Our book received a nice compliment in a recent blog:
Saturday, November 12, 2016
How to Be a New York Basketball Fan In Washington — 2016-17 Edition
Next Thursday night, the New York Knicks visit the Washington Wizards. They will visit again on January 31. The Nets will visit on December 30 and March 24.
Before You Go. D.C. can get really hot in summer, but this will be mid-November, so that won’t be an issue. For this coming Thursday, The Washington Post is predicting the mid-60s for the afternoon, and the mid-40s for the evening. They’re also predicting a 20 percent chance of rain. You should bring a winter jacket.
Washington is in the Eastern Time Zone, so you won’t have to fiddle with your clocks, digital or otherwise.
Tickets. The Wizards averaged 17,302 fans per game last season, only about 85 percent of capacity. So getting tickets shouldn’t be a problem.
Unlike the Capitals, with whom they share the arena, ticket prices aren’t as high as the Washington Monument. Seats on the Main Concourse can be had for as little as $64, on the Club Concourse for $64, and on the Upper Concourse for as much as $63 and as little as $22.
Getting There. Getting to Washington is fairly easy. If you have a car, I recommend using it, and getting a hotel either downtown or inside the Capital Beltway, because driving in Washington is roughly (good choice of words there) as bad as driving in New York.
It’s 227 miles by road from Times Square in Midtown Manhattan to the Verizon Center in downtown Washington. If you’re not “doing the city,” but just going to the game, take the New Jersey Turnpike all the way down to the Delaware Memorial Bridge (a.k.a. the Twin Span), across the Delaware River into the State of, well, Delaware. This should take about 2 hours, not counting a rest stop.
Speaking of which, the temptation to take an alternate route (such as Exit 7A to I-195 to I-295 to the Ben Franklin Bridge) or a side trip (Exit 4, eventually leading to the Ben Franklin Bridge) to get into Pennsylvania and stop off at Pat’s Steaks in South Philly can be strong. But if you want to get from New York to Washington with making only 1 rest stop, you’re better off using the Delaware House Service Area in Christiana, between Exits 3 and 1 on the Delaware Turnpike. It’s almost exactly the halfway point between New York and Washington.
Once you get over the Twin Span – the New Jersey-bound span opened in 1951, the Delaware-bound one was added in 1968 – follow the signs carefully, as you’ll be faced with multiple ramp signs for Interstates 95, 295 and 495, as well as for US Routes 13 and 40 and State Route 9. You want I-95 South, and its signs will say “Delaware Turnpike” and “Baltimore.” You’ll pay tolls at both its eastern and western ends, and unless there’s a traffic jam, you should only be in Delaware for a maximum of 15 minutes before hitting the Maryland State Line.
At said State Line, I-95 changes from the Delaware Turnpike to the John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway, and you’ll be on it for about an hour (unless you want to make another rest stop, either the Chesapeake House or the Maryland House) and passing through Baltimore, before seeing signs for I-895 and the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel, Exit 62.
From here, you’ll pass through the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel. Take I-895 to Exit 4, and you’ll be on Maryland Route 295 South, the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. BWP exits are not numbered, but, in this case, that doesn’t matter, because you’re going to take it all the way to the end, with the exit indicating U.S. Route 50 West, which will also be New York Avenue NE. When you get to 6th Street NW, which is part of U.S. Route 1, turn left. The Verizon Center is between 6th and 7th Streets, and between F and G Streets. The official address is 601 F Street NW.
If all goes well — getting out of New York City and into downtown Baltimore okay, reasonable traffic, just the one rest stop, no trouble with your car — the whole trip should take about 4 hours.
Washington is too close to fly, just as flying from New York to Boston, Philadelphia and Baltimore, once you factor in fooling around with everything you gotta do at each airport, doesn’t really save you much time compared to driving, the bus or the train. So forget about flying from JFK, LaGuardia or Newark to Reagan National or Dulles International Airport. (John Foster Dulles was President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Secretary of State.)
The train is a very good option, if you can afford it. Washington’s Union Station is at 50 Massachusetts Avenue NE, within sight of the Capitol Building. But Amtrak is expensive. They figure, “You hate to fly, you don’t want to deal with airports, and Greyhound sucks, so we can charge whatever we want.” New York to Washington will run you $318 round-trip on a standard Northeast Regional. That’s before you add anything like Business Class or, God forbid, Amtrak’s overmicrowaved food. Still, it’s less than 3 hours if you take the Acela Express, and 3 hours and 40 minutes if you take a regular Northeast Corridor train.
