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New Redskins home presents same problems for Turner

November 20, 2005|By JOSEPH WHITE

LANDOVER, Md. - When Norv Turner went to RFK Stadium as visiting assistant coach in 1991, he thought the crowd was the loudest he'd ever heard.

"Anyone who ever went to RFK, the atmosphere, the excitement, the stands rocking and all those things, it's hard to duplicate that," Turner said.

Of course, the Washington Redskins do not play at RFK anymore. Turner became the team's head coach in 1994 and coached the last NFL game there in 1996. The following year, the Redskins moved from the intimate stadium that sits in line with the U.S. Capitol and the Washington Monument to a generic suburb in Maryland, inaugurating a soulless, moneymaking behemoth now known as FedEx Field.

"For me, it was a cavernous place," guard Ray Brown said. "I didn't like the locker room. I didn't like the drive over to Maryland. I like RFK. I like driving down Constitution (Avenue), coming across the Potomac to go to the football game. Now it's a little different. It's a little sterile."

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Brown's attitude has changed this year. For the first time, the Redskins are feeling a genuine sense of home-field advantage in their more modern digs. The notoriously late-arriving fans are gradually adhering to owner Dan Snyder's plea to show up on time, and there are plenty of them now that the owner has found room to squeeze in an NFL-high 91,704 seats.

Washington (5-4) is 4-0 this season at home, a change of pace from the modest 35-30-1 record in the first eight years at FedEx - and more like the spectacular 173-101-3 mark over 35 years at RFK.

"That place has become special," Brown said. "We're playing relatively well, and the fans know it. We can't trick our fans. They know when we're a good football team."

Center Cory Raymer, the only other Redskins player from the RFK days, agrees.

"The last couple of weeks, we've actually said that - it's starting to sound more like RFK," Raymer said. "RFK was unbelievable. The atmosphere was unbelievable. Here, Mr. Snyder's trying to get as many people packed in there, and he's done a great job at that, but along with that comes winning."

Turner returns today as coach of the Oakland Raiders (3-6), who are prime candidates to help pad the Redskins' home record because they're facing the NFL's toughest road assignment: a West Coast team playing a 1 p.m. game on the East Coast.

Oakland is 1-3 on the road, including a 1 p.m. loss at Philadelphia in Week 3. To adjust to the time change, Turner planned to have the Raiders fly on Friday instead of Saturday, a league-wide standard change-of-routine for teams making cross-country trips.

The Raiders could use a win anywhere. Turner is on the hot seat in his second season with the team, and another loss essentially guarantees his team will be playing out the string. Much is being made of Turner's first trip to Washington since he was fired in 2000, but the bigger question is whether he's headed for a similar employment fate in Oakland.

"Who we're playing isn't as big an issue to me," Turner said. "We obviously got off to a slow start, went through a stretch where I thought we were making a comeback and won three out of four, and then we lost a close game in Kansas City and had a tough game against Denver last week. We're just trying to zero in on the things that we do best and find a way to play the best football that we can."

The Redskins' plans for a first playoff appearance since 1999 - which was under Turner, by the way - took a sobering blow with a tough loss last week at Tampa Bay. Washington's loss to the Bucs and the Raiders' loss to the Chiefs were very similar. Both opposing coaches went for the win instead of kicking the ball for a tie at the 1-yard line in the final minute.

Turner and Washington coach Joe Gibbs both feel they're overdue for a break or two. The Redskins think they've got a better chance at getting the close-game fortune this week because they're home.

"We are glad to be home," quarterback Mark Brunell said. "We play better football. Hopefully that will be an advantage. It usually is."

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