Larry White is papering the town with a plea.
Legal-size photocopied pages, emblazoned with the message "Save the Caps," have been falling like giant leaves on Washington Capitals territory lately. They're part of White's drive to drum up ticket pledges for a hockey team that has spent eight seasons in the pits and this summer in limbo.
"We're fighting big odds, because time is so short," said White, an Olney hardware store owner. "But our goal is to have enough people buying tickets next season to sell out the place (Capital Centre)."
Capitals owner Abe Pollin has hung a "For Sale" sign on the franchise. Possibilities that the team could be sold and moved from Washington have been reported, and with the NHL season approaching, a decision on the Capitals' fate is becoming a necessity.
Pollin's team reportedly has lost about $20 million since its 1974 start. The Capitals have never made the playoffs.
White calls hockey his "greatest escape." Since attending his first Capitals game four years ago, he's missed just one. Because he would hate to see the Capitals perform a great escape, White and a band of equally determined fans recently formed a Save the Caps Committee.
White said that a newspaper story last week suggested that Peter O'Malley, the Capitals' legal counsel, was disappointed at the lack of fan support to keep the team here.
"We discussed it and decided to make the effort to try," said White.
White is chairman of the season ticket campaign, accepting commitments without cash. He will not say how many people have pledged to buy season tickets, only that the response has been heartening.
He has produced nearly 3,000 Save the Caps flyers on his photocopying machine, done an out-of-pocket minimailing to other businesses and taken phone calls from area fans who want to pledge their offseason support.
"What we'll do is turn everything over to the ticket office," he said. "We want to be able to go to Abe and say we've got so many people to get season tickets next year. People are saying they have two season tickets now, but will take four next year."
Steve Gearhart's phone in Silver Spring has been ringing nonstop, too, since his finance, Sybil Hindin, put a one-column, three-inch ad in Thursday's Washington Post sports section. "Save the Caps," read the ad. "Time is running out. Show you care. Call Steve/Sybil."
"At first we were just trying to get people to write to Cap Centre, but now we're taking pledges for tickets, too," said Gearhart, who is heavily involved in the save-the-team effort. "I think we're mostly a clearinghouse for Capitals information. You know, sort of a hockey-fix hot line. People call in a mixture of frustration at maybe losing their team, and relief at having someone to call about it."
Gearhart said Pollin called him last week to say he appreciated the effort. "He said that it (all the letters) had made him step back and take a different look at things," said Gearhart. "All we can hope now is that our effort is enough to impress buyers to keep it here."
Gearhart has tried to make political connections that might lend clout to the write-in campaign. A call to the White House got as far as the presidential switchboard. "A lady told me to put 'Save the Caps' on a letter, and that she'd see that it was personally delivered," he said. "But with troops going to Lebanon, I guess we can't count on much."
Gearhart and Hindin distributed Save the Caps flyers along the Mall at last Sunday's fireworks display. They had planned a bike-athon as a Capitals fund-raiser.
"I thought all you needed was some kids on bikes. But you need medical people, permits and police," Gearhart said. "It's a major capital commitment. So we're concentrating on phone calls."
Gearhart began watching the team when he worked for an explosives company that had season tickets. After he quit, he and Hindin went on their own. If the team leaves, Gearhart says, "I don't know what I'd do. One lady called to tell me she'd already written to the (Philadelphia) Spectrum, asking for available Flyers seats."
White says he hasn't even considered the possibility of failure.
"Someone told me I'm wasting my time," he said. "But I don't see it that way. Our only goal is to have a hockey team here next year. Maybe this will help to do it."