Word of warning: The Knicks-Wiz game starts at 7:00, so it will end at around 9:20 or 9:30. The last train of the night back to Newark leaves Union Station at 10:10 PM (arriving at Newark Penn at 1:32 AM), so you’ll have a little over half an hour to get from the arena to the station. This is possible by Metro or taxi, but it doesn’t leave much margin for error — especially if the game goes to overtime or, with the Devils’ luck, a shootout. If you can afford an overnight stay at a hotel (and D.C. hotels are expensive, a bit cheaper in the nearby suburbs), you should get one, and leave on Sunday instead.
Greyhound has rectified a longtime problem. They now use the parking deck behind Union Station as their Washington terminal, instead of the one they built 6 blocks away (and thus 6 blocks from the nearest Metro station), in the ghetto, back in the late 1960s. So neither safety nor aesthetics will be an issue any longer. Round-trip fare on Greyhound from Port Authority in New York to Union Station in Washington can be as high as $80, but you can get it for as little as $32 on advanced purchase. It takes about 4 1/2 hours, and usually includes a rest stop about halfway, either on the New Jersey Turnpike in South Jersey or on the Delaware Turnpike.
Again, the game will end around 9:30 PM. If you took Amtrak down, the last train of the night leaves Union Station at 10:10 PM. There’s a 10:00 PM Greyhound back to Port Authority, but it doesn’t get in until 2:20 AM; and an 11:15 that arrives at 4:15 AM. Have you ever been in Port Authority before sunrise? I have, and it’s pretty depressing. Better to stay over, if you can afford it.
Once In the City. Founded in 1800, and usually referred to as “The National City” in its early days, and “Washington City” in the 19th Century, the city was named, of course, for George Washington, although its “Georgetown” neighborhood was named for his predecessor as our commander-in-chief, King George III of England.
The name of its “state,” the District of Columbia, comes from Columbia, a historical and poetic name used for America, which was accepted as the nation’s female personification until the early 20th Century (as opposed to its male personification, Uncle Sam), when the Statue of Liberty began to take its place in the public consciousness. “Columbia” was derived from the man who “discovered America,” Christopher Columbus, and places throughout the Western Hemisphere — from the capitals of Ohio and South Carolina to the river that separates Washington State from Oregon, from the Ivy League university in Manhattan to the South American nation that produces coffee and cocaine, are named for him, albeit with different spellings.
Like a lot of cities, Washington suffered from “white flight,” so that, while the population within the city limits has seriously shrunk, from 800,000 in 1950 to 650,000 today; the metro area went from 2.9 million to double that, 5.8 million. As a result, the roads leading into the District, and the one going around it, the Capital Beltway, Interstate 495, are rammed with cars. Finally, someone wised up and said, “Let’s build a subway,” and in 1976, the Metro opened.
That metropolitan growth was boosted by the Maryland and Virginia suburbs building housing and shopping areas for federal-government workers. And, perhaps more than any other metro area, the poor blacks who once lived in the city have reached the middle class and built their own communities (especially to the east, in Maryland’s Prince Georges County, which includes Landover). The metro area now has nearly 6 million residents — and that’s not including the metro area of nearby Baltimore, which would boost it to nearly 8.5 million and make it the 4th-largest “market” in the country, behind New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, slightly ahead of the San Francisco Bay Area.
Lots of people from the District and its Maryland and Virginia suburbs went up the Parkway to Baltimore to see the Orioles during the District’s 1972-2004 baseball interregnum. However, during the NFL interregnum between Robert Irsay’s theft of the Colts in 1984 and the arrival of the Ravens in 1996, Baltimore never accepted the Redskins as their team, despite 2 Super Bowl wins in that period.
Before you get to Union Station, read the Washington Post and the Baltimore Sun online — or, if you want to go old-school, buy paper copies of them at the Station. The Post is a great paper with a very good sports section, and in just 6 seasons (now into a 7th) has covered the Nats very well, despite the 1972-2004 era when D.C. had no MLB team of its own. As a holdover from that era, it still covers the Orioles well. The Sun is only an okay paper, but its sports section is nearly as good as the Post‘s, and their coverage of their town’s hometown baseball team rivals that of any paper in the country — including the great coverage that The New York Times and Daily News give to the Yankees and Mets.
