Sports Icons and Music Superstars
One of the nation’s first multi-purpose stadiums, Washington, DC’s Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium has been home turf for professional, collegiate and high school games and sold-out performances by some of the biggest names in music. Affectionately known as “RFK” around the globe, the stadium was the first major venue designed specifically as a multi-sport facility for both football and baseball. Think you know everything about the home of Major League Soccer’s D.C. United for 21 years and stage for legends like Elton John, the Rolling Stones, U2, and the Grateful Dead? Think again.
From Football to Festivals: A History of RFK Stadium
1958 - The first lease for the “District of Columbia Stadium” is signed by the DC Armory Board and the Department of the Interior.
1960 - Groundbreaking begins for the $24 million stadium, designed by George Dahl, Ewin Engineering Associates and Osborn Engineering.
1961 - DC Stadium opens its doors for its first official event. Unfortunately, the Washington Commanders lose to the New York Giants, 24-21, before a crowd of 36,767 including President John F. Kennedy. The official dedication of the stadium is held six days later when George Washington University hosted Virginia Military Institute, marking the first football game in Colonials history. Offensive end Paul Munley scores the first two touchdowns on passes from quarterback Bill Hardy and GW wins the game 30-6.
1962 - Baseball debuts at DC Stadium. President John F. Kennedy throws out the first pitch as the Washington Senators defeat the Detroit Tigers 4-1 before 44,383 fans. The Senators played at the stadium for 10 seasons before departing for Texas in 1971.
1966 - DC makes history, hosting The Beatles’ penultimate concert in front of a crowd of 32,164 fans.
1960s - Soccer joins football and baseball as mainstay sports at the stadium, playing home to the popular Washington Diplomats of the NASL. Eight professional soccer teams have called RFK home during its history.
1969 - The District of Columbia Stadium is renamed Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium to honor the U.S. Senator and presidential candidate who was assassinated the previous June in Los Angeles. RFK Stadium is affectionately known as “RFK” to generations of DC locals and fans the world over.
1970s - RFK Stadium hosted some of the decade’s most fabled concerts. On Independence Day in 1972, the Rolling Stones performed during their Jack Daniels Tour - their first U.S. tour since the 1971 release of their hit album, Sticky Fingers, and the Grateful Dead made the first of many appearances at RFK in 1973.
1982 - During the inaugural Cracker Jack Old Timers baseball game, 75-year-old Hall of Famer Luke Appling hits a home run 250 feet to left field.
1988 - The Washington Commanders cornerback Darrell Green knocks down a Wade Wilson pass at the goal line to clinch a victory over the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship game. The Washington Football Team goes on to beat the Denver Broncos 42 - 10 in Super Bowl XXII (2nd title) making QB Doug Williams the first African-American quarterback to lead his team to the NFL promise land.
1992 - In the pouring rain, the Washington Commanders defeat the Atlanta Falcons 24-7 in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. As time wound down in the fourth quarter, the 55,181 fans in attendance shower the field with the yellow seat cushions they were given at the entrance.
1993 - Under the starry sky at the stadium, Riddick Bowe knocks out Jesse Ferguson in the second round to retain his WBA heavyweight title. In an undercard, Roy Jones, Jr. beat Bernard “The Executioner” Hopkins 116-112 for the vacant IBF middleweight belt.
1994 - Soccer’s premier event, the FIFA World Cup, is held at RFK. Five games are held featuring national teams from Belgium, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Saudi Arabia in group play, and Spain and Switzerland in the Round of 16.
1996 - Nine men's and women's first-round soccer games are held at RFK Stadium during the Summer Olympic Games in July 1996. Men's games (6) featured national teams from Argentina, Korea Republic, Ghana, Italy, Mexico, Portugal, Tunisia and the United States. Women's games (3) featured national teams from Brazil, Germany, Japan and Norway. During the Games, the USA tied Portugal 1-1 before 58,012, a stadium record for soccer.
1996 - Major League Soccer expands to the nation’s capital in 1996, and D.C. United is born. Ten days after winning the first Major League Soccer title, D.C. United defeats the Rochester Rhinos 3-1 in the US Open Cup final, achieving the first “double” in American soccer history.
1996 - The Washington Football Team wins their last game at RFK Stadium 37-10 over arch-rival Dallas Cowboys before 65,454, the largest football crowd in stadium history. Through 36 seasons (1961-1996), the team played 278 games at the stadium before 14.3 million fans.
1997 - During "Blessings '97", Reverend Sun Myung Moon and his wife, Hak Ja Han Moon, officiate over a mass wedding and marriage rededication ceremony that drew 40,000 people including 2,500 Unification Church couples who consented to arranged marriages.
