Scarlet Fever Breaks Out Among Playoff-Bound Caps -- and Their Fans

By Dan Steinberg Excerpt From The D.c. Sports Bog
Sunday, April 6, 2008

Sixteen years ago, Mike Gorsuch caused near-fatal embarrassment to his son Matt while chaperoning an eighth-grade dance. The pain and humiliation lingered for well over a decade, until Matt finally extracted his revenge last night. How? By insisting his father come to the Caps' season finale dressed as Santa Claus.

"This," jolly old Mike Gorsuch said, "is the payback for 16 years of trauma."

The Gorsuch family -- father holding his "All I want for Christmas is a [Stanley Cup]" poster, son with a pillar of red-white-and-blue feathers on his head and a goatee dyed a deeper shade of red -- were hardly the only Caps fans expunging years of trauma via crimson costumes last night. The team's slogan morphed in the past week -- from "Red Out" on Tuesday and Thursday to "Rock the Red" last night -- but the costumed momentum continued unabated, with the normally purple Verizon Center transformed into a blushing violet.

There were red dresses and red women's boots, red bandanas and red purses, red mohawks and red ski masks, red crowns and red knee-high socks. Any red underwear, you're wondering?

"Actually, yeah," confirmed Porsha Mills from Southern Maryland. Would that be three games in row? "Not the same ones, but yeah," Mills said. (And she wasn't the only one.)

Two female fans sported red tank tops with puffy paint spelling out slogans too racy for a family blog, and two more wore red T-shirts that read "Mrs. Ovechkin" and "Mrs. Backstrom." They said the men of their dreams actually noticed these shirts.

"They kind of looked over and smiled," reported 19-year-old Cam Mancini, the wishful Mrs. Ovechkin. "Probably thinking, 'Okay, let's call security now.' "

Ten gents from Ontario, Canada -- close friends of Caps winger Matt Cooke -- arrived wearing matching off-red Caps T-shirts; some adorned with a handwritten "Cookie" on the back.

"If he scores I'm gonna streak tonight, maybe," promised Gary Sage of Belleville. "It depends how much we drink, how long they're going to keep me in jail, and if they can catch me. I'm big-boned, but I'm pretty fast."

Even team owner Ted Leonsis wore his red jersey throughout Washington's win.

"You don't usually see owners in jerseys," he observed. "I'm sure someone will say I look stupid in it, but it's the only thing red I had in my wardrobe."

While there were hundreds, if not thousands, of red Ovechkin jerseys, at least some segment of the crowd had yet to invest in the team's new color scheme, and so they improvised.

For example, here came Dave Leven, 20, wearing a Boston Red Sox sweatshirt, along with a Red Sox baseball cap, red baseball socks and Red Sox sneakers.

"It's like he thinks [David] Ortiz is going to show up for the game or something," said his unimpressed friend, Alex Bastow.

There were, in fact, red shirts representing the Washington Nationals, the St. Louis Cardinals, Liverpool FC, Bayern Munich, AC Milan, D.C. United, Team Canada, Team USA, the English national soccer team, the University of Louisville, the University of Arizona, Ohio State University, the University of Maryland, the Hagerstown Bulldogs, Amstel Light, Southern Comfort and, what's this, the Redskins? Who's providing the color advice here, Jim Zorn?

"I got a voice mail from Ted Leonsis reminding me to wear red," explained Russ Johnson, who was dressed in a Darrell Green jersey. "I haven't gotten my new Caps jersey yet. This is as close as it was going to get."

Dozens of burgundy-clad fans evidently shared Johnson's opinion, but they were hardly the night's most unique dressers. For example, consider Trevor White of Silver Spring, who, as usual, came to the arena wearing a red cape -- "basically a symbol of service, how can I help this team," he explained. White does tarot readings for the team once a month (and publishes the results on his blog), and carries two "rays of light" which he activates and waves in front of his body at key moments, including during the team's warm-up skate. Is he blessing the Caps?

"It's not so much of a blessing," he said; "it's just my way of saying hi."

(Happily, a team executive promised a "Rock the Red integrated campaign" for the playoffs, featuring red pom-poms, in-game videos and yet more excuses to break out the red underwear.)

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