Do not buy The Washington Times. It was founded by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon in 1982 as a replacement for the bankrupt Washington Star as the area’s conservative equivalent to the “liberal” Post. (That’s a laugh: The Post has George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Michael Gerson and Kathleen Parker as columnists!)
Under editor-in-chief Wesley Pruden, the Times was viciously right-wing, “reporting” every rumor about Democrats as if they were established, proven fact, and giving Republicans a free pass. Moon’s “Unification Church” sold the paper in 2009, and Pruden retired the year before. But it has cut about 40 percent of its employees, and has dropped not only its Sunday edition but also its sports section.
And now, there’s another paper, the Washington Examiner, owned by the same company as the conservative magazine The Weekly Standard, and it is so far to the right it makes The Washington Times look like the Daily Kos. It is a truly loony publication, where Michael Barone of the American Enterprise Institute and Byron York of National Review are considered moderates.
So avoid the loonies and the Moonies, and stick with the Post. Even if you don’t agree with my politics, you’re going down to D.C. for hockey, and the Post’s sports section kicks ass.
The sales tax in the District, once as high as 9 percent, is now just 6 percent.
The centerpoint for street addresses is the Capitol Building. North and South Capitol Streets separate east from west, and East Capitol Street and the National Mall separate north from south. The city is divided into quadrants: Northwest, Northeast, Southeast and Southwest (NW, NE, SE and SW). Because of the Capitol’s location is not in the exact geographic centerpoint of the city, NW has about as much territory as the other 3 quadrants put together.
Remember: On street signs, 1st Street is written out as “FIRST,” and I Street is written out as “EYE,” in order to avoid confusion. And for the same reason, since I and J were virtually indistinguishable in written script when D.C. was founded in 1800, there is no J Street. Once the letters get to W, there is no X, Y or Z Street. Instead, they go to to 2- and then 3-syllable words beginning with the sequential letters: Adams, Bryant, Clifton, etc.
Going In. Washington’s subway, the Metro, opened in 1976, but it wasn’t an easy ride to a Bullets game, since they were just outside the Beltway and the Metro didn’t go out there at the time. The move downtown made this a lot easier.
From Union Station (having taken either the train or the bus in) to the arena, it couldn’t be any easier: You’ll get on the Red Line, and it’s 2 stops to Gallery Place-Chinatown, taking all of 5 minutes between the stops. (How long you’ll have to wait on the platform to get on the train is another matter. If the outbound trip were during rush hour, it would cost you $2.15. Since it’s not (Saturday), each way will be $1.75.
The Verizon Center is at 601 F Street NW, on the edge of Washington’s Downtown and its Chinatown, so it’s got marquees in both English and Chinese. It’s surrounded by a lot of kitsch, with several chain restaurants and faux-Irish pubs. Some people like that sort of thing. Whether you do is up to you, although this will come into play when I get to “After the Game.”
Of course, all this means a lot of traffic, so, as I said, you should get a hotel and leave your car in their parking deck. If you’re just going down I-95 for the game and coming back up, parking will run you around $20.
The Bullets and Capitals moved in for the 1997-98 season, and, trying to burnish the NBA entry’s image, owner Abe Pollin dismissed the Bullets name — a holdover from Baltimore (1963-73), a tribute to a previous NBA team (1948-55), which was not only alliterative but referred to Baltimore’s status as an armaments production center during World War II — as referring to D.C.’s status at the time as “the Murder Capital of America.” He chose “Washington Wizards,” because it suggested that magic could happen on the court (though not the Orlando Magic or Earvin “Magic” Johnson), and also because it restored the alliteration.
The court is laid out east-to-west. The Wizards share the court with the WNBA’s Washington Mystics, and the floor with the NHL’s Washington Capitals. It is 1 of 10 arenas to house both an NBA team and an NHL team.
The Verizon Center’s nickname is “The Phone Booth.” Not “The Situation Room.”
That’s an ad for a CNN broadcast on the scoreboard.
Food. Food at D.C. sports venues runs from the very good at Nationals Park to the very bad at RFK Stadium. Having been to the Verizon Center for a Devils-Capitals game, I can tell you it’s more good than bad.
Hard Times Café has 2 outlets in the arena, featuring chili dogs, nachos and wings, on the concourse behind Sections 112 and 119. “my Oh!” offers gluten-free food at Section 108. There’s Dunkin Donuts (good), Papa John’s Pizza (bad), Greene Turtle Sports Bar & Grille, Budweiser Brew House, and Draft Ops Fantasy Lounge.
