The Rev. James McCord remembers what it was like when the Redskins first began playing down the road from his Landover church. Attendance dropped 30 to 40 percent on game days because of the traffic.
The saving grace, the thing that eventually helped attendance climb again after its fall in 1996 was the team's promise that it would not allow stadium traffic to use Sheriff Road, home to his First Baptist Church of Highland Park.
But that could change. New Redskins owner Daniel M. Snyder is seeking permission from the county to open Sheriff and nearby Hill Oaks roads on game days to allow fans coming from the District better access to the stadium.
"I wouldn't like it very much," said McCord, a pastor of First Baptist, which counts 2,500 to 3,000 people among its members. "Opening that up to traffic would really impact us greatly."
Others have not been so diplomatic.
"I don't want it to go through my neighborhood," said George Crocker, who has lived off nearby Hill Road for 32 years. "We were promised in the beginning that Sheriff Road would not be used. We went along with the idea of the stadium under those circumstances."
Some residents who live near the stadium are outraged that Snyder would consider a plan to reopen the roads. Keeping the roads free of stadium traffic was considered a major concession to the residents who would be most affected by a stadium in their back yard.
"It would not be right to do that now," said Theresa Dudley, a civic leader who fought a legal battle to try to stop the stadium from being built. "It's not fair to break that promise. Traffic is bad enough as it is on game day."
If reopened, Hill Oaks Road would allow traffic from Nally Road to travel directly to Redskins Stadium. It passes a subdivision of town homes just before it enters the complex and then feeds into stadium streets and parking lots on either side. Sheriff Road carries some commuter traffic as it passes by the stadium, cutting through Palmer Park and other residential neighborhoods.
The two roads are now restricted to buses and local traffic. Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry (D) has said he would at least consider Snyder's idea of opening them to all traffic. County Council member Marvin F. Wilson (D-Glenarden), who represents the area, said he opposes such a plan.
"I'd like to hear from him first," Curry said. "I don't know what he wants to do--open the roads to more buses, add more traffic. He hasn't made any formal request to me."
David Buck, a spokesman for the State Highway Administration, said the state was not taking a position.
"It's really a Redskins and Prince George's County issue," he said. "It's up to them."
Buck did say that state officials believe that traffic around the stadium has improved tremendously since it opened. During the first year, it took about an hour and 15 minutes to exit the stadium, Buck said. Last year, the time dropped to 55 minutes.
"We don't hear too many complaints anymore," he said.
Robert Kirkland, a Brandywine resident who drives to First Baptist for church, said Snyder should have brought his proposal to the residents who will be most affected.
"This is an agreement that was made when they put the stadium over here," Kirkland said. "He wouldn't want this traffic in his neighborhood. Why would he put it in this neighborhood, in a minority neighborhood?"
Morris Hymes, of Landover, said he avoids the stadium area on game days. He said traffic has been "devastating" to residents.
But he said he also understands that Snyder is trying to alleviate the congestion that exists.
"Either way, you get caught in a backup on the Beltway," Hymes said. "I guess this is one of those situations where you have to close your nose and swallow."
CAPTION: The Rev. James McCord fears opening local roads on game days will make it hard to get to his church.