There were only 7,369 fans in Capital Center last night but they sounded more like 70,000. They were stomping, screaming and yelling. They were waving American flags; waving "Free Afghanistan" signs and, in general, yelling at the top of their lungs.
The Capitals, to the surprise of everyone -- most notably their opponents -- had just taken a 5-4 lead on the Moscow Dyamo with 9:21 left in the game and the building was rocking.
Forgotten were the eight members of the Prince George's County SWAT team patrolling the catwalks overhead carrying high-powered binoculars and armed with rifles. Forgotten were the police, plainclothesmen and Capital Centre security personnel patrolling every nook and cranny of the building.
Forgotten was the booing during the Soviet national anthem. Forgotten were the two bomb threats prior to the game.
For a brief moment this was simply an outstanding hockey game with the home team in position to pull off a stunning upset. Suddenly, it wasn't a political event, it was a hockey game.
The lead did not last long and neither did the festive feeling. The game ended in a 5-5 tie, satisfying to the Capitals and their fans -- in hockey terms.
But from the moment the Russians were booed as they took the ice it was apparent that this was not simply a hockey game.
"Games between American teams and Soviet teams, they strengthen the friendship between the people," Dynamo Coach Vitali Davidov said after the game. "This game can emphasize the friendly relationship between these people through hockey."
There was little evidence of any such friendship in Landover last night.
Yesterday afternoon, a Washington television station and a local radio station received warnings that there might be bombs at the Centre.
"No comment," Jerry Sachs, Capital Centre president, replied when asked about the reported threats.
Throughout the game both the Soviet reserves and the area of the stands where about 100 employes of the Soviet embassy sat were patrolled tightly by security forces.
Nevertheless, the embassy employes had to endure an evening of cursing and catcalls from a coterie of fans who sat near them apparently just for the privilege of yelling at the Soviets.
"I'm sitting here just so they know how we feel . . .," said Mike Adamson, a painter from Baltimore, whose seats were actually on the other side of the building.
"I don't think the Capitals should have played the game; they should have canceled it. But I bought my tickets before the invasion and I knew I couldn't get a refund. So, I figured I'd come and let them know how I feel."
If the jeering bothered the Soviets, they didn't let on. "Good game," was about all any of them would say when approached by inquiring reporters.
The Russians were sitting high up in the $7.50 seats of Capital Centre. Originally, they had planned to buy $9.50 seats but they changed plans when they learned they could get a group rate sitting in a cheaper section.
While Capital officials tried to act nonchalant about the political implications of Dynamo's first game in the United States -- their three previous games on the tour were in Canada -- nerves were obviously frayed.
Example: For the past several games public address announcer Marv Brooks has been asking fans to rise and sing the U.S. national anthem "to show support for the hostages being held in Iran."
Brooks was ordered to skip that sentence last night.
During the Soviet anthem there was a good deal of booing and several American flags were waved. Several signs were confiscated by security personnel before the game but a number of "Free Afghanistan" posters made it through the security checks.
Only one Capital, Tom Rowe, is American. He sat in the stands during the game, out with a hip injury. "I'm protesting," he joked as he walked through the press box.
Still, the Canadians and Europeans who make up the Capitals were not oblivious to the political situation.
"We read the papers," Bob Sirois said. "We kind of thought beating them would be a nice way to maybe do a little something. It wouldn't have been that much but it's the only shot we'll ever get at them."
When it was over, there were cheers for the Caps, boos for the Soviets and handshakes among the players.
"Sports is sports," Davidov said when asked if he was aware of the booing and sign waving. "I do not understand these other matters."
With that Davidov posed with a sign written in Russian sent by the Capital fan club welcoming the Dynamo. "Thank you for the friendship," he said.