all the nostalgic remembrances about RFK Stadium, has anyone forgotten that in 1994, many of the fans seemed to be rooting for the Cowboys during one dismal home defeat?
RFK was special, but so was Denver’s Mile High Stadium and Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium. Green Bay’s Lambeau Field was colder. Before the Browns bolted for Baltimore, Cleveland Stadium might have been the most hostile NFL arena for visiting teams.
Perhaps it was never RFK Stadium as much as it was the great teams that performed and the rabid fans who followed those teams.
The best indication that Cooke Stadium will be special is that Giants Stadium—the architectural inspiration for Cooke Stadium—is also one of the coldest, loudest and most intimidating places for a visiting team.
Players who have been around the league awhile want fans to know that they’re the ones who make a stadium a home field, especially with Cooke Stadium’s 80,116 seats.
"I think when they design these stadiums now, they try to get that in the mix," said Redskins quarterback Jeff Hostetler, a former Giant. "It’s a big advantage for the home team."
Hostetler remembers fondly his trips to RFK Stadium with the Giants, but he emphasizes that there are a dozen other difficult places to play. Just last season, Oakland Coliseum was as noisy as any place he had ever heard during a Monday night game against Denver.
Why is it important? The best fans know how to disrupt a game. They know that when an opposing team has the ball, a loud crowd can prevent a quarterback from changing plays at the line of scrimmage. In the loudest arenas, the interior offensive linemen can’t even pass the snap counts down the line to the offensive tackles.
"If your offensive tackles can’t hear, everybody’s slow off the ball," said Redskins guard Bob Dahl, who played his first four seasons in Cleveland’s Dawg Pound. "One advantage you have on offense is knowing the snap count and being quicker off the ball than the defensive guy across from you. If that advantage is taken away, it’s a big thing."
Dahl remembers the afternoon the closed end of Cleveland Stadium was so loud that the Denver Broncos simply couldn’t get a play off. Officials halted the game, and with dog biscuits and snow balls swirling around the playing field, moved the Broncos to the other end of the field and allowed them to run a play.
Dahl and others believe Cooke Stadium might even be noisier and more intimidating for an opponent. For one thing, there are those 25,000 additional seats. That’s a lot more fans making, presumably, a lot more noise.
For another thing, more fans will be closer to the field. The first few rows of fans at RFK Stadium were just inches from the playing field because it had been designed as a baseball stadium. But the rows sloped away more gradually. If it seemed fans were right on top of the field, it was the first few rows that were on top of the field and the rivers of noise raining onto opponents.
The first rows of seats are farther away at Cooke Stadium, but the angle of seating is sharper, meaning more fans will be closer to the field. And, because it’s more of a theater-like seating, the place has the potential to be as noisy as any NFL stadium.
"I never thought the fans were that close at RFK," Dahl said. "They were loud, but they weren’t all that close. The fans will be close at the new park."
Which is only one of the reasons almost no one around Redskin Park is all that sad about leaving RFK Stadium. Far from the cold showers and cramped quarters, they’re moving to a place where the treatment will be first class and the crowds huge.
"Everyone wants to think their stadium is the best," Redskins defensive end Rich Owens said. "I think we’re going to be able to say that about ours."
© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company