Dealing with the end of the Caps season


(Alex Brandon / AP)

Back when I was young and generally optimistic, I used to try to offer some sort of wistful commentary when a D.C. sports team’s season ended without a championship. Now, I prefer to think about how the end of a season just means we’re all one season closer to the grave.

“I had lived my life one way and I could just as well have lived it another,” as Meursault says near the end of The Stranger. “I had done this and I hadn’t done that. I hadn’t done this thing but I had done another. And so?”

“I had rooted for this pro sports franchise, but I hadn’t rooted for this other. And so?” he might as well have added.

But that’s kind of gloomy. For a more optimistic view, let’s turn to John Walton, the perpetually optimistic Caps radio voice, who offered a monologue on Sunday about another season gone by. And he did it without even mentioning death. Listen to it here; an edited transcript is below.

“A bit of commentary before we end,” Walton said during his final postgame show of the campaign. “This is not the way that we wanted this season to end. For now 39 seasons in the National Hockey League, that has been the theme. It is a sad but true fact of sports: you don’t get to win every year, and sometimes you don’t get to win for a long time. We are still left waiting here in Washington.

“But this is not about that today. I was inspired by a visit to the radio booth on Friday from Hall of Famer Ron Weber — who still comes to games and came by to see us on Friday. There are those of you who have been longtime fans of this organization; I don’t have to tell you how good Ron was at doing this.

“But 17 years ago today was Ron Weber’s last game on the air. It was on April 13th, 1997 in Buffalo. He is still a fan today. He is still here today. He remains hopeful of seeing this team win a Stanley Cup. And even if it’s not the microphone that’s in front of them, he is as Capital as it gets. And for the Hall of Famer and the rest of us, I see a little bit of a tale, something that we can carry with us into this offseason.

“It was on April 19, 1987, for me personally, that I remember watching a Caps game for the first time. I was with my dad, and I was living in Ohio. As a kid, you didn’t get a lot of NHL games on the air, but I watched that one. It was the New York Islanders and the Washington Capitals. I don’t have to tell you how it ended. It went four overtimes. Bob Mason did everything he could. I stayed awake as best I could, as a lot of kids my age at that time  probably did. But it was Pat LaFontaine that did ‘em in, and it was at that point that I found myself not necessarily happy for the Islanders, but thinking about what it must have been like for Caps fans, and for Caps players, to have participated in something like that, and then fall short.

“That, friends, is called emotional investment. We all have it. For me, it started with the Washington Capitals that day. And I never could have foreseen a moment that I would be here in the radio booth with you, doing this for a living. And I am incredibly blessed to do so.

“But for all of us, that’s what drives us. That’s why we love the game. It’s the emotional investment. Was this a disappointing year? Absolutely it was. Changes are coming, and that is appropriate. The business of the game isn’t always pretty. But whatever happens — it’ll unfold in the next few days and the next few weeks — it will prompt discussion with those around us, with whom we watch this team.

“And see, that’s the thing: those people around us. Our friends. Our family. All of us have stories with this game. There’s a reason why you listen to the post-game show after the 82nd game of the year. There’s a reason that this building was near capacity today, not just in tickets sold but with the seats that were filled. It is because of the [people] that we share this game with: our kids, our parents, the first game we ever came to….

“Have there been negative moments along the way? That’s what we talk about with our friends, isn’t it? All of the following names are four-letter words to us, like Nedved, and Lupul, and Halak, and LaFontaine. There was heartbreak in there, but we shared it with people who meant a lot to us.

“One day — and it’s a moment that you have to visualize — there will be a parade down Constitution Avenue. And the Stanley Cup will be there. And it may be next year, or it may be a long way down the road. But it will be remembered for the people that we went to see it with. And it’ll be the best parade we ever saw in this town.

“This was a disappointing season, to be sure. And there will be a lot of talk in the next few days about the trajectory of the franchise. But just for a moment, just ponder who you’ve been at games with, who you will continue to go to games with. The moments that you shared. Fathers and sons, and mothers and daughters, and friends, and co-workers….

“You lament some of the things that have happened. You take pride in others….Our town. Our team. Our Washington Capitals. Keep the faith everybody. And we’ll do this again come next fall.”

Dan Steinberg writes about all things DC sports at the DC Sports Bog.
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