Other than that, presume the usual sports stadium/arena fare: Hot dogs, burgers, pizza, fries, fries, more fries, ice cream (sometimes in the form of Dippin’ Dots or whatever they call ’em down there), and maybe some more fries.
Team History Displays. The Wizards, formerly the Washington Bullets, celebrated their 40th Anniversary in 2013, and they do have some history, even if they haven’t won so much as a Division title since the Carter Administration, and won just 1 Playoff series between 1982 and 2013, although they won 1 in each of the last 2 seasons.
The Wizards and Mystics hang their banners on the north and west sides of the arena, the Caps on the south side. These include the 1978 NBA title; the Eastern Conference Title in 1971, 1975, 1978 and 1979; and the Atlantic Division title in 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975 and 1979 — apparently, they count what they won nearby Baltimore from 1963 to 1973.
They have 4 retired numbers. The 41 of center Wes Unseld and the 11 of Elvin Hayes, the Big E, are to the left of the 1978 World Championship banner, to which they led the Bullets. The 25 of Gus Johnson and the 10 of Earl “the Pearl” Monroe (who wore 15 with the Knicks, who retired it for him), are to the right of the title banner.
Each of these honorees has been elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame. Unseld, Hayes and Monroe were named to the NBA’s 50th Anniversary 50 Greatest Players.
The fact that none of these honorees played beyond 1981 gives you an idea of how things have gone for this team in the Administrations of Ronald Reagan, both George Bushes, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. But they were damn good in the Richard Nixon, Jerry Ford and Jimmy Carter years.
There are 13 former Bullets in the Basketball Hall of Fame, but, aside from the preceding, only Bernard King, after his comeback from his awful injury as a Knick, lasted even 4 seasons with them, the last of those in 1991.
The Washington Wall of Stars at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium honors 4 Bullets figures: Hayes, Unseld, 1970s guard and now Wizards broadcaster Phil Chenier (whose Number 45 has not been retired), and Abe Pollin, who owned the franchise from 1964 (in Baltimore) until his death in 2009, including the moves to Landover and downtown Washington.
It also honors Red Auerbach, who played at George Washington University, coached the early NBA’s Washington Capitols, and maintained his residence in D.C. to the end despite his New York roots and his 16 titles in Boston; and Horace “Bones” McKinney, who played for Auerbach on those Capitols and succeeded him as coach.
Stuff. The Verizon Center is a good, well-appointed, well-lit, comfortable, properly-located modern arena. But its website is crap. There’s no indication there that there is a team store, let alone where it is. However, every sports venue has souvenir stands, where you can get anything with the team’s logo on it. Either of them, or both of them.
The 40th Anniversary has not yet produced much in the way of official publications. The most comprehensive history of the team actually preceded the anniversary, published in 2012: Brett L. Abrams and Raphael Mazzone’s The Bullets, the Wizards, and Washington, DC Basketball. Jim Whiting wrote the Wizards’ entry in the NBA’s A History of Hoops series.
As for videos, forget it: There’s no official team history, no DVD package from the 1978 NBA Finals, no Bullets/Wizards 10 Greatest Games. There is a DVD biography of Abe Pollin, the man who brought the Bullets to Washington, founded the Capitals, and built both the Capital Centre and the Verizon Center.
During the Game. A November 13, 2014 article on DailyRotoHelp ranked the NBA teams’ fan bases, and listed the Wizards’ fans at 23rd out of 30 — not because they’re nasty (they aren’t particularly so), but because they’re fair-weather: They showed up in the Seventies when the team arrived and reached 3 NBA Finals, and again when Michael Jordan showed up for the 2001-02 and 2002-03 seasons.
You do not need to fear wearing your Knicks or Nets gear to the Verizon Center. The Wizards don’t really have any nasty rivalries, not even with the Knicks (although it got a little rough during the Willis/Clyde years when the Bullets were in Baltimore) or Philly or Boston. Despite D.C.’s reputation for crime, downtown is well-lit and well-policed. So if you don’t start anything, chances are, you will be safe.
One fan you definitely won’t have to worry about is Robin Ficker. The Maryland lawyer (occasionally disbarred and reinstated) and former State legislator was a notable fixture at Bullets games at the Cap Centre, sitting behind the visitors’ bench and gaining a reputation as the NBA’s most infamous heckler. When the team changed name and arena in 1997, they moved Ficker’s season-ticketed seat away from courtside. Furious, he gave up going, and claims that, since late in the 1998 season, he has been to exactly 1 Wizards game.
