Washington’s Baffling Home-Field Disadvantage
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Home sweet home. Homemade. Home cooking. Billy Joel sang “You’re My Home” about a woman whom he loved. Robert Frost wrote, “Home is the place where … they have to take you in.”
Home is supposed to be a wonderful, special place. So why do Washington teams have such trouble winning at home?
The Wizards, of course, are the most baffling example. On Saturday night, they outscored Houston 23-3 to turn a deficit that had climbed to 25 points in the third quarter into a five-point lead in the fourth only to surrender 10 straight points and lose to the visiting Rockets 114-107.
“We just have no sense of urgency of coming home and protecting home,” coach Randy Wittman said exasperatedly after the Wizards’ fourth straight home defeat and seventh in their last eight. “We don’t. We just go out and play like it’s an AAU game. There’s no excuse for the way we’re playing.”
Washington has won three of its last four on the road — losing only at powerhouse Indiana — to improve to 9-10 away from home, but is 7-9 at Verizon Center after going 22-19 there last season.
Of course, the Wizards are far from alone in failing to give the home fans what they want.
The Redskins will go into 2014 without having won at home in more than 10 months after losing their final four games in Landover in 2013. They were whipped by San Francisco, crushed by Kansas City, edged by archrival Dallas in the final minute, and blew an early 14-0 lead against the New York Giants. Washington also lost its only home playoff game of this millennium, turning an early 14-0 lead (sound familiar?) into a 24-14 loss to Seattle a year ago this month.
The Capitals have won just two of their last six games at Verizon Center. Two of those defeats did come in overtime so Washington earned a point in each of them, but the other were Sunday’s 2-1 shootout loss to lowly Buffalo and the first matchup with former coach Bruce Boudreau’s Anaheim Ducks since he was fired in November 2011. The Caps led 2-0 after 11:37 but didn’t score again and lost 3-2.
But then this is the franchise that has lost four straight Game 7s on home ice, three under Boudreau and the other last May under current coach Adam Oates. The last season in which Washington made the playoffs before Boudreau took over was in 2003. That’s when the Caps’ season ended with a three-overtime playoff loss to visiting Tampa Bay, which wasn’t quite as excruciating as the four-overtime version in Game 7 to New York Islanders at Capital Centre in 1987. The Caps’ lone trip to the Stanley Cup finals ended with a defeat on F Street in 1998 so Washington fans got to watch the Detroit Red Wings hoist the trophy.
The Nationals infamously blew a 6-0 lead and lost to St. Louis in the decisive Game 5 of the 2012 National League Division series. Last season, Washington was just 31-28 at Nationals Park after being swept by Atlanta in early August to fall a hopeless 15 games behind the front-running Braves in the NL East. Washington won 16 of its final 22 home games to no effect in finishing 10 games back and out of the playoffs.
Maryland reached a bowl for the first time since 2010 this season despite losing its last three games at Byrd Stadium by an average of 11 points. The men’s basketball team is 6-2 at Comcast Center, but the Terps were supposed to be perfect there so far. Instead, they lost to Oregon State and Boston University with formidable Syracuse, Notre Dame, Pitt, Virginia and Florida State still due to visit College Park.
The Mystics reached postseason for the first time in three years last summer but lost their only home playoff game. D.C. United was 3-10-4 at home, scoring just 16 goals.
Of course, there are exceptions to our teams’ ineptitude at home.
Navy’s football team was 5-0 in Annapolis last fall. Georgetown hoops is 8-0 at Verizon Center but has yet to welcome Villanova, Xavier, Creighton or Marquette to Washington. GW is 8-0 at Smith Center heading into tomorrow’s Atlantic 10 showdown with Virginia Commonwealth. George Mason is 5-2 at Patriot Center, but GW, Massachusetts, St. Louis and Dayton are among those who still have to visit Fairfax. And the Kastles never lose anywhere.
Looking ahead to this year, the Nats, who play the most home games of any local team, have a new manager, Matt Williams. As a third baseman, Williams was 8-for-25 (.320) with four doubles in postseason home games that his teams had to win or be eliminated.
That’s a good omen, but while new Redskins coach Jay Gruden was the offensive coordinator for playoff teams during each of the last three seasons in Cincinnati, the Bengals lost their only home postseason game by 17 points. And Gruden’s previous NFL experience came with Tampa Bay from 2002-08. The Buccaneers were 1-2 in postseason at home including a 2005 wild card defeat to the Redskins, that remains Washington’s only playoff triumph since 1999.
Maybe Dorothy was wrong. Maybe no place like home wasn’t true.
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.