“It’s amazing. Honestly, that’s all I can say — it’s amazing,” James McLeod of Fredericksburg said that day. “I hope so many things. I don’t want to hope too much.”
He should have trusted his instincts. We all should have.
The year that ends Saturday turned out to be the same as every year for D.C. sports fans, filled with playoff failures and coaching changes, off-field embarrassments and downtrodden fans, dashed expectations and national irrelevance.
In retrospect, the Capitals’ New Year’s Day triumph may have been the high-water mark. Indeed, by Jan. 2 — as many fans were still driving home from Pittsburgh — the Redskins were losing to the New York Giants to finish off one of the worst seasons in Coach Mike Shanahan’s NFL career. The Redskins wound up winning just five of their 16 games played during 2011.
One day later, the University of Maryland introduced Randy Edsall as its head football coach, disappointing many fans who had hoped for a flashier hire. Edsall went on to amass a 2-10 record in his first season, alienating many longtime boosters and chasing off a string of disenchanted players.
On Jan. 4, the Nationals made one of their biggest offseason moves, signing free agent first baseman Adam LaRoche to a two-year, $16 million deal. LaRoche would play just 43 games, hitting .172 with three home runs, before undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery.
And so it went, day after day, week after week, month after month, loss after loss. If every unhappy sports year is unhappy in its own way, 2011 was blandly but relentlessly mediocre for Washingtonians. It was 12 months of stale bread, 12 months of overcast skies, 12 months of Rex Grossman and Andray Blatche.
“Being a Washington sports fan is the worst decision a person can ever make,” D.C. sports fan Emily Garcia wrote on Twitter in May, moments after the Capitals were swept out of the Stanley Cup playoffs, virtually ensuring a 19th straight year in which no major Washington professional team would win a title.
And it wasn’t just the professional teams that disappointed in 2011. In March, the Maryland men’s basketball team was shut out of both the NCAA and NIT postseason tournaments for the first time since 1993. Georgetown made the NCAA tournament as a sixth seed, but was crushed by 11th-seeded VCU, failing to win a single NCAA tournament game for the third straight year.
George Mason’s Jim Larranaga, who had ushered the school to an improbable Final Four berth and unprecedented national attention, bolted for Miami in late April. Within two weeks, Maryland’s best player, sophomore Jordan Williams, defied conventional wisdom and left school early for the NBA. Almost immediately, the school’s legendary coach, Gary Williams, retired.