Because D.C. fans had to go up to Baltimore to get their big-league baseball fix from 1972 to 2004, there is one annoying trait from Oriole games that they brought back with them — even at Nats games: The “O!” shout during the National Anthem, on, “O, say does that Star-Spangled Banner yet wave… ?”
I hate that. What’s more, traditionally, Washingtonians hate Baltimore. (Much more so than Baltimoreans hate Washington.) Why would you adopt one of their habits? At least they didn’t adopt the Orioles’ 7th Inning Stretch song, even though, for people coming into D.C. from Virginia, it would be a bit more appropriate: John Denver’s “Thank God I’m a Country Boy.” That would have made much more sense than the “O!” shout.
Speaking of the Anthem, the Wizards do not have a regular singer for it, and hold auditions. They play “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns ‘n Roses right before tipoff; “Shake Your Groove Thing” by Peaches & Herb during the game; “Tear Da Club Up” by Three 6 Mafia when it looks like the game is won; and “Celebration” by Kool & the Gang when it’s over.
The Wizards have 2 mascots: G-Wiz, a blue furry thing in a wizard hat that looks like a cross between the Muppets Cookie Monster and Gonzo the Great (there’s a scary thought for a guy who grew up in the 1970s); and G-Man, a guy in a blue suit of exaggerated muscles, who does stunt dunks, much like Phoenix’s Gorilla and Charlotte’s Hugo the Hornet. (The name may come from the fact that the arena is a short walk from the headquarters of the FBI, whose agents are nicknamed G-Men — which gave rise to a nickname for the New York Football Giants.)
After the Game. As I said, you should be safe walking around the arena and downtown D.C. If you’re looking for a postgame meal (or even just a pint), the nearby choices are many. A particular favorite of mine is Fado, an Irish-themed bar that shows international soccer games. It’s a short walk away, at 808 7th Street NW.
The bar 51st State is a known hangout for Yankees, Mets, Giants, Jets, Knicks and Rangers fans. (No mention of the Nets, Islanders or Devils, though.) 2512 L St. NW at Pennsylvania Avenue. Metro: Blue or Orange to Foggy Bottom. Nanny O’Brien’s is also said to be a Giants fan bar. 3319 Connecticut Ave NW. Metro: Red to Cleveland Park.
If you visit D.C. during the European soccer season, which we are currently in the 2 best “football pubs” in town are Lucky Bar, at 1221 Connecticut Ave. NW (Red Line to Farragut North); and Fado Irish Pub, 808 7th Street NW., in Chinatown, a block from the Verizon Center (Red, Yellow or Green Line to Gallery Place).
Sidelights. Washington’s sports history is long, but not good. The Redskins haven’t won a championship in 24 seasons; the Bullets/Wizards, 37 years; all of its baseball teams combined, 91 years; the Capitals, in 41 years, never have they ever. Indeed, no D.C. area team has even been to its sport’s finals since the Caps made it, and even that was 17 years ago. But, if you have the time, these sites are worth checking:
* Site of Boundary Park and Griffith Stadium. There were 2 ballparks on this site, one built in 1892 and one in 1911, after the predecessor burned down – almost exactly the same story as New York’s Polo Grounds. The 2nd one, originally called League Park and National Park (no S on the end) before former pitching star Clark Griffith bought the team, was home to the old Senators from 1911 to 1960, and the new Senators only in 1961.
The Redskins played there from 1937 to 1960, and won the NFL Championship there in 1937 and 1942, although only the ’42 title game was played there. There was another NFL title game played there, in 1940, but the Redskins were beaten by the Chicago Bears – 73-0. (Nope, that’s not a typo: Seventy-three to nothing. Most points by one team in one game in NFL history, slightly ahead of the ‘Skins’ 72-49 victory over the Giants at RFK in 1966.)
While the Senators did win 3 Pennants (1924, ’25 and ’33) and the 1924 World Series while playing at Griffith, it was not a good home for them. The fences were too far back for almost anyone to homer there, and they hardly ever had the pitching, either (except for Walter Johnson). In 1953, Mickey Mantle hit a home run there that was measured at 565 feet – though it probably shouldn’t count as such, because witnesses said it glanced off the football scoreboard at the back of the left-field bleachers, which would still give the shot an impressive distance of about 460 feet.
