The headline on my column yesterday read “3 Reasons This Caps Loss Hurts More Than Past Playoffs.”
A faithful reader responded that he disagreed with that idea, e-mailing, “Unfortunately this loss doesn’t hurt very much as it’s gotten the point where I’m not even disappointed after last night. … I just don’t expect anything from them anymore.”
I had watched part of Caps-Rangers Game 7 with this longtime Caps fan’s brother. As Washington’s 1-0 deficit grew to 3-0 during the second period, the brother didn’t get angry. He didn’t even get depressed. He was more relieved, saying that now he wouldn’t have to spend so much time watching and worrying about the Caps and could focus more on his job. He seemed almost happy that his annual spring agony couldn’t torment him again until next April.
You know the local 30-something hockey fan for whom I feel really bad? Former Caps captain Jeff Halpern, a 37-year-old Potomac native whose Montreal Canadiens also exited in the first round, meaning he has still never won a series during his 13 NHL seasons.
But I do understand the brothers’ mentality. I love most Woody Allen movies and share much of the director’s “expect the worst so you’re pleasantly surprised when things go right” attitude. A lifelong fan of Syracuse and Maryland, two college basketball programs with a habit of blowing leads, I’m always looking at the game clock to figure out how long the Orange or Terps have to hold on to survive. And having covered the Caps in a dozen playoff springs as well as Norv Turner’s entire Redskins tenure, I’m well-versed in writing stories in which defeat is grasped from the jaws of victory.
But I worry about my buddies, the brothers. They are a generation younger than I am and don’t remember the Redskins’ glory days under Hall of Fame coaches George Allen (1971-77) and Joe Gibbs (1981-92) or the era when the Bullets (now the Wizards) were one of the NBA’s powerhouses (1969-79).
Consider that the Redskins have made the playoffs just four times in 20 years, winning just two games. The Wizards have reached the playoffs just five times in 25 years, winning a lone series. And Washington didn’t have a baseball team from 1972-2004 with the Nats going out in the first round last October in the capital’s first postseason baseball since FDR was a rookie President way back in 1933.
For local 30-somethings, the Caps’ regular spring collapses are really what they know when it comes to Washington teams and postseason. So no wonder they cringe when they hear the word playoffs and act like yet another ugly outcome can be brushed aside like sandwich crumbs.
I’m not trying to be cute or offend women who have been abused – I have two rescue spaniels who were badly mistreated before I adopted them — but I think that my friends suffer from battered fan syndrome. They not only expect their team to lose, they’re OK with it and deal with defeat by saying that now they can go about their lives. I’m no psychologist, but I know these guys do care deeply about hockey and the Caps just like another friend of mine who joked (?) that late Caps and Bullets owner Abe Pollin sold his soul to the devil for the latter’s lone championship in 1978 – a la the Senators’ Joe Hardy in “Damn Yankees” — and that his franchises are paying the price in perpetuity.
Look at the other 13 markets which have NHL, NBA, NFL and MLB teams. The Bay Area (the Giants), Los Angeles (Kings) and Miami (Heat) are all defending champions. Boston (Bruins), Dallas (Mavericks) and New York (Giants) triumphed in 2011. Chicago (Blackhawks) won a title in 2010 while Detroit (Red Wings) and Philadelphia (Phillies) did in 2008. That’s nine of the four-sport markets which have thrown parades over the last five years.
Simply put, these fans, especially New Yorkers, expect their teams to win and are shocked when they don’t. Washingtonians expect their teams to lose and are shocked when they don’t.
Phoenix (Diamondbacks) was crowned in 2001 as was Denver (Broncos) in 1998 and Atlanta (Braves) in 1995. Only Minnesota (Twins) has waited longer for a champion (by three months) than Washington, which was last on top with the 1991 Redskins.
Less well-represented markets Baltimore, Green Bay, Houston, Indianapolis, Montreal, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Raleigh, St. Louis, San Antonio and Tampa Bay have also won titles more recently than D.C.
I don’t think my buddies, the Caps-loving brothers, need to see therapists. They just need a championship, like all Washington sports fans. Give us just one title and we can do some serious healing. And some serious celebrating. Do you hear me, RGIII?
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 three Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin