- The Washington Times - Friday, September 5, 2003

The Washington Redskins won their season opener against the New York Jets in dramatic fashion last night 16-13, setting off a party among the sellout crowd of 86,000 at FedEx Field equal to the $10 million pregame concert on the Mall.

Newly acquired place-kicker John Hall kicked a 33-yard field goal with 5 seconds left to lift the Redskins to victory in the nationally televised game, the first of the NFL’s season.

Quarterback Patrick Ramsey led the Redskins to a 13-7 halftime lead by throwing for 144 first-half yards and a touchdown, then capped an average second half when he scampered 24 yards to the Jets’ 31 with 1:27 to go. He finished 17 of 23 for 185 yards, a touchdown and one interception.

The victory ended a week of festivities in Washington on a pronounced high note, giving hope to fans jaded by a string of disappointing seasons as well as redemption to Redskins receiver Laveranues Coles, who the Redskins signed as a free agent from the Jets in the offseason. Coles caught five passes for 106 yards in the game.

Before the game in Landover, a three-hour, pyrotechnic concert on the Mall kicking off the NFL’s season drew thousands to see pop diva Britney Spears, R&B; singer Mary J. Blige, rock veterans Aerosmith and punk rock band Good Charlotte, a group from Waldorf, Md., that recently took top honors at the MTV Music Video Awards.

Shadowed by the U.S. Capitol, the muddy extravaganza was part of Operation Tribute to Freedom, a military effort to encourage public support for U.S. troops coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan. The best seats were reserved for 25,000 military personnel, who, with other invited guests, were provided free pizza, subs, burgers, sandwiches, soda, beer and wine at hospitality tents.

“You look around — Britney Spears, Pepsi — there’s nothing more American than that,” said Air Force Tech Sgt. Steve Boettcher of Springfield, who brought his wife and two daughters.

The free concert, which was partly televised by ABC affiliate WJLA-TV (Channel 7), was capped by Miss Franklin, whose version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” evoked chants of “U.S.A., U.S.A.” from the crowd.

Showers had fallen throughout the day, but began to clear as the first performers took the stage about 6 p.m.

Traffic out of downtown ran freely through the rush hour, despite predictions of a snarl. Police and city officials had braced for a heavier-than-usual rush hour, with commuters heading home from work, concertgoers entering downtown and Redskins ticket holders trying to get to FedEx Field in time for the game.

The light traffic was a result in part of recommendations by the federal Office of Personnel Management, which had urged federal workers earlier in the week to take annual leave or telecommute to ease congestion.

Authorities reported no incidents, arrests or serious medical emergencies.

“Thing went very well tonight. The plan we had for security worked. People came. It was for the people of the District of Columbia, and they were able to enjoy it,” said Dwight Pettiford, an assistant chief for the U.S. Park Police.

Advertising signs, which the National Park Service usually bans from the Mall, were prominently displayed, hawking the products and services of the concert’s corporate sponsors.

The city was abuzz over the concert. Radio stations trumpeted the show and the Redskins game throughout the day, and area restaurants and clubs busied in preparation for postconcert diners and partygoers.

The various performers attracted a diverse audience, who cheered, danced and waved signs throughout the concert.

NFL officials had predicted that 200,000 would turn out for the event, but by 7 p.m. Metro had scrapped plans to run extra rush-hour service until 10 p.m., though they held drivers in reserve for after the concert. Ridership was about 6 percent above average, easily within Metro’s capabilities running regular service, said spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein.

“Why run empty trains? It’s a waste of money,” she said. “They predicted 200,000 people for this, but I doubt there’s anything close to that.”

The U.S. Park Police did not provide a crowd-size estimate.

About 1,000 officers from the Park Police and 35 other federal, state and local agencies were on hand, Park Police Chief Teresa Chambers said. Bags were inspected at four checkpoints around the fenced perimeter of the Mall. The Metropolitan Police Department activated its network of 14 closed-circuit surveillance cameras, trained on sites such as the Capitol and the White House.

Many spectators complained about the mud and the distance between the stage and the crowd, which was several blocks. A few layers of security barriers and police separated the general public from the military guests.

“You can’t see anything. All you can see is the TV. It’s completely disorganized,” said Jennifer Perkins, 26, of Bethesda.

Meanwhile, parking at FedEx Field was problematic, although it was not the catastrophe it has been during preseason games, when parking changes created chaos.

Gone are 5,000 parking spaces at the former US Airways Arena. Instead, the Redskins have rented about 5,800 spaces in nearby office parks, and fans paid $25 to park, then catch a shuttle bus to the stadium.

Fans who used to pay for parking at the Jericho City of Praise Church lot also weren’t able to do that anymore. Those spots are now reserved for season ticket holders.

Officials said the new parking lots were clearly marked with signs, and that there were double the normal number of shuttle buses to the lots for the game. But some fans were still upset.

Jim Allen of Springfield had brought his family to the game and ended up having to park a half-mile away and walk. “We want to come back, but the parking is miserable,” he said.

Metro officials were upset, saying the NFL reneged on a promise to pay $64,000 for the extra service they provided.

“We didn’t get the same kind of satisfaction from the NFL that some others have gotten,” Metro General Manager Richard A. White told the system’s board.

D.C. officials said the football league was paying $272,488 to cover police overtime, public works and other expenses.

Robert Redding contributed to this report, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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