Is this real? I’ve had 5 strangers slap me in the face since the Caps won game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals and I still don’t believe it. After all the years of disappointment, irrational anger, sad binge drinking, angry drinking, missing work because of drinking, saying reprehensible things to people on Twitter, saying reprehensible things to strangers on the street, saying reprehensible things to my family and friends, and smashing personal belongings, I can finally relax. For the first time in 20 years, a Washington sports team is playing for a championship.
I don’t know how to feel right now. It’s not the explosion of emotion I thought it would be, it feels more like I let out a fart that’s been brewing for 20+ years. The weight has been lifted, and now I’m just so relaxed. We did it, Washington, we finally fucking did it.
I can’t claim that I was always a “die hard” Washington sports fan. I started caring around the time I was 16-17 (2003-2004), hit my peak around 23-27 (2009 – 2014), and have started to decline in the past few years since moving to Hawaii. The fact that every game is on at either 7 AM or 2 PM makes it harder to watch or care, but my stress has been non-existent. Reflecting on my “die hard” years where I was obsessively listening to local sports talk radio, poring over stats and analytics, and getting into uncomfortable heated debates during happy hour, I’ve come to the realization that I was way too emotionally invested.
I’ve never been a “numbers guy” since I don’t possess the mental capacity to fully understand them, so instead I was the unwavering, overly passionate, delusional hometown sports guy. I didn’t listen to logic or reason, I was all anger and no knowledge. That fire inside me has died down to the embers, but it will come out at a moments notice if something or someone fans the flames.
My only wish is that this championship run happened when I truly gave a shit. At this point, I’m so exasperated that I feel more relief than excitement.
I’ve paid thousands of dollars to watch these guys lose
The city of Washington D.C.’s championship drought has lasted 26 years, the only cities with longer droughts are Miluakee, Cincinnati, and Minneapolis, which are barely cities. We’re the capital of the fucking country and a major city on the east coast (the most important coast), our lack of titles is embarrassing. As the years have gone by I’ve watched our neighbors, New York, Boston, even Philadelphia, win championship after championship while we go home every year and tell ourselves things will be different next season.
I mean, we haven’t even been to a conference championship in hockey, basketball, football, or baseball in 20 years, the last being the 1998 Capitals who were swept right out of the Stanley Cup by the Detroit Red Wings. I was there for game 3 as a kid, I don’t remember being sad or angry, but I do remember my dad swearing for the entirety of the car ride back to northern Virginia.
In my tenure as a Washington sports fan, I have been let down in every conceivable way.
I have lived through Dan Snyder’s endless incompetence, the RG III hype train, the Joe Gibbs years, the Steve Spurrier disaster, the Jim Zorn disaster, firing Marty Schottenheimer, and chasing Mike Shanahan out of town. I witnessed our front office make terrible personnel decisions over and over, overpaying players past their prime like Deion Sanders and Albert Haynesworth. I remember Gus “I gave myself a concussion” Frerotte, Trent Green, Brad Johnson, perpetual letdown Patrick Ramsey, AARP member Mark Brunell, Jason “mediocre” Campbell, fat Donovan McNabb, Sexy Rexy Grossman, and RGknee. I thought we finally found a franchise quarterback in Kirk Cousins only to have the front office fuck it up once again.
I have followed the Wizards since Juwan Howard and Chris Webber were our stars. I even stuck around when they really sucked from 1997-2004. When Michael Jordan took over as GM, drafted Kwame Brown at #1, and did so poorly building a team that he had to come out of retirement at 42 to help them win. I got my hopes up during the Gilbert Arenas, Brendan Haywood, Caron Butler era until the team got blown apart by locker room threats of gun violence. More recently I have watched the new Wizards in the John Wall/Bradley Beal “House of Guards” era cement themselves as a 5 seed and nothing more, with the front office unable or unwilling to give our two stars a decent supporting cast.
I was at game 5 in 2012 when the Nationals blew a 6 run lead to the St. Louis Cardinals. It was the most brutal, heart-wrenching thing I have ever experienced in sports. But I was still a fan. And I remained a fan after they lost in the first round to the Giants in 2015, the Dodgers in 2016, and the Cubs in 2017.
The only photo I have from the game 5. After this, I didn’t want to remember.
Lastly, and worst of all, I have seen one of the best (regular season) teams in hockey choke in the first round or lose to the Penguins for the better part of a decade. Knocked out of the first round again and again and a-fucking-gain until this year. And was forced to listen to every sportscaster with a hot take blame Ovechkin regardless of how well he plays.
I had come to expect mediocrity. I became too jaded and cynical to care. Hope was dead, disappointment was my grim reality. Why get excited when the Capitals win the President’s Cup? We wanted the Stanley Cup. Or at the very least a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Sure there were some good times. The RGknee rookie season was electrifying to watch, and beating Dallas in week 17 to make the playoffs on a Tony Tomo pick was pure, unadulterated bliss. The hope of the Redskins having long-term success seemed possible, if only for a minute. Watching the Capitals and the Nationals during the regular season is always a blast. And the Wizards sweeping the Raptors in 2014 had me thinking we were going to win the title against all odds.
I have experienced levels of disappointment I didn’t think were possible, from an unrequited love for a set of teams that always let me down. I was alive for the Joe Gibbs Superbowls but unfortunately, my memory didn’t work yet, so I can’t cherish those. All I have known is pain and suffering. Constantly hopping from one underperforming team to the next, getting my hopes up then crushed. Rinse. Repeat.
Being a loyal Washington sports fan was partially responsible for all of my alcohol and drug abuse in my mid-20s. It was like having an ex-girlfriend who cheats on you, breaks up with you, but you get back together with her every single year. You tell yourself, “This time will be different, she’s better now,” only to be crushed again. A perpetual state of self-inflicted misery.
If there’s anything to learn from these 20 years of unnecessary stress and regrettable outbursts, it’s that patience and perseverance eventually do pay off. Sure it took Ovechkin 10 years, but he finally did it. I almost gave up being a fan, dialing my enthusiasm and support way down as a defense against getting my heart broken for the 500th time. I should have kept being invested for this eventual payoff. Sometimes things take much longer than you want them to, and you have to take a lot more Ls than expected before something great happens. When things are at their worst (being down 2-0 to the blue jackets in round 1), is when you need to care the most.
My emotions are mixed, but overall I’m beyond happy that the Capitals finally did it. I’ve let my guard down once again and dialed my hopes all the way back up for the Stanley Cup. If they break my heart again, I’ll take it in stride, because this time, Washington made it out of the second round. Well, honestly, if they lose this series I’ll probably break something expensive in my home and scream at whoever is unfortunate enough to be around me. I’ll also swear off any Washington teams forever. But those feelings will be temporary.
Now, for the love of God, let’s bring home that cup.