The Negro Leagues’ Homestead Grays also played a lot of home games at Griffith, although they divided their “home games” between Washington and Pittsburgh. Think of the Grays as the original Harlem Globetrotters, who called themselves “Harlem” to identify themselves as a black team even though their original home base was Chicago (and later moved their offices to Los Angeles, and are now based in Phoenix).
By the time Clark Griffith died in 1955, passing the team to his son Calvin, the area around Griffith Stadium had become nearly all-black. While Clark, despite having grown up in segregated Missouri during the 19th Century, followed Branch Rickey’s path and integrated his team sooner than most (in particular going for Cubans, white and black alike), Calvin was a bigot who wanted to move the team to mostly-white Minnesota. When the new stadium was built, it was too late to save the original team, and the “New Senators” were born.
Griffith Stadium was demolished in 1965, and Howard University Hospital is there now. 2041 Georgia Avenue NW at V Street. Green Line to Shaw-Howard University Station, 3 blocks up 7th Street, which becomes Georgia Avenue when you cross Florida Avenue.
* Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium. Originally named District of Columbia Stadium (or “D.C. Stadium”), the Redskins played there from 1961 to 1996. The new Senators opened there in 1962, and President John F. Kennedy threw out the first ball at the stadium that would be renamed for his brother and Attorney General in 1969. (There was a JFK Stadium in Philadelphia, formerly Municipal Stadium, where the new arena, the Wells Fargo Center, now stands.)
The new Senators played at RFK Stadium until 1971, and at the last game, against the Yankees, the Senators were up 7-5 with one out to go, when angry fans stormed the field, and the game was forfeited to the Yankees. The ‘Skins moved to their new suburban stadium in 1997, after closing the ’96 campaign without the Playoffs, but the final regular-season game was a thrashing of the hated Cowboys in front of over 100 Redskin greats.
The Nats played the 2005, ’06 and ’07 seasons at RFK. D.C. United have played there since Major League Soccer was founded in 1996, winning the league title, the MLS Cup, 4 times, including 3 of the first 4. (Only the Los Angeles Galaxy, with 5, can top that.) Previously, in the North American Soccer League, RFK was home to the Washington Diplomats, featuring Dutch legend Johan Cruyff. And the Beatles played there on their final tour, on August 15, 1966.
DC/RFK Stadium was the 1st U.S. stadium specifically designed to host both baseball and football, and anything else willing to pay the rent. But I forgive it. It was a great football stadium, and it’s not a bad soccer stadium, but for baseball, let’s just say Nationals Park is a huge improvement. And what is with that whacked-out roof?
No stadium has hosted more games of the U.S. national soccer team than RFK: 25, most recently a win over Peru this past September 4. (Next-closest is the Los Angeles Coliseum, with 20.) Their record there is 15 wins, 3 draws and 5 losses. So RFK is thus the closest America comes to having a “national stadium” like Wembley or the Azteca. I was there on June 2, 2013, the 100th Anniversary match for the U.S. Soccer Federation. It was a 4-3 win over a Germany team operating at half-power because their players from Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund had so recently played the UEFA Champions League Final. There were 5 games of the 1994 World Cup and 6 games of the 2003 Women’s World Cup played there.
With the Nats and ‘Skins gone, United are the only team still playing there, and plans for a new stadium for them, near Nationals Park, are moving slowly, so it will still be possible to see a sporting event at RFK Stadium in the 2016 and 2017 MLS seasons, at least. 2400 East Capitol Street SE. Orange Line or Blue Line to Stadium-Armory. (The D.C. Armory, headquarters of the District of Columbia National Guard, is that big brown arena-like thing across the parking lot.)
* Nationals Park and new D.C. United stadium. The Nats’ new home opened in 2008, at 1500 South Capitol Street at N Street. It’s not flashy, but it looks nice. Ground has finally been broken for the new D.C. United stadium at Buzzard Point, on land bounded by R, 2nd, T & Half Streets SW, 3 blocks from Nationals Park. It is expected to open for the 2018 season.
Prince Georges County had a proposal for a new stadium near FedEx Field, and Baltimore offered to build one, leading New York Red Bulls fans to mock the club as “Baltimore United.” But the Buzzard Point stadium is now going to happen.
* FedEx Field. At RFK, the Redskins had the smallest stadium but best home-field advantage in the NFL: Only 56,000 could fit inside, but the upper deck was fairly close, and the north stand, built on aluminum so it could retract for baseball, made for big noise when thousands of fans jumped up and down on it.
