Thirty minutes before Game 1 of the Caps-Rangers series began, the cup holders behind the Rangers bench were stuffed with two items: a piece of paper with a typed message, and a small red rectangular package containing a bright red poncho.
“Please proudly wear the poncho as long as you can, at least through the first period,” read the note.
What’s the lifespan of a playoff sight gag concerning a visiting coach? Well, longer than two years, anyhow.
After Rangers Coach John Tortorella threw that water bottle over the bench and into the Verizon Center stands in 2009, maybe 10 or 20 ponchos showed up for the final game of the series. As soon as this year’s rematch was set, longtime Caps fan Brandon Wise decided a grander gesture was required. He poked around on Japers Rink to see if he could rally support, and soon someone found a place shipping ponchos in bulk.
Well, one thing led to another, and next thing you know, readers had chipped in more than $300, covering the cost of 200 ponchos plus overnight shipping. A Caps fan from California shipped an Elmo poncho, with the stipulation that it be given to someone in the front row. Other fans designed print-out signs – “Beat the Raingers,” “Tonight’s Forecast: Chance of Flying Water Bottles” and so on – and Operation Poncho 2.0 was born.
“You want one? Wise offered me before the distribution phase began. “All the cool kids are doing it.”
“You know you want to look ridiculous,” added Becca Henschel, who volunteered to handle the financials although she had never met Wise before Wednesday night.
“Alright, we’re gonna get to work,” Wise said, and off the went.
How did the fans respond? Well, good luck finding many sports fans who will turn down a free anything, even if it’s a bright red poncho for use inside a fairly dry building.
“I was warned in advance,” said Daril Zednik, sitting five rows back. “He might through something that stains, who knows?”
“You’re gonna throw a water bottle at me, I’m ready for you,” said a fan named Alex, sitting in the second row, who declined to provide her last name.
“Welcome to Washington, D.C.,” added her friend Jeff. “Make it rain, baby.”
I did see one man decline the poncho, even when Tortorella’s bottle-throwing tendencies were explained.
“I’ll buy beer and dump it on him if he does that,” the man said.
“Fair enough,” Henschel said.
But the man’s companion soon found Henschel and requested two ponchos. You know, just in case.
And so, I ask again, what’s the lifespan of a playoff sight gag concerning a visiting coach?
“The only way this has legs after tonight is if he freaks out,” Wise said. “Other than that, I think this is probably the last hurrah.”
“I’m hoping he does something else new and embarrassing that we can make fun of him for next time,” added Kevin O’Reilly, another poncho volunteer.
“We’re a very weird fan base,” Henschel concluded. “Might as well embrace it.”