That was some power play Abe Pollin threw at the Prince George's County Council yesterday. Swift and strong, tactically overwhelming, Pollin was so confident of victory that he announced his hockey team would stay alive several hours before the council made it official. Opponents of a bill to give him tax relief were, well, Caps-like, and were buried by a Caps-like score, 10-1.
If the puck swatters he saved had been so potent, Pollin would have been strutting about town with a Stanley Cup instead of pleading for survival these last several months. At 10:49 a.m., Pollin flicked the fate of his eight-year folly toward the council, saying:
"At this time Prince George's County is effectively without a hockey franchise. My new investors and I are trying to, in effect, bring a new hockey team to Prince George's County . . . With passage today of CB-143-1982, my investors and I will consider all four conditions as having been met. A favorable vote today will result in the Washington Capitals taking the ice against the Philadelphia Flyers on Oct. 9 at our regularly scheduled home game."
As Pollin was sitting down to a standing ovation from the 100 or so friends and employes who packed the hearing room, a Capitals news release was being made available to reporters. Its first paragraph stated: "After a meeting between my future partners and myself, we have decided that the Washington Capitals will remain in Prince George's County and will continue to play at the Capital Centre." There was an "if" later in reference to the tax-relief bill. But Pollin, being politically astute, was as sure as anyone can be that he could count these plums before they were publicly plucked.
He and his new money men toyed a bit with conventional math. They had said 7,500 season tickets had to be sold by last Friday for the team to fight on. Only 5,600 tickets had been sold as of yesterday morning. But two new corporations, one of them unidentified, have agreed to guarantee two more sellouts, which Pollin translated as being the same as 600 new season tickets. So 6,200 equals 7,500 in his mind.
We'll not quibble with that today; neither will we press the obvious question of why any company would not want to be identified with such a grand gesture. Maybe only a Capitals fan would not want to be fingered as a Capitals fan.
Pollin even included in his prevote release the fact that one of the new investors, Richard Patrick, had been appointed executive vice president of the team. Fans are hoping Patrick's genes will make his hockey judgments more astute than Pollin's have been.
There was spirited dissent to the county reducing the amusement tax the Capitals will pay the next three years from 10 percent to one half of 1 percent. Jack Perry of the College Park City Council insisted: "If the Caps leave, it is inconceivable to believe that the Cap Centre will stay dark . . . I've walked the streets this campaign, talked with people who don't work at Cap Centre, who don't go to hockey games, about this special-interest legislation for a special group.
"They don't want it.
"If he (Pollin) is a businessman who has lost (in excess of $15 million, revised by Pollin yesterday from $21.6 million because he paid himself $6.6 million in rent as owner of the Capital Centre), that's a shaky business. I don't know if I want to back such a business. It might not be here next year.
"If he didn't lose $20 million or $15.6 million, somebody's lying. And I don't want to back a liar, either."
Tim Temerario, representing 14 civic associations, said he worked for the Redskins 18 years before his 1977 retirement and that they never asked for such a break when business was bleak.
"I knew Mr. (George Preston) Marshall when he didn't have two dimes to rub together," Temerario said. "He borrowed money, but I never heard him ask help from from the D.C. government. I'm not against Mr. Pollin; I don't even know him. I'm in a packed audience and I know it. But it's wrong to vote for this. Wrong."
That was the sentiment of council member Sue Mills, who said her son has worked at Capital Centre, that she and her husband are Capitals' season-ticket holders, but that she was voting her conscience on this matter: no.
But for every person who testified against the bill 20 spoke for it. Most of them worked for Pollin or had some vested interest in the Caps. That was fair, of course. Like hockey, political games are won with the best-organized and most-devoted teams.
The range of pro-Pollin emotion and logic swayed from John Crerar to Councilman Frank Casula. Crerar, director of the Southeastern District of the American Hockey Association of the United States, said interest in youth hockey would melt if the Capitals folded. He cited as examples Atlanta, Charlotte and Richmond. Casula thought the alternative to the Capitals would be "nothing but punk music" and that offended him.
Councilman Floyd Wilson had nearly the last -- but by far the most persuasive -- words: "It makes no sense to send 500 teachers out of jobs and then send 400 more people out of jobs. The assets far exceed the liabilities."
The significant words were Pollin's. Let's go over them again: "My new investors and I are trying to, in effect, bring a new hockey team to Prince George's County."
That's what all of us have wanted, Abe.
Call 'em the Capitals; make 'em Islanders. Folks will flock to watch when the Capitals give them reason to. Start doing that. The fans and businesses who met your demands took a fling for fantasy, reasoned you were a cut above most owners, were grateful you -- not us -- mostly bankrolled Capital Centre and thought maybe the little guys might actually grow into a decent team in Year 9.
We, and I say this as a critic who also bought two for the Canadiens' game, invested in hope, without your showing any tangible sign that the '82 Capitals will be less sorry than the '81 brand. That's a helluva show of faith, Abe. Most people don't buy the same sandwich whose last bite they couldn't digest.