At their 1997-present home, originally named Jack Kent Cooke Stadium for the ‘Skins’ late owner, they have what was once the largest stadium in the NFL (the capacity has been reduced to 82,000 from a peak of 91,000), but maybe the worst home-field advantage. The stadium is too big, and the sound doesn’t carry well. The move from a bad neighborhood in the District to out in the Maryland suburbs — it’s right across the Beltway from where the Capital Centre was — means that no one is intimidated, the way they were at RFK. The Redskins made the Playoffs in 13 of their last 26 seasons at RFK; they’ve only made it in 4 of their 1st 18 at FedEx.
While several big European soccer teams have played there, and 4 matches of the 1999 Women’s World Cup were played there, the U.S. men’s team has only played 1 match there so far, a draw with Brazil on May 30, 2012. The Army-Navy Game was held there in 2011.
Already, there is talk that it might be replaced. Hopefully, the new stadium will be either in the District, or at least closer to public transportation. 1600 FedEx Way, Landover, Maryland. Blue Line to Morgan Blvd… and then a 20-minute walk north. Yeah, not the best option for someone without a car.
* Uline Arena/Washington Coliseum. This building, opened in 1941, was home to the District’s 1st NBA team, the Washington Capitols, from 1946 to 1951. (Note the different spelling.) They reached the 1949 NBA Finals, losing to the Minneapolis Lakers of George Mikan, and were the 1st pro team coached by Red Auerbach. Firing him was perhaps the dumbest coaching change in NBA history: By the time Red coached the Boston Celtics to their first NBA title in 1957, the Capitols had been out of business for 6 years.
The Capitols owner who fired Auerbach was the owner Mike Uline, who’d originally named it the Uline Arena. His nickname was Uncle Mike. As far as I know, that and a love of sports is the only thing we have in common.
The Coliseum was last used for sports in 1970 by the Washington Caps (not “Capitols,” not “Capitals,” just “Caps”) of the ABA. It was the site of the first Beatles concert in the U.S. (aside from their appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show 2 nights before), on February 11, 1964.
It still stands, and its interior and grounds are used as a parking lot, particularly for people using nearby Union Station. Unfortunately, it’s in a rotten neighborhood, and I wouldn’t recommend visiting at night. In fact, unless you’re a student of NBA history or a Beatlemaniac, I’d say don’t go at all. 1140 3rd Street NE, at M Street. Red Line to Union Station, and then it’s a bit of a walk.
Amazingly, Auerbach, who was born in Brooklyn but made his name in Boston, was a graduate of George Washington University, and lived the rest of his life in Washington. When he died in 2006, he was buried at King David Memorial Gardens in the D.C. suburb of Falls Church, Virginia. Orange Line to East Falls Church, then transfer to Bus 2A.
* Capital Centre site. From 1973 to 1997, this arena with a saddle-shaped roof was the home of the NBA’s Washington Bullets, who became the Wizards when they moved downtown. From 1974 to 1997, it was home to the Caps. The Bullets played in the 1975, ’78 and ’79 NBA Finals there, although they’ve only won in 1978 and clinched that at the Seattle Kingdome.
The Cap Centre was also the home for Georgetown University basketball, in its glory years of Coach John Thompson (father of the current coach, John Thompson III), Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo and Allen Iverson. Remember those 1980s battles with the St. John’s teams of Louie Carnesecca, Chris Mullin and Walter Berry?
Elvis Presley sang there on June 27, 1976 and on May 22 and 29, 1977. (He never gave a concert in the District.) It was demolished in 2002, and a shopping mall, The Boulevard at the Capital Centre, was built on the site. 1 Harry S Truman Drive, Landover, Prince George’s County, Maryland, just outside the Capital Beltway. Blue Line to Largo Town Center station.
* Maryland SoccerPlex. The Washington Spirit of the National Women’s Soccer League play here, at the main field, with a stadium with 4,000 seats. 18031 Central Park Circle, in Boyds, Montgomery County, Maryland, about 30 miles northwest of downtown D.C. You’d need the DC Metro and 2 buses to get there without a car.
* The Smithsonian Institution. Includes the National Museum of American History, which contains several sports-themed items. 1400 Constitution Avenue NW. Blue or Orange Line to Federal Triangle. (You could, of course, take the same lines to Smithsonian Station, but Fed Triangle is actually a shorter walk.)
