Don't look now, but the year 2000 may be as near as tomorrow.
Abe Pollin promised in November that the Capitals and Bullets would play at Capital Centre "until at least the end of the century."
Now come reports, albeit denied by league sources, that Pollin may merge the Capitals with the Colorado Rockies, with the hybrid team moving into the Meadowlands Arena in New Jersey. Another report has Pollin selling the Capitals, Bullets and Capital Centre to Washington interests who necessarily would keep the teams here.
Pollin's promise of November was based on the private financing he obtained to build Capital Centre. "The financing on this building is tied to the teams being here," he said then. "So they can't move or the financing would be in default. Legally, there's no way the teams can move."
Well, that was in November. Things change. In politics, the approximate life span of a November promise is six hours. Robert Fachet now reports that Pollin might satisfy the financiers by replacing the Capitals with a few more Georgetown University basketball games and an indoor soccer team.
Wait a second. Whoa. Stop right there.
Abe, please. Say it ain't so, Abe.
An indoor soccer team!
Indoor soccer--described as pinball with human beings!
Hockey without ice!
Come on. If God intended for soccer to be played indoors, He'd have raised Pele in a New York roller rink.
The idea is farfetched that a financier could be made happy with two or three more college basketball games and maybe 30 of these foolish pinball experiments. Surely Pollin can't be serious about this. But then, who knows? Once again, the owner who most often asks loyalty from his customers is giving them no reason to be loyal.
Silent Abe isn't telling the customers anything.
Back in November, Pollin's wife Irene said she advised her man to talk to the press, telling him: "I think you owe that to the public. You have a public trust. People buy tickets and subscriptions to things. They feel they need to know what's going on."
Pollin's end-of-the-century promise may have been the result of his wife's counsel. Certainly it breathed hope into fans of the Capitals who heard rumors of the team's imminent demise.
But that was in November, a long time ago, much more than the six hours a politician's promise lives. And now a source indicates that Pollin wants to sell the whole shebang--the Capitals, the Bullets and Capital Centre. The same source insists that Pollin's reported asking price of nearly $50 million is ludicrously inflated in today's economy when pro basketball and pro hockey are sinking ships manned by overpaid seamen.
If Pollin can't find a megabucks buyer for the whole package, the obvious option is to sell the tenant teams while keeping the Capital Centre he built. The economics of sports is such, though, that the team owners need the ancillary revenues of parking and concessions; at the same time, the building owner needs that money in addition to rental income.
In short, Pollin wants to sell but can't for a lot of reasons, including an inability to find anyone who is as foolish as he or she is rich.
He's not saying that, of course, because maybe an oil sheik will walk in off the Beltway. And Abe apparently is silent because (to guess) he doesn't want his customers to know he doesn't like his products any more than they do.
Among the people Pollin is keeping in the dark is his hockey coach, Bryan Murray, who wondered at a season's-end banquet Monday, " . . . Are we going to be in Washington? . . . Is Bryan Murray going to be the coach?"
These are legitimate questions, but Pollin isn't answering them any more than he is answering questions such as: "If, as you've suggested, you botched management hirings with the Capitals, why didn't you hire a proven winner, Fred Shero, in November and hand him total authority?"
In their eight seasons, the Capitals have never made the playoffs, a record of futility perhaps unmatched in major league sports, considering that in hockey nearly every team makes the playoffs. Pollin properly has called the Capitals "the major failure of my business career." At the same time, he said he was a battler who didn't quit. But that was said back in November, a very long time ago, and now Pollin is leaving us to guess at his mood.
Let's guess this: Pollin can't sell the Capitals, so he wants to merge them with the Rockies and keep them in Capital Centre.
That's a nice idea. Hockey will sell here if anybody ever gets good at it. The NHL president, John Ziegler, counts it a blessing that the Gipper gave the league a pep talk during the All-Star break here. Washington "can be a star franchise," Ziegler said, and to that end the NHL should add the woebegone Rockies to the woebegone Capitals and make one mediocre outfit.
The objections to such a merger will come from other woebegone teams who will fall further down the standings for no reason of their own, just that two poor teams failed on their own merit and are being rescued artificially. Kind of a Chrysler bailout on ice.
There must be an answer to such objections. Why couldn't the NHL award the Rockies/Capitals' first draft choices for the next three years to those teams with legitimate complaints?
Maybe Pollin has some ideas.
It would be interesting to hear them.