Redskins Stadium had a different feel during last night's preseason opener against the Buffalo Bills: The band was in tight formation as it marched in new uniforms. Rock and pop music blasted from hundreds of new speakers, filling the timeouts and gaps in play.
New advertising was everywhere, a rock group entertained fans on the stadium's outside plaza, fireworks livened the pregame show and the owner's box was redecorated with a warm, woody feel for its new occupant, Bethesda businessman Daniel M. Snyder.
"It feels exciting again," said Darryl Anderson, 33, sprawled comfortably in a leather chair on the stadium's club level.
What wasn't new was the traffic.
Friday rush hour, beachgoers and an early evening lightning storm combined with 60,004 fans motoring to the game slowed the crawl on the Beltway's Inner Loop and lengthened the rush hour by an hour.
Fans like Anderson, who left for the stadium nearly three hours prior to the 8 p.m. kickoff, had smoother sailing than drivers who forgot they were tackling a weekend rush hour.
"At its worst, the Beltway slowed to between 10 and 15 miles per hour," said Bob Sherin, highway operations technician for the Maryland State Highway Administration.
For most of the evening the Beltway traffic was moving at 25 to 30 mph, typical for a rush hour. That speed covered half of the Inner Loop, extending 30 miles back from the stadium to American Legion Bridge, with a few breaks in between, according to Sherin.
Just as the Beltway traffic appeared to be easing around 7:30 p.m., drivers hit a new wall and slowed to a crawl. The cause? A wave of last-minute fans, who bottled up the Inner Loop from 7:40 to nearly 8:30.
"I thought it was really lousy," said Patricia Cuellar, 24, a financial analyst from Bethesda. It took Cuellar and her friend, Carlos Candido, about an hour once they got on the Beltway at Old Georgetown Road until they got off at Maryland Route 202. "We were going 25 [mph] the whole way," said Cuellar.
Others stayed off the Beltway, with better luck.
Brice and Katie Layton took highways all the way from Alexandria without a problem, until they arrived at the stadium parking lot, where they spent 25 minutes trying to park.
"It was frustrating," said Brice, 27, an Internet specialist. "We were sitting next to an empty lot and weren't able to get into it, even though we had a permit."
Ernesto Castro, a 40-year-old computer operator, said he and his brother Frank drove from Arlington through District streets with no problem. But they said they couldn't get to a parking space because pedestrians were ignoring the Redskins' traffic guides.
"You have cars and pedestrians mixing in the parking lots without authority figures like police," Castro said. "People in cars don't listen to the traffic aides."
Mark Moreau, 39, of Falls Church, said he had little trouble on his first trip to the stadium, choosing to drive through the District and out Route 50 instead of taking on the Beltway.
"It was pretty smooth," said Moreau. "We anticipated it being heavy. But the signs around the stadium were very well marked and we found it pretty easy."
Greg Delcoco, 40, made it from La Plata in Southern Maryland to the stadium in 45 minutes, with the help of his knowledge of back roads.
Sherin said that aside from the 40-minute burst at 7:40, "I'd say it was a normal, Friday afternoon rush hour. It was heavy traffic."
Now Sherin and the rest of the traffic mavens can plan for Sept. 3. The Redskins, Baltimore Ravens and Orioles all play that day.