If you’re into looking up “real” TV locations, the Jeffersonian Institute on Bones is almost certainly based on the Smithsonian. The real NCIS headquarters used to be a short walk from Nationals Park, on Sicard Street between Patterson and Paulding Streets. Whether civilians will be allowed on the Navy Yard grounds, I don’t know; I’ve never tried it. I don’t want to get stopped by a guard. I also don’t want to get “Gibbs-slapped” — and neither do you. However, while the Navy Yard is still home to the DC field office, they have since moved the main NCIS HQ to the Marine base at Quantico, Virginia, and that’s a bit of a trek.
Of course, TV shows about Presidents, including The West Wing and Scandal, are based at the White House, at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. The best-known D.C.-based show that didn’t directly deal with government officials was Murphy Brown. The FYI studio was said to be across the street from the bar Phil’s, whose address was given as 1195 15th St. NW. Neither the bar nor the address actually exists, but if the address did, it would be at 15th & M Streets. This would put it right down the block from 1150 15th, the headquarters of The Washington Post.
The University of Maryland, inside the Beltway at College Park, can be accessed by the Green Line to College Park and then a shuttle bus. (I tried that for the 2009 Rutgers-Maryland game, and it works very well.) Byrd Stadium, built in 1950, is one of the nation’s best college football stadiums, but I wouldn’t recommend sitting in the upper deck if you’re afraid of heights: I think it’s higher than Shea’s was.
Across from the stadium is Cole Field House, where UMd played its basketball games from 1955 to 2002. The 1966 and 1970 NCAA Championship basketball games were played there, the 1966 one being significant because Texas Western (now Texas-El Paso) played an all-black starting five against Kentucky’s all-white starters (including future Laker, Knick and Heat coach Pat Riley and Denver Nuggets star Dan Issel). In the 1970 Final, UCLA beat Jacksonville University.
Elvis sang there on September 27 and 28, 1974. The Terrapins won the National Championship in their final season at Cole, and moved to the adjacent Comcast Center thereafter.
Remember that Final Four run by George Mason University? They’re across the Potomac River in Fairfax, Virginia. Once known as the Patriot Center, their 10,000-seat arena was renamed EagleBank Arena when it was bought by Monumental Sports & Entertainment, which also owns and operates the Verizon Center. Orange Line to Virginia Square-GMU.
The U.S. Naval Academy is 30 miles east in Annapolis, Maryland; the University of Virginia, 117 miles southwest in Charlottesville; and Virginia Tech, 270 miles southwest in Blacksburg.
I also recommend visiting the capital’s museums, including the Smithsonian complex, whose most popular buildings are the National Archives, hosting the originals of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution; and the National Air and Space Museum, which includes the Wright Brothers’ Flyer, Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis, Chuck Yeager’s Glamorous Glennis (the 1st plane to break the sound barrier), and several space capsules including Apollo 11. The Smithsonian also has an annex at Dulles International Airport out in Virginia, including a Concorde, the space shuttle Discovery, and the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the 1st atomic bomb.
One of the 1960 Presidential Debates between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon was held in Washington — still the only Presidential Debate held in the capital. On October 7, it was hosted not in a sports arena, a theater or a college auditorium, but in front of no live audience other than the panelists and the TV crew, at the studios of the NBC affiliate, WRC, Channel 4, 4001 Nebraska Avenue NW. Red Line to Tenleytown-AU.
In spite of what some movies have suggested, you won’t see a lot of tall buildings in the District. The Washington Monument is 555 feet high, but, other than that, no building is allowed to be taller than the Capitol. Exceptions were made for two churches, the Washington National Cathedral and the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, and the Old Post Office Pavilion was built before the “unwritten law” went into effect. In contrast, there are a few office buildings taller than most D.C. buildings across the Potomac River in Arlington, Virginia, and in the neighboring Maryland cities of Silver Spring and New Carrollton.
Have fun in the Nation’s Capital. If you’re lucky, the Knicks or Nets will show the Wizards some magic of their own.
Uncle Mike Central New Jersey, where men are men, and the women also root for the Yankees., United States Born in North Jersey. Raised in Central Jersey. Yankee Fan and Rutgers fan since 1977. Devils fan since they arrived in 1982. Arsenal fan since 2008. Former Nets fan, now an NBA free agent. No NFL team. Single, interested in changing that status. No children, but uncle to two adorable young girls. Liberal Democrat and damn proud of it. Hopefully, in sports as well as politics, I can live up to the words of the late John Spencer on “The West Wing”: “We are going to raise the level of debate in this country, and let that be our legacy.” View my complete profile