Contemplating leaving New York and the daily drama of nine pro teams, I was often asked, “So, do you just not like sports?”
But then Joe Gibbs came back, coincidentally on the day I interviewed for this job, after 12 years. By late 2004, Washington had been awarded a baseball franchise for the first time in three decades, the Capitals had drafted the most electrifying player of his generation and a Thompson was again hired to resurrect the Hoyas. When a 14-year-old phenom named Freddy Adu became the first child to play a pro team sport in almost a century, even RFK Stadium hummed with noise and belief when D.C. United took the field.
The Wizards didn’t need Michael Jordan; they soon had Gil, ‘Tawn and, later, Caron – and, to boot, a villain named LeBron. For many months between 2005 and 2008, the buzz in the arena was as palpable as the hope.
There would be a genuine Cinderella college basketball story for the ages at George Mason, and two more concocted on the Hilltop and College Park. George Mason could. Georgetown was back. Maryland still mattered: Gary and Greivis slung that stone toward Tobacco Road and occasionally the giant fell and the Terps women won a national basketball championship of their own.
The point is, from the outside Washington resembled a burned-out graveyard of a sports town more than seven years ago. And for me that concern disappeared almost overnight.
Oh, I have playfully given grief to this region’s fans from time to time about Washington being a lousy sports town. If the gauge were simply the success of the big-revenue North American sports teams, that’s not hard to back up. The Nationals did lose almost 300 games in three years before this season, the Redskins have hosted one measly playoff game in 11 years and the woeful Wizards have been to the second round of the playoffs once in three decades. The Caps have been exciting the last several years, but don’t have much to show for it in the postseason.
But that says little about the Washington-area sports fan, who was the subject of the Post’s recent in-depth survey of this region’s attitudes toward sports and its teams.
The term “Great Sports Town” or “Great Sports Fans” is so subjective. New York has some of the most sophisticated hoopheads in the world, many of whom could talk until 2 a.m. on a barstool about the Knicks’ need for a back-to-the-basket scorer. They are also the most fickle, turning on icons like Patrick Ewing or Joe Torre in a minute, and they are more obsessed with big names than fans of any sports town. Philadelphia, Boston and Chicago are 24-7 sports towns, but they often denigrate more than celebrate their teams and players.