“This year, Washington was just a plain old bad sports town,” my colleague Chris Cillizza wrote in one of the grown-up parts of this publication, nominating D.C. sports teams for his Worst Year in Washington prize.
Um, “this” year?
Look, Chris, you have to find the small joys amidst the large failures. And thus, for the fifth straight year, I’ll present the 11 most memorable moments of the D.C. sports calendar. These are moments that are (mostly) locally based, moments that attracted national attention, moments that didn’t make us vomit with disgust, and moments we’ll remember in 10 years, when our city’s teams are winning titles and are city’s athletes are romping around with dogs named Swag.
11. Albert Haynesworth and Donovan McNabb Depart
Granted, when one of the best moments of the year involves washed-up stars hitting the road, it hasn’t been the greatest year. Still, this was a purge of venomous toxins, a ritual cleansing, a flushing-out of the old star system and a signal that hey, maybe things could actually change. Plus, the Redskins got draft picks in return. Plus, it meant we never had to hear about conditioning tests or cardiovascular endurance again. Plus, both players were total flameouts in their new destinations.
10. Dale Hunter Shows Up
If the Bruce Boudreau Era had to end — and it did — it’s hard to imagine it ending with more happiness than a Dale Hunter return. Sure, that hiring hasn’t quite worked out yet, in the same way that the Super Committee hasn’t quite worked out yet, or the John Beck Experiment hasn’t quite worked out yet, or the Navy Yard Redevelopment hasn’t quite worked out yet, or monetizing online newspaper content hasn’t quite worked out yet. But for a moment, this hiring delivered a quick shot of caffeine to a year of late-afternoon naps.
9. Lamont Peterson wins a title in D.C.
Another one of my colleagues, the insane Mike Wise, recently wrote that Peterson’s upset win over Amir Khan at the Convention Center was “the single greatest sports story in Washington this year.” I would have trouble giving that honorific to an event that hinged on two questionable penalties for excessive pushing, which sounds like something that could really derail the careers of Fred Davis and Trent Williams. This wasn’t even the best D.C. sports story on HBO in 2011. But it was dang cool.
8. Stephen Strasburg Returns
Strasburg’s 2010 debut showcased pure dominance on a beautiful night for baseball in front of a packed house. His 2011 return came on a rainy night in front of a middling crowd that hadn’t been sure if a game would be played. But it was an event that the entire country paid attention to, and it showed that Strasburg — unlike, say, the Caps second line — wasn’t broken.
7. Two Lockouts End
You know how degenerate gamblers say it’s better to have bet and lost than never to have bet at all? I feel the same way about following D.C.’s bad sports franchises; ‘tis better to go through the indignities and mini-tragedies together, than be forced to watch repeats of Jersey Shore alone. Lots and lots and lots of games were lost, but at least seasons weren’t.
6. The Nats June winning streak
Remember when the Nats moved over .500 in June for the first time since 2005, on the strength of 11 wins in 12 days? That was awesome. Then, like two seconds later, Jim Riggleman resigned, saying he was “too old to be disrespected,” and soon wound up in Caddies on Cordell lore. Dangit, this was supposed to be a positive list.
5. The Redskins Trade Down
Washington entered April’s draft with eight picks. Instead of trading up and making a splash, they traded down, and kept trading, and wound up with 12 picks for the first time since 1985. Honestly, it was the single best thing that happened to the franchise in years, besides Vinny Cerrato rapping “Ice Ice Baby” on his radio show. My problem with putting this so high is that it was entirely boring, but I guess boring is ok sometimes.
4. The Caps beat the Rangers
In the past decade prior to last spring, the Wizards had won one playoff series, the Redskins had won one playoff game, and the Caps had won one playoff series. And Jason Chimera’s double-overtime game-winner in Game 4 was one of the best in-competition moments any D.C. team provided in 2011. So I guess this makes the list. The resulting sweep against Tampa kind of ruined the moment, though.
3. The Wizards introduce new uniforms
Yeah, not a great year. Those uniforms are beautiful, though, and were a definite step away from the blue-and-bronze travesty that helped ruin the past decade of D.C. pro hoops. I think adrenaline may actually have been involved. Or maybe that was a liquid lunch. Can’t remember.
2. College Coach Bonanza
Not sure if this is positive or not, but the D.C. coaching ranks turned over almost completely in 2011, with the departure of Final Four coaches in Jim Larranaga and Gary Williams and the arrival of big names like Mark Turgeon, Paul Hewitt and Mike Lonergan. The entire college basketball landscape of this region was completely transformed within a few months. This isn’t even a moment, though. This list is stupid, Dan.
1.The Winter Classic
Yes, it was almost 365 days ago. Yes, it was just one regular-season game. But when you combine the HBO buildup with the hated rival with the unforgettable experience for anyone who traveled to Pittsburgh, I don’t see how anything that ensued could equal this. It was the only thing that happened in 2011 that could even come close to a list of the top sporting events I’ve ever experienced, the moments where you just wanted to look around and hug your neighbor and say “Wow” into the heavens.
So here’s to a new year in which the sporting highlight doesn’t come on the first day.
Honorable Mentions: Rory McIlroy’s U.S. Open triumph, Charlie Davies’s redemption tour, Dwayne Dwayne De Rosario’s MVP campaign, Jan Vesely’s kiss, Wilson Ramos’s rescue, Maryland’s football uniforms.