Ron Weber, the Capitals' radio announcer, is known among the players as "Stats." They sometimes call him "George" because he looks like George Jetson, the cartoon character. And for reasons we will see later, "Elmer Fudd" fits very well indeed.
But "Stats," as in weird stats, is Weber's middle name.
He has figures on how many power-play goals the Capitals have scored on Tuesday nights in December when the moon is full. He can tell you which referee has slapped the most roughing penalties on Capital defensemen when the temperature at game time was more than 50 degrees.
But the most amazing stat is this: Weber has been at it through 136 players, eight coaches (counting interim), three general managers, two owners of WTOP-1500 and about a half-dozen station managers. He has seen 594 straight Capitals games--home and away, every snakebitten one.
During his 7 1/2 years, the Capitals are 147-356-91--the pits. They're right in the middle of the fiery furnace with no obvious means of escape. Still, Weber keeps bouncing right along, enjoying every minute of every game. Truer love hath no man than that he spend his life with the Capitals.
First things first. Is Weber a masochist?
"Not really. I enjoy my work. I'm like anybody else. Sometimes I say during a losing streak, 'Oh my, when is this going to end?' But there are only 30 or 40 other guys doing play-by-play in the National Hockey League, so I consider myself lucky."
It seems to me there are several reasons for Weber's longevity with the Capitals.
For one thing, he is an absolute, unabashed, unreconstructed homer. He doesn't use code words like "we" or "us," but you don't have to listen very long to get an idea which side he's on. You have to figure Capitals listeners are hard-core. If he weren't enthusiastic, he might be driving a bread truck.
Second, he has a homey, old-shoe, cornball style that wears surprisingly well in this try-to-be-trendy town. He has been known to call the puck "that little black biscuit." He's a sort of Lawrence Welk of play-by-play. A nice fellow, but he's never going to criticize the Lennon Sisters.
Third, and perhaps most important, he is superb on play-by-play. The first job of a hockey radio man is to provide a clear, vivid picture of all that frantic action. Some announcers fail to tell you where the shot is coming from. Weber never slips.
You'd like Weber. He doesn't come across as a know-it-all. There's even a certain vulnerability about him.
A few years ago, the story goes, Weber's wife told him that "Oklahoma!" had come to town. "Oh, yeah?" he said. "Who are they playing?" After he went to see the show, he said he liked the book. "It would have been great if they didn't have so many songs," he said.
Then there was the time Weber heard about a group of players crashing into another announcer's hotel room, dragging the guy into the hallway in his underwear, and, for the sheer joy of it, locking him out. Ever since, Weber reportedly has worn his bathing suit to bed on the road.
Weber's preparation for each game is the stuff of legend among the Capitals. He always flies to a road game the day before, to avoid blizzards or airline strikes. And ever the earnest student, he starts preparing his statistics books six hours before game time.
The statistics, many of them inane, provide Weber with a convenient "out." He need not focus, say, on Dave Parro's woeful goal tending on a given night if he can discuss where Ryan Walter stands on the all-time Capitals' list for consecutive games played.
Do we really need to know that in a recent seven-game stretch, Capitals games ended in three-goal margins one way or the other? How about the fact--mentioned in the middle of action--that Lou Franceschetti has the longest name in the Capitals' organization? Must you know that both teams have had the same number of saves in only 10 Capitals games in eight years?
"I don't think I should go too deep in analysis because I didn't grow up in hockey and I didn't play the sport," Weber said. "I don't do a lot of analysis because I don't know I've earned the right."
I disagree. The feeling here is Weber should feed us a little more analysis and a lot fewer facts, especially since he no longer has a color man on home games. Who has earned the right to analyze if not the one eyewitness of every Capitals game? Weber's not enough of a teacher in a game that could use more teaching.
Then there's the matter of homerism.
I don't think this is a mortal sin on the local level as long as it doesn't color the announcer's judgment, a la the accounts of Gene Hart of the Flyers. Hart has been known to urge the goons in Philadelphia to bang opponents' heads together. Weber at least will give credit to the other side.
But criticize his beloved, often pathetic Capitals? Mildly, if ever.
"Where do I come up short?" he asked. "I think sometimes I go a little--what do you call it--berserk? I get overly excited when I should cool it a little. Sometimes I get the feeling I'm reporting the game like a high school kid. Sometimes I listen to myself on the replays and I say, 'My God, Ron, this isn't the history of the world you're reporting.' "
On his "mail bag" show against the Bruins the other night, he read a Christmas poem to the Capitals from a fan named Susan. The opening stanza was more than enough: " 'Twas the night before Stanley and all through the rink, not a Caps fan was missing, the Caps would not sink . . ."
Pure, uncooked corn. He ought to hide such poems as that, but maybe they're what keeps him going.
As a friend and former Capitals writer once said, likening Weber to that children's toy which is always smiling and always pops back up: "I call him Weebs because he's resilient. Weebles wobble, but they don't fall down."