2001 - Mia Hamm and the Washington Freedom defeat Brandi Chastain and the Bay Area Cyber Rays 1-0 in the inaugural match of the Women’s United Soccer Association before 34,198. The Freedom won the WUSA championship this same year.
2001 - RFK Stadium is electric as Michael Jackson headlines “The United We Stand: What More Can I Give” benefit concert in tribute to the victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks.
2005 - The Washington Nationals, before a crowd of 45,496 including President George W. Bush, former senators and MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, start a new baseball tradition in the nation’s capital with a 5-3 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks in their season and home opener. President George W. Bush, formerly a part-owner of the Texas Rangers, is the first president since Richard Nixon to throw the ceremonial first pitch at a home opener in RFK Stadium.
2008 - Football returns to RFK Stadium on December 20, 2008, with the inaugural EagleBank Bowl, the first college football bowl game to be played in Washington, D.C. Wake Forest quarterback Riley Skinner, the game’s MVP, goes 11-for-11 and leads the Demon Deacons to a 29-19 win over Navy. The Bowl game is held annually each December.
2009 - A Day of Service for Our Military is held at RFK Stadium as a part of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Day of Service. Led by Michelle Obama, Jill Biden and a distinguished group of public officials, 12,000 volunteers made over 80,000 care packages for American Troops overseas.
2010 - The US Men’s National Team tied Costa Rica 2-2 in their final World Cup qualifying game for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Noted ESPN.com columnist Bill Simmons wrote of the game: “Every big American soccer game should be played in RFK."
2010 - The EagleBank Bowl is rebranded as the Military Bowl presented by Northrup Grumman. Proceeds from the newly named bowl benefit the United Service Organizations (USO) in support of the men and women in the armed forces.
2011 - Events DC is joined by city officials and former players, coaches and participants in launching the 50th-anniversary celebration of RFK Stadium. The celebration was a tribute to the 50 years of sports, entertainment and special events at RFK through a combination of interactive programs and community events. The celebration concluded with a VIP dinner at the Walter E. Washington Convention on November 19.
2011 - Howard University and Morehouse College renew their historic rivalry in the inaugural AT&T Nation’s Football Classic. Howard freshman QB Greg McGhee, the game’s MVP, led the Bison to a thrilling 30-27 victory. The Classic is held annually each September.
2013 - As part of their 100th-anniversary festivities, U.S. Soccer hosted the Centennial Celebration Match featuring the U.S. Men's National Team vs. Germany at RFK Stadium. The USMNT won 4-3 before 47,359, the 15th highest soccer attendance in stadium history, and overall is 14-3-5 at RFK. The game marked the 22nd appearance for the USMNT at RFK Stadium, the most by the team in any venue in the world. During pre-game, a greeting from President Barack Obama was played on the videoboard.
2014 - RFK Stadium hosted its first American Beer Classic on the field in 2014. Beer enthusiasts enjoyed a variety of breweries and hundreds of beers.
2015 - Events DC welcomed the opening ceremony for the World Police and Fire Games at RFK Stadium. The event was an opportunity for competitors from around the world to come together and compete in athletics in a peaceful way.
2016 - Events DC announces its plans to redevelop the 190-acre Campus surrounding the historic RFK Stadium, Festival Grounds and the DC Armory. The transformational vision for the iconic RFK Campus delivers holistic concepts for the site that leverage the District's long-underutilized waterfront, provide neighborhood serving amenities and connect the current site with increased and sustainable green space, flexible recreational fields, natural access to pedestrian-friendly paths.
2017 - D.C. United plays their last official game at RFK.
2017 - Events DC launches its Asphalt to Action campaign to increase awareness and support of its proposed redevelopment of the RFK Campus among the Washington, DC community. The campaign includes print and digital advertising, event activations, online petitions and social promotions highlighting plans to transform acres of asphalt into the District’s newest destination for sports, recreational activities and dining.
2017 - Events DC announces short-term elements for the RFK Campus redevelopment aimed at providing benefits for local residents, their families, and visitors alike, including multi-purpose recreational fields and playground.
2018 - Events DC breaks ground on multi-purpose fields at the RFK Campus.
2019 - The Fields at RFK Campus opens in phase one of the RFK Campus redevelopment project.
2021 - Events DC announces the selection of locally-based construction management firm Smoot Construction as its demolition partner for the iconic RFK Stadium.
June 2022 - Abatement of hazardous materials begins as the Stadium demolition is officially underway. Major structural components are scheduled to be demolished by the end of 2023.