Redskins

A Wild Couple Of Days In D.C. Sports

by David Elfin
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John Wall and Bradley Beal celebrate the Washington Wizards clinching a playoff berth for the first time since 2008 after beating the Boston Celtics Wednesday night. (credit: Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

John Wall and Bradley Beal celebrate the Washington Wizards clinching a playoff berth for the first time since 2008 after beating the Boston Celtics Wednesday night. (credit: Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

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We’ve become used to craziness in D.C. sports during our tumultuous recent years, but the events that took place in the brief span of time from 1:30 Monday afternoon until 9:30 last night were pretty incredible for a city known for its slowly-moving federal bureaucracy.

Here’s what happened in the span of those 56 hours.

The Wizards – who had blown a 16-point lead and lost at Charlotte on Monday night — clinched their first playoff berth in six years by whomping the visiting Boston Celtics.

“We were in a desperate spot not too long ago,” said Wizards coach Randy Wittman. “When I took over [in Janury 2012], I just tried to keep telling our guys, [owner Ted Leonsis and general manager Ernie Grunfeld], let’s do this the right way and build this and teach, and one day we’re going to get here. Each year, we kept putting a piece here and there, kept developing, kept maturing. … We had some ups and downs like you always do and we’re still learning the process of what it takes to be a really good team. [But] I couldn’t be more happy for those guys.”

Maryland women’s basketball team rallied from a seven-point deficit early in the second half and then survived a heart-stopping last-minute really by host Louisville to advance to the Final Four for the first time since Brenda Frese’s Terps won it all in 2006.

“We really got them to buy in to welcoming the environment, embracing it,” Frese said. “If this was three months ago, we wouldn’t have been prepared … to see this team grow, the trust level, the confidence level, was really special to be able to watch.”

The Nationals opened the season on Monday in New York by overcoming a rough start from ace Stephen Strasburg and being down to their last strike before taking the Mets to extra innings during which they prevailed only to lose catcher/new cleanup hitter Wilson Ramos for perhaps two months with a broken hand.

“That’s what we want to have as our DNA, that we never give up,” rookie manager Matt Williams said. “We never give in. … We have the kind of folks on this club who can do that.”

Last night, for good measure, 2012 All-Star Gio Gonzalez pitched six innings of three-hit ball while also smacking a homer run as Washington moved to 2-0 in advance of tomorrow’s home opener against Atlanta, the team that unseated the Nats as NL East champions in 2013.

The Redskins not only finally lured back hard-hitting safety Ryan Clark, whom they foolishly replaced with Adam Archuleta in 2006, but they signed DeSean Jackson to a lucrative contract just five days after the three-time Pro Bowl receiver was cut because of character concerns by NFC East champion Philadelphia, a team whom he’ll surely want to torch twice a year as he had often done to Washington.

“It was a humbling experience for myself, me being at the peak of my career and doing some great things in this league the first six years … to be released like that,” said Jackson, who had a career year in 2013. “Obviously me coming from the Eagles [facing them] will definitely be emotional.”
The Capitals continued their collapse with an embarrassing 5-0 loss to Dallas at Verizon Center dropping Alex Ovechkin and Co. to 0-2-2 since Mar. 22. Instead of executing their usual postseason push, they’re making fans wonder if Leonsis will fire 17th-year GM George McPhee and second-year coach Adam Oates and even break up the core of the team that upset defending Stanley Cup champion Boston in the playoffs less than two years ago.

“We’ve been scored on a lot and that’s not good,” said center Nicklas Backstrom, who has yet to miss the playoffs during his seven seasons. “That’s not going to win us games. … The effort’s not there and we’re not working tight together. That’s something we need to get better at; we need to make everyone accountable.”

Joy. Drama. Angst. And even death.

Navy’s football team returned to practice on Tuesday with heavy hearts, 11 days after freshman slotback Will McKarney had collapsed during practice with bleeding on the brain from which he succumbed on Mar. 25.

“There’s nothing that prepares you for something like that,” said Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo. “We just have to continue to press forward and do the best we can. I don’t think anyone knows the timetable or what to do and how to do it. The way we can honor Will, one of our brothers, is to come out here and get after it on the field. Hopefully, coming back and hitting, tackling, catching the ball – just doing what these guys do – would help us heal.”

Did I miss anything that happened during those wild two-plus days?

Jackson’s signing could wind up being the biggest game-changer, but for the moment, Washington fans can crow that each of their four major pro sports teams has reached postseason over the last 18 months with the Wizards following the Nats (October 2012), Redskins (January 2013) and Caps (April 2013).

We still haven’t been blessed with a championship – apologies to the Kastles, DC United, and Maryland’s men’s and women’s hoops squads — since the Redskins last won the Super Bowl in January 1992, but since we’ve only been a four-sport town for nine years, all of the big dogs being at least playoff-worthy in the span of a year and a half is progress.

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.

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