I was standing in the middle of G Street Northwest amongst a frenzied, red-clad mass when the clock ticked down to one minute remaining on the screens in front of the National Portrait Gallery, and I began to cry. I didn’t care that it was a horrendously ugly, unbecoming, immodest, chest-heaving cry. I also didn’t care that I was almost certainly scaring the group of teenage boys next to me whom I had befriended while staking out a viewing spot several hours prior to the start of game five of the Stanley Cup finals between the Capitals and the Vegas Golden Knights.
I was overwhelmed by a wave of emotion in a way I had not anticipated. The thoughts of past playoff disappointments washed over me, the sum of my experiences as a Capitals and, in truth, a D.C. sports fan came rushing to the forefront of my brain. Simultaneously, for the first time in my life, I knew my team would be ahead on the scoreboard when the horn sounded, concluding the final game of the season with a championship.
Throughout the playoffs I’ve learned that while my sports fandom is not zero-sum, my bandwidth for consuming (and producing, sorry Ken!) sports-related content certainly is finite. I have spent the last month and a half staying up well past my bedtime to gather together with close friends and many, many strangers in bars, in parks, in the arena, and out in the streets. Through group texts, and watch parties, and lots of post-game toasts, this postseason for the Capitals has created memories I will cherish forever.
I don’t want this feeling to end. I want to keep reading Tweets written exclusively in capital letters. I want to keep watching Alex Ovechkin, Jakub Vrana, Andre Burakovsky, Devante Smith-Pelly, Braden Holtby and the rest of the “babes” randomly popping up all over town partying with their fans. I want to continue listening to both local and national pundits celebrating not only our team, but our city, and us as fans.
While I now have read enough recaps and reflections to know that I wasn’t the only one who experienced an unexpected catharsis in the game’s final moments, I want to keep spontaneously being struck by fits of laughter throughout the day when I have the memory of the Capitals skating the Cup around the rink in celebration with gap-toothed ear-to-ear grins.
The fervor and excitement surrounding the Capitals march to the Stanley Cup victory was certainly aided in no small part by both a centrally located downtown arena and schedule that saw them play up to four games per week, not to mention unseasonably accommodating local weather forecasts. It was the perfect storm for a historic gathering and subsequent celebration.
Similar to a growing and sizable proportion of fans in the “Loss Generation,“ I’ve never seen a Redskins championship, let alone anything that comes close to resembling sustained success. My personal high-water mark came in the “Joe Gibbs 2.0” 2005 season with the Wild Card victory over Tampa Bay before being dispatched by the Seahawks in the Divisional round. Still to this day, the most fun I’ve had supporting the team came in week 17 of the 2012 season when the future was bright with RGIII at the helm as our franchise quarterback.
Far more often over the course of my fan experience, I’ve had to glumly turn the other cheek to ridicule from friends who support division rivals, or to make half-hearted attempts to justify the team’s relevance and significance, citing their history, which stems from an era that happened not just long ago, but also before I was ever able to experience it first-hand.
The Capitals trajectory, though far from linearly correlated to championship success, has more often than not followed a prolonged escalation to the top. There has been now over a decade of justified anticipation, which, despite being painful at times, unquestionably had a strong influence on the outpouring of jubilation that was evident on game days and at the team’s massive downtown celebration.
While it’s not fair to try to correlate one team’s output with another across multiple sports simply due to their shared geography, I have regularly felt my affinity for D.C.-area teams to not be mutually exclusive. Based on the number of hand-wringing articles and talk show segments on a “D.C. Curse,” I’m clearly not the only one who feels an inability to untangle the fates of area teams.
However, outside of light peer pressure between players and management, and potentially overlapping fan bases, it’s hard to attribute successes and failures to much more than pure chance. When it happens that a city is fortunate enough to be blessed with multiple championships in a short period of time (Pittsburgh in 2009, New England in 2004-2005, Los Angeles in 2002, New York in 1986…) it feels even more like the deck is “stacked against us,” a sentiment that is obviously more grounded in emotion than rationality.
I know not all Redskins fans are supporters of other D.C. teams -- it would be nearly impossible to become one of the five most valuable franchises in professional football with a fan base consisting strictly of locals. The culturally diverse and geographically disparate nature of our fanbase is something I value greatly. To know that I could go anywhere in the world and have a fellow supporter of our football club to watch a game with is special. While Tuesday’s parade that numbered tens of thousands strong down Constitution Avenue along the National Mall might not have the same emotional resonance for each of you as it does for me, I know that it’s a feeling I so badly want for all of us to be able to experience together. To hug, to high-five, to cheer, to shout, and to cry together -- to end the collective frustration of a doggedly loyal fanbase whose support has often run directly into the face of all rational and common sense.
For my money, the three most powerful words in sports, for fans at least, are “I was there.” For a long time, I have stifled my jealousy listening to my fellow fans talk about what it was like to be there and to know what it is to have experienced victoriousness. To line the streets drenched in the pounding rain while government workers vacated their offices to sing the fight song prior to commencing the parade, to cheer for 35 points in the 2nd quarter en route to a blowout on the shoulders of the first African American championship-winning quarterback, and to rock the seats in RFK up and down as seat cushions rained out of the night sky.
It all sounded so fun, a sensation I had never truly experienced until this spring.
I want this for us. I want this for Redskins fans. I want this again for Washington, DC. These past few weeks were unquestionably the most fun I have ever had watching sports, and offered the strongest sense of pride and affinity with my community. It has been special to share this time with fans who I have always felt are just as passionate, informed, and dedicated as other localities without ever receiving due recognition.
Now that we’ve gotten a taste of success and to show the world what D.C. is all about, I’m already hungry for some more.