Then, of course, Hunter quit after less than a year, Adam Oates was hired, and the moment hockey reeled in everyone again it got in its own way with another labor war that threatens a full season for the second time in just eight years.
The Nationals’ very special season featured Bryce Harper coming up from the minors early, sprinting out foul pop-ups as if he were bolting from first base on a two-out, two-strike pitch, and comparisons to Ken Griffey Jr., Mickey Mantle and the greatest teens to play Major League Baseball. There was an argument for the ages of whether the brightest young arm in the game should be shut down before the postseason a year after his elbow ligament in his throwing arm was reconstructed — a debate that conveniently left out Stephen Strasburg’s opinion.
And, finally, just about the most emotionally grueling 30 hours in October any pacemaker could take.
One night, ecstasy: Jayson Werth depositing a walk-off home run beyond the left-field fence, extending the season to a decisive Game 5 against the Cardinals.
The next night: agony — oh, the agony. The Cardinals were left for dead, buried at 6-0, Nationals Park agog with noise. Bruce Bochy, the manager of the San Francisco Giants, confessed later that his team had their itineraries set for Washington and their scouting reports on the Nats’ finished and filed.
But then the ninth inning happened. Drew Storen, armed with a 7-5 lead, could not close. In 13 pitches, he held a two-strike, two-out count but somehow gave up four runs and the season in easily the most emotionally crushing ending anyone could remember.
Whatever rite of passage baseball had to go through to once again embed itself in Washington’s heart, it did so that night.
Lastly, the Redskins and RGIII did their part, taking the baton and sailing around the backstretch of the year.
The impossibly high expectations for Griffin were actually realized — in his first game! Carving up the Saints in a playoff atmosphere in New Orleans, the kid arrived with a bang.
But that debut and more highlights would be followed by defensive misery, more galling losses and the three faces of Shanahan: good Shanny, bad Shanny and beet-red, evaluation-mode Shanny.
Yet with the season’s relevancy in doubt, the coach and his option-read quarterback faked out their NFC East rivals with a deceptive shell game, one that amounted to 69 points in back-to-back wins over the Eagles and Cowboys and, more important, a renewed sense of purpose in the team’s final seven games.
If they pull this surreal run off, beat Dallas, win their final seven games and the division and host just the second playoff game of the Daniel Snyder ownership era, RGIII and friends might just make this the most memorable sports year ever in Washington.
As a massive “Sunday Night Football” telecast nears, it has to be asked:
Can Griffin and the Redskins cleanse the wounds of all those psychologically scarring losses of years past this holiday season? In the month that celebrates Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and the birth of the baby Jesus, can we be delivered by Touchdown Threesus?
Bigger question yet: Is this all a tremendously corny reach? Most certainly.
But, hey, if the kid somehow does perform another on-field miracle, doesn’t this at the least all have to go down as Shanahan’s Immaculate Perception?
For previous columns by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.