Washington's Big 3 Came Up Huge

By George Solomon
Sunday, April 6, 2008

Talk about a week of drama involving Gilbert Arenas, Alex Ovechkin and Ryan Zimmerman -- three of the brightest stars in Washington.

Arenas returned to the Wizards on Wednesday night after missing 66 games with a knee injury, scoring 17 points in almost 20 minutes against the Milwaukee Bucks. But Agent Zero didn't just show up at Verizon Center and join a layup line. He appeared on the court with about five minutes left in the first quarter in a scene teammate Brendan Haywood called "a Willis Reed moment" -- recalling Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals, when the captain of the New York Knicks limped onto the court with a severe thigh injury to inspire his team over the Los Angeles Lakers.

Gilbert's return was stirring, too, despite the Wizards losing in the last second when Ramon Sessions, that much-renowned Bucks reserve guard, ran down a loose ball with 1.1 seconds left, called timeout and then scored the winning basket. Did Ramon follow that remarkable sequence by selling beers to the departing fans?

The defeat was devastating for many, but none more than WTEM's play-by-play man Dave Johnson, who kept repeating "what a way to lose."

The previous night in the same arena, Ovechkin rocketed his NHL-leading 63rd goal of the season into the Carolina net to ensure the Caps' 4-1 victory and send a sellout crowd of 18,277 into a frenzy -- keeping alive the team's playoff hopes. Two nights later, Alex the Great rammed home two more goals, the second a game-winner in a 4-1 win over Tampa Bay. Ovechkin has my vote for MVP -- if I voted.

Meanwhile, Zimmerman's heroics began last Sunday night with a game-winning home run in the ninth inning, giving the Nationals a 3-2 victory over the Atlanta Braves in the first regular season game at Nationals Park. Three nights later, Zimmerman homered in the Nats' 1-0 win in Philadelphia. Zimmerman has my vote for MVP of the first week, if there were such an election. His dramatics highlighted the opening of Nationals Park that included President Bush throwing out the first pitch to cheers and boos from a great crowd.

Making It the Hard Way

Still, life isn't all about superstars and presidential openers.

Case in point: Bruce Boudreau, the 53-year-old career minor leaguer who once coached the Muskegon Fury, Fort Wayne Komets, Mississippi Sea Wolves, Lowell Lock Monsters, Manchester Monarchs and Hershey Bears and now coaches the Caps. Boudreau, who had cups of coffee as a player in the NHL, is 36-17-7 since taking over for Glen Hanlon in late November, with a six-game winning streak going into the weekend, including taking 10 of 11 down the stretch.

In a league where many of the coaches wear Canali suits ($1,500 retail), Boudreau proudly sports your basic black suit, red shirt and red-and-gray tie -- harboring no additional sartorial ambitions.

"I'm cheap," Boudreau said in a brief wardrobe discussion the other night. "I've been in the minors for more than 30 years. This works for me."

But Boudreau is officially big league. What a job he did. His bosses, owner Ted Leonsis and GM George McPhee, ought to sign him up now for next year. With a Canali-type raise.

Second case in point: Haywood, the oft-maligned, 7-foot Wizards center who is in his seventh NBA season, has been solid all year, averaging 10.5 points and helping the team to its fourth straight playoff appearance.

While I admired Haywood's improvement on the court, I also appreciated what Ed Tapscott, the Wizards director of player development, called "his sense of history."

"I watch the classic NBA games," Haywood told me on Friday. "Game 7 in 1970 was one of the great NBA games of all time. Willis Reed limping onto the court. Everyone knows that."

Of Arenas's return, Haywood said: "When he's healthy, he's our closer."

The Perils of Fanhood

With the Capitals and Wizards thinking playoffs -- and the NCAA men's and women's Final Four at hand -- most sports fans will experience a feast this weekend. At least those brave enough to watch their favorite teams in crucial games.

Of late, I've heard more stories about fans who simply can't bear to watch their team in a big game. For instance, Tony K's friend, Tracee, will do anything to avoid watching her favorite Kansas Jayhawks on TV this weekend. Her mother, though, will watch until Kansas's opponent scores its first points. Sportscaster Al Koken remembers his mother, a huge St. Louis Cardinals fan, "just sneaking an occasional peak, too nervous to watch a whole game." My friend Doug, a huge fan of Minnesota's pro teams, no longer watches "because my nerves are shot." Another friend became so wrought during the Bullets' playoff runs of the 1970s, she'd spend two hours in a movie theater to avoid listening to the radio or watching television.

"Some people are so invested emotionally in their teams -- as an extension of themselves -- they're powerless to make a difference, so they avoid watching," explained Martin J. Book, a Bethesda psychiatrist who specializes in treating anxiety and depressive disorders. "And others watch because they want to get overly stressed with that adrenaline rush."

Some of the more emotional fans, Book said, are concerned about having a heart attack during the heat of the action. Others solve the problem by going to sleep during the game.


· I read David Elfin's interesting story on Redskins owner Daniel Snyder in the Washington Times on Wednesday, about how Snyder, 43, said he is "becoming a much better owner than I was when I was 34 years old."

That may be true. But I miss the young Snyder -- brazenly signing big-name free agents such as Deion Sanders, Bruce Smith, Jeff George, Brandon Lloyd, Mark Brunell, Adam Archuleta, Lance Briggs (oh, they didn't sign him?), Marcus Washington and others. Such excitement. Such a buzz.

This year? Zilch.

I also long for the days when Snyder signed up famous coaches Marty Schottenheimer, Steve Spurrier and Joe Gibbs. I miss those guys. They made headlines. I have to meet Jim Zorn.

· Farewell: Washington lost a terrific sportsman with the passing of Ben Brundred of a heart attack on March 28. Brundred ran the PGA Tour event here for 20 years until 2005, when he became its chairman emeritus. He did his best to keep the tournament big-time, even when many name players avoided the Avenel site.

· "Friday Night Lights" update: Post TV columnist Lisa de Moraes made the week by reporting NBC's decision to bring back our favorite TV show. Coach Taylor, Smash Williams and the rest of the Dillon High Panthers return for 13 episodes starting Oct. 1 on NBC's partner DirecTV, moving to the big network in 2009.

Have a comment or question? Reach me at talkback@washpost.com.

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