Monday, September 13, 2004

Joe Gibbs is back. The Redskins won. The sun is shining. Everybody’s happy.

Well, nearly everybody.

But not the fans who had to walk the long way around the stadium to get in, a walk of up to 30 minutes, because they didn’t pay to park on Dan Snyder’s lots.

A stadium security guard stopped fans strolling down Redskins Road and told them the street was closed to pedestrian traffic. Theywould have to turn around, he said, and hike a mile-and-a-half detour to Arena Drive to enter the stadium grounds on foot.

“That’s crazy. How are you supposed to get in there?” asked Phil Kelly, 56, who traveled 100 miles from Salisbury, Md., with an opening-day ticket in his pocket. He was stopped 400 yards from FedEx Field.

Will Morris, 32, who came to the game with Mr. Kelly, argued in vain with the guard. “Why are they doing this? There’s a gate right there,” he said, pointing to the edge of the parking lot about 20 yards away, where tailgate parties were in boisterously happy swing.

“I don’t know,” the guard said. “I’m just doing what I’m told.”

A sheepish Prince George’s County police officer directing traffic admonished pedestrians to take the long way around, too. “It’s not us,” he said. “[Redskins owner] Dan Snyder is doing this.”

Citing “safety” concerns, the Prince George’s County Department of Public Works and Transportation in June barred pedestrians on all or part of five roads to FedEx Field during stadium events.

Irate fans accuse Mr. Snyder of forcing ticket holders to pay $25 to park in the stadium lots. “You know how it goes — they just want some money,” Allan DuBose, 39, said yesterday as he prepared to park in one of the far-away lots and take a shuttle bus to the stadium.

About 25,000 parking spaces in the lots immediately surrounding FedEx Field are reserved for Redskins season-ticket holders. Farther from the stadium, the team offers 5,800 other spaces available on game days for $25.

Ticket-holders once parked free at nearby Landover Mall and walked to the stadium. But police and stadium officials say the crowds of drunken football fans and the highway traffic surrounding the stadium are a deadly mix. A car struck and killed a woman in the mall parking lot after a Rolling Stones concert in 1997, and another woman died in a similar accident after a football game in 2002.

Redskins fan Peggy Feltman was so angered by the policy that she has challenged the pedestrian ban to the county Board of Appeals. The board last week delayed a ruling until after a second hearing Sept. 22.

Blocking access couldn’t spoil the fun of everyone. One fan, who identified himself as a D.C. resident, said he was still happy to have an opening-day ticket, even if less than enthusiastic about Mr. Snyder.

“Buy a team, build a stadium in the middle of nowhere that ain’t got no Metro access,” he said. “Ain’t this a mess?”

The pedestrian ban temporarily foiled Joe Donnelly, a foot soldier for Campbell’s Chunky Soup’s Tackling Hunger Tour. He was hired to pass out soup to fans in the parking lot, which was so close, yet so far from where he was stopped on Redskins Road.

“We go to NFL stadiums all over the country, and I have not ever seen [restrictions] like this,” said Mr. Donnelly, 22.

Redskins fanatic Burt Murray, 53, didn’t have to shell out $25 to park, and he didn’t have to take that long walk. “I know a place [to park]. I can’t tell you where, though.”

Nevertheless, he sympathizes with the fans forced to take the long way around. “I think it’s wrong,” he said. “They should allow people to walk in like they did at the old stadium.”

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