By comparison, I worked in Detroit at the Free Press for 10 years — long enough to edit a hardcover book called “Decade of Champions.” It was chockablock with stories and photos of the state of Michigan’s successes in the 1980s — and it sold out.
It’s easy to fall back on the “everyone here is from somewhere else” excuse, but I don’t buy it. First of all, not everyone here is from somewhere else. There are plenty of multi-generational Washingtonians. And while it’s true our area sees more turnover than the Redskins’ roster, that only explains the “foreign” jerseys in our home ballparks, arenas and stadiums.
It doesn’t address how jittery even longtime fans here seem to be. It took me a while to figure this out, but residents of the DMV have the most curious mixture of optimism and pessimism I’ve ever encountered.
For instance, I heard from fans who thought the Washington Redskins would go 10-6 and others who thought 6-10 would be a marvelous outcome. Then the Redskins started 2-0 and suddenly they were playoff-bound. Then they lost to Dallas, and the season was over, or it was the best thing to happen to them. Then they beat the Rams — the Rams — and fans were booking tickets to Indianapolis in February. Then came the loss to the Eagles, and the yearly quarterback controversy. . . you get the drift.
I wrote about what I called the “Optimism Creep” of Redskins fans earlier this year, but I tried to be careful not to mock them. I’ve come to have great affection for Redskins fans because no matter how much the team and/or the organization lets them down — and I’ve seen some tremendous valleys during my time here — they remain loyal. Oh, I’m sure the team loses some fans every year — that, more than the need to liquor people up and put them on an elevated platform, would explain the construction of the party deck at FedEx Field — but by and large they stick. As the wise Elizabeth Bennet said, “You have chosen your fault well. I really cannot laugh at it.”
Capitals fans, Wizards fans, Nationals fans, Terrapins and Hoyas fans, Hokies, Cavaliers, Howard — you name the team, their fans are all on the same roller coaster. It’s just that some are screaming with joy, some with despair and some because they want to get off the ride, but they don’t know how.
As an editor, I most often studied Washington’s fans from afar, interacting only when readers wanted to complain about what was or wasn’t in the paper. As a columnist and host of a weekly online chat, all the walls came down. My inbox and the weekly chat posts offer a window into the souls of Washington fans. (Some of you need to close the blinds occasionally; you know who you are.)
I often find myself dispensing solace (and occasionally wishing I could dispense something a little stronger) when those who know me best would say that solace is perhaps not my strong suit. But it’s easier for those of us who can look on with some semblance of detachment. As a sports journalist — editor, reporter or columnist — you try to remain objective about the local teams. I broke this rule in my first job out of college, falling truly, madly, deeply in love with the Detroit Tigers.
I’ve not made that mistake again, but I will also admit that the longer you live somewhere, the harder it is to resist the siren song of the local teams, especially if you don’t come from a Chicago or a New York or a Philadelphia. I grew up 200 miles from any professional sports franchise so in my heart, I confess, I am prepared to be wooed.
So is much of Washington. It only takes one. I’ve seen it happen. One winner can make all the difference, even in a city as fractious and changing and as just plain hard to live in as this one can be. So who will be the team to score the victory that truly brings the region together? Because while the shouts of celebration are a uniform voice, that noted sports nut Leo Tolstoy was right when he said that every unhappy fan is unhappy in his own way. He’d feel right at home in Washington.