ASHBURN, Va. | The Washington Redskins are a storied franchise that plays in the NFL’s second largest stadium. They have — at least by the league’s definition of a sellout — filled their stadium for every game since the 1960s.
Yet they have a lousy home record, and their home games can feel like road games. There are many factors — the stadium’s size and location, fickle and negative fans, the thousands of visiting fans who always seem to get good seats, the team’s overall poor play throughout the decade — but the sobering fact is that only the Detroit Lions have a worse home mark among NFC teams than Washington’s 42-44 record at FedEx Field since 2000.
“That’s not good company,” veteran defensive lineman Vonnie Holliday said Wednesday, “when you talk about what Detroit has done.”
Cornerback Carlos Rogers caught some flak earlier this week when he criticized fans who turn on the team quickly when things go wrong, saying: “Sometimes I think when you’re at home, you feel you’re away.” Yet he’s not the only person in burgundy and gold to express that feeling. FedEx Field might hold more than 91,000 fans, but this is one case where size isn’t everything.
“For it to be as big as it is, it’s not as loud as some of the stadiums I’ve played in,” Holliday said. “I remember playing in Kansas City, tough place to play. Oakland, when those guys get going. Seattle is definitely loud. Minnesota, that dome gets really, really loud, so I was really surprised.”
FedEx Field is nowhere near as loud or raucous at RFK Stadium, the rickety old home of the Redskins that had a funky cantilevered roof that reverberated the noise from a mere 55,000 fans. Opposing teams won only 37 percent of the time at RFK, which was deemed antiquated when the Redskins moved to the suburbs in 1997.
The new place makes a lot of money but not much else. The architecture is such that the crowd noise goes straight up into the sky. The club seats and luxury boxes sap energy from the place — many of those well-heeled fans either don’t show up or don’t show much passion when they do.
For that matter, the stadium seems too big for the fan base. The team brags about a streak of 356 consecutive sellouts, but a stunning number of those tickets find their way into hands of fans wearing the wrong-colored jerseys. One of the most embarrassing moments in Dan Snyder’s tenure as owner came when Pittsburgh Steelers fans waving Terrible Towels took over the lower bowl during a Monday night game two years ago. The color purple wasn’t hard to find Sunday during a 17-13 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
“There were a lot of Vikings fans,” linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said. “I don’t know how the visiting fans keep getting in there. Any time we play somebody who’s even kind of close to us, it seems like a lot of the opposing team’s fans are there.”
Other seats simply stay empty. The only team that genuinely packs the stadium to the brim is Virginia Tech, whose fans showed what home-field advantage really sounds like when the Hokies played games at FedEx Field in 2004 and again this year.
Then there are the home fans who just love to hate their own team. The loss to Minnesota was the Redskins‘ third straight at home, dropping them to 2-4 at FedEx Field this season. The next day, Rogers was still feeling the wrath.
“You get so bashed at home for any little mistake you did,” Rogers said. “You come the sideline, the bench, it’s cussing, it’s this, it’s that — and we’re just in the first quarter. It’s like, ‘Are we at home or are we away?’ … Me and some guys were talking about it: If you don’t like the team or you don’t want to support us through the good or the bad, why come out to the games? We still need that support. We’re already down, we’re already losing, then to hear some of our fans, it’s not helpful.”
“I would think if you’re a die-hard Redskins fan, you pay your money to get those seats real close to the field, that you would be in it with us,” Holliday said. “This is the first time that I’ve been a part of that, except maybe in Philly, but here in Washington you wouldn’t expect that kind of treatment from your home crowd — after the first drive. There’s one guy who tears into it from the beginning. I’m like, ‘Is this not our home field?’ It gets a little annoying.”
Of course, the fans are annoyed, too.
Washington hasn’t done much winning home or away in recent years. The road record is 33-52 since 2000. FedEx Field doesn’t offer much for game-day experience. Traffic is always terrible, parking is expensive, and the nearest subway station is about a mile away. Even coach Mike Shanahan, after the home opener, chimed in on the issue: “I’m not used to this traffic, so it’s a little bit unusual. I do feel like we played on the road.”
One problem is that the stadium is on the Maryland side of D.C., but nearly everyone associated with the team lives an hour or more away on the Virginia side near the Redskins Park training facility.
“That’s one of the difficult things,” tackle Jammal Brown said, “is you’ve got to go so far to play. I’m used to the stadium being at the most 15, 20 minutes away.”
But players say all of those little things — travel, fans, noise, etc. — don’t contribute to the Redskins‘ woes at home.
“At the end of the day, it’s still your home field, your home crowd,” Holliday said. “It’s what you’re familiar with. Yeah, it’s not the ideal set-up. Yeah, you like a loud stadium at home, especially as a defense when you’re getting after an offense, but I just can’t use that as an excuse.”
As fullback Mike Sellers put it: “This is our home crowd. They’re going to be hard on you when you lose; they’re go to be great when you win. We’ve got to win. It’s not the stadium. It’s not the fans. It’s just we’ve got to win.”
Notes: Shanahan said S LaRon Landry (Achilles’ tendon) is again a “long shot” to play Sunday at the New York Giants. RB Ryan Torain (hamstring) and Rogers (hamstring) also didn’t practice. … RB Clinton Portis (torn abdominal muscle) and S Anderson Russell (torn ACL), both on IR, had their surgeries. … Practice took place in a gym because of bad weather.