It was an hour before the opening kickoff when Norma Harkey and her 11-year-old daughter, Adrienne, strode briskly past the point on the narrow southbound sidewalk of Redskins Road where security guards used to stand, telling everyone to turn back.
Harkey, of Huntingtown in Calvert County, smiled broadly. "This is great," she said. "I hated the buses."
Her comment might have seemed cryptic to anyone who had not followed the long legal battle over pedestrian access to FedEx Field, home of the Washington Redskins football team. But Harkey was in front of a pack of more than 100 other fans heading for the stadium without anyone trying to stop them, and they all knew what she meant.
There was laughter and excited talk as 2,000 fans left their cars in the huge parking lot at Landover Mall and walked undeterred down the hill to the stadium. The Prince George's County Board of Administrative Appeals decided Oct. 27 that the Redskins had no legal right to block that sidewalk, or any other pedestrian approach, on game days and designated yesterday as the beginning of a new era of sidewalk democracy.
Peggy Feltman, the longtime season ticket holder from Silver Spring who sued the county over the pedestrian restrictions, stood beaming as large clumps of fans rushed past her, their happy game faces on. "I feel good," she said.
As recently as two weeks ago, devoted Redskins followers had to pay $25 each to park their cars in one of the official team lots and then use buses to get from there to the stadium. The huge Landover Mall parking lot, 5,000 empty spaces only a short walk away, was not an option because the Redskins would not let anyone walk from that lot to FedEx Field, saying it was not safe to cross busy Landover Road.
Prince George's police agreed, pointing out that since FedEx Field opened in 1997, two pedestrians had been killed and 12 injured after being hit by cars on roads around the stadium. The postgame fans, some of them having consumed alcohol, were particularly hard to control as they walked back to their cars, police said.
By yesterday, police had adjusted to the new rules. They were cheerily guiding Landover Mall parkers who had to cross Brightseat Road and then wait for a second battery of lights on Landover Road.
Prince George's County police Sgt. Doug Epperson planted himself at the waiting spot for the Brightseat Road lights and addressed each new group of fans as if it was touring Walt Disney World. "It is about a 10-minute cycle between lights, and when you get to the other side it is another 10-minute wait, so make friends," he said. He suggested gently that after the game, their senses might be somewhat impaired, "so stick to the same sidewalks."
It seemed to work. The waits for the lights to change broke the pedestrians into groups of 100 to 200, large enough to catch the attention of motorists whizzing past on Redskins Road. J.P. Szymkowicz, the attorney who argued Feltman's case, said he hoped on future Sundays to see temporary barriers separate the sidewalk crowds from the automobile traffic.
Park America charged $15 a car to use the Landover Mall lot and said in a news release that "tailgating, alcoholic beverages and grills will be strictly prohibited." But yesterday, the parking attendants let several people cook hamburgers, steaks, hot dogs and onions near the backs of their cars, and only a few drivers complained of being charged to park at what usually is a free lot.
"They have to pay the people who are working here," said Leigh Greenwell of Arlington, wearing her monogrammed Redskins jacket and sniffing hamburgers on a grill. "As long as our car isn't ripped off, we will be okay."