ESPN The Magazine devoted most of a recent issue to Washington’s rise as a terrific sports town. That’s the case even though the Redskins haven’t made the playoffs since 2007 nor have the Wizards since 2008, the Nats have never won a postseason series, and the Caps haven’t advanced beyond the second round since 1998.
What’s making D.C. delightful for sports fans these is the sudden presence of so many elite, young athletes on our teams. Two-time MVP Alex Ovechkin, 28, and the core of the Caps are all under 30. The Redskins have the NFL’s top rookies at quarterback, 22-year-old Robert Griffin III, and running back, 23-year-old Alfred Morris. The Nats have baseball’s top teenager of 2012, center fielder Bryce Harper, and one of its best young arms, Stephen Strasburg, 24. The Wizards have a backcourt of Bradley Beal, 19, and John Wall, 22.
We’ve never been so blessed in this town. We only had baseball’s Senators until the Redskins arrived from Boston in 1937. The Senators left for Texas after the 1971 season, two years before the Bullets moved from Baltimore and the year before the Caps were created. And the Nats didn’t make this a true four-sport market like Chicago, Detroit or Philadelphia until they arrived from Montreal in 2005.
The thing that caught my eye about ESPN’s recognition of Washington was its illustration in which the magazine depicted 29 (why 29?) of the greatest names in our sports history in a re-creation of George Washington’s famous crossing of the Delaware River.
I’ll start with Wall either wearing the wrong number (0 instead of 2) or actually is Gilbert Arenas, but that’s a minor transgression.
It also bothers me that three Georgetown basketball heroes, coach John Thompson, All-American center Patrick Ewing, and mascot Jack the bulldog, are included, but no one else from a local college. Where’s AU’s Kermit Washington, who led the nation in rebounding? How about Jim Larranaga, who coached George Mason to the Final Four or former Navy superstars Roger Staubach and David Robinson?
Most egregiously, ESPN must consider Maryland a Baltimore school. The Terps should be represented by football All-American Randy White and coach Jim Tatum, basketball coaches Lefty Driesell and Gary Williams and one each of their top players, say Len Bias and Juan Dixon, as well women’s hoops coaches Chris Weller and Brenda Frese.
On the flip side, most of the picks from the pro teams are dead-on. To get back to the premise about Washington being a hot sports town, I’ll accept the yet-to-prove-much cast of RGIII, Wall, Harper and Strasburg, and I’ll remove all collegians. Soccer’s not my sport, but I’ll concur with DC United’s Jaime Moreno although coach turned player Ben Olson and Johan Cruyff of the 1970s’ Diplomats could have been considered.
So Griffin, Wall, Harper, Strasburg and Moreno are the first five in the boat that should be crossing the Potomac, not the Delaware.
The Caps’ choices — Ovechkin, sniper Peter Bondra and goalie Olie Kolzig (dissed by ESPN by being in the ice-strewn water) – should be joined by defenseman Rod Langway, whose acquisition turned the franchise into a contender and Hall of Fame scorer Mike Gartner.
That’s 10. The Bullets/Wizards are properly represented by rebounder extraordinaire Wes Unseld and scorer Elvin Hayes, the heart of the 1978 NBA champions. And I’m fine with longtime owner Abe Pollin, who also founded the Caps, instead of Dick Motta, coach of those champion Bullets. However, Bob Dandridge should be replaced by shooter/broadcaster Phil Chenier. Arenas should be here instead of Earl Monroe, who spent his Bullets tenure in Baltimore, for crying out loud.
Now we’re up to 15. Immortal pitcher Walter Johnson and expansion Senators slugger Frank Howard belong, but so do Senators manager turned owner Clark Griffith and a couple of his stars, Hall of Fame outfielder Sam Rice and fan favorite Mickey Vernon, as well current third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, the Mickey Vernon of his time.
That makes 21. ESPN’s choices of Redskins were just about perfect. There’s no argument with quarterbacks Sammy Baugh, Sonny Jurgensen, Billy Kilmer, Joe Theismann and the more symbolic Doug Williams. The same goes with running back John Riggins, receiver Art Monk, cornerback Darrell Green, coaches George Allen and Joe Gibbs and owner Jack Kent Cooke. But the Hogs should be included as a group and Hall of Famer Bobby Mitchell, the franchise’s first black player, has to be here as does longtime owner George Preston Marshall, who brought the Redskins to Washington and gave them a band and a fight song. And give me receiver Charley Taylor and safety Ken Houston, each a Hall of Famer.
So the final count on our crowded boat is 36 including the five kids and five coaches/executives: Griffith, Marshall, Cooke, Allen and Gibbs. That leaves 26 players, which oddly corresponds to the number of decades that Washington has had baseball (nearly 10), football (going on eight), basketball (almost four) and hockey (almost four) franchises.
Works for me. How about you?
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since last March. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin