Abe Pollin had one word to describe the day. "Awful." He had carefully plotted his schedule: Watch the Bullets against the Philadelphia 76ers in the Spectrum at 3:30, then catch a ride to the Philadelphia airport for a chartered flight to New York for the Capitals-Rangers hockey game.
"Arrived at the Garden at the exact moment they were dropping the puck," Pollin said. "Logistically, it all went perfect. Competitively, well . . .
"I think it may be the first time ever an owner watched two of his teams eliminated from playoff competition in one day."
Two weeks ago, Washington was the only city with teams alive in both the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League. The Bullets, a sub-.500 team all season, did not figure to be breathing; the Capitals, with the third-best regular-season record in the NHL, did.
But the Capitals' 2-1 loss to the Rangers that Sunday eliminated them from the playoffs, four games to two, despite their having had a 2-1 advantage in the Patrick Division series and a 5-3 lead in the third period of Game 4. The Bullets were routed, 134-109, in the fifth and deciding game of their series against Philadelphia after remarkably overcoming a 17-point deficit in Game 1.
Pollin drives into the near-empty Capital Centre parking lot these days and thinks about the frenzy of two weeks ago and what might have been, had things gone differently. He doesn't like silence in May, particularly when he knows what could have been.
"It's been hard to accept," he said in an interview last week. "My friends ask, 'How do you stand it?' It's a good question.
"There are such tremendous highs and lows in this business. For the highs, you pay a tremendous price, and the price comes when you lose."
Nevertheless, when he assesses the highs and lows of his two teams for the past season, he still sounds extremely pleased with what the Capitals accomplished and cautiously optimistic about the injury-plagued Bullets.
"Losing to the Rangers may have taught us a good lesson, if you can learn anything from losing," he said. "We did not have the same intensity for the Rangers as we did for the Islanders. You could tell from the start there was no way our guys were going to lose to the Islanders in the playoffs this year.
"I still feel we had a better hockey team than the Rangers. But somehow the determination we showed against the Islanders was not there against the Rangers, who played well. We still have to learn to overcome adversity. The Islanders had a similar experience before they went on to win four Stanley Cups. Our guys will never underestimate anyone again."
Pollin believes his hockey coach, Bryan Murray, did a good job preparing the team for the Rangers. Nor does he second-guess Murray for not replacing Pete Peeters in goal with Al Jensen, who performed better than Peeters against the Rangers during the regular season.
"The success of the Capitals was a long time coming," said Pollin, who four years ago at this time said he was considering selling the team to out-of-town buyers, or even folding the club. Things were that bad for the team, which in its first eight years never made the playoffs. But Pollin found new capital for the Capitals by getting new investors (including team president Richard M. Patrick) and hiring a first-rate general manager in David Poile.
In the last four years, the Capitals have compiled one of the NHL's best records, 183-100-37, despite not being able to get out of the Patrick Division in the playoffs. Attendance has steadily increased, from 9,925 per game in 1978-79, to almost 15,000 per game this season, including a record 12 sellouts, plus another five sellouts in the playoffs.
"I think we've captured the town," Pollin said. "We'll go into the coming season having sold our highest number of season tickets and partial plans last year the Capitals sold 7,800 season tickets ."
The Bullets had their brightest moments in the playoffs, extending the 76ers to five games. Their regular-season record was 39-43; their average attendance, 9,117, was 20th among the 22 NBA teams.
Pollin, however, blames the mediocre record on injuries to Jeff Ruland and Frank Johnson, both of whom missed much of the last two seasons. He blames the poor attendance on the club. "I don't think we've exposed the fans to our team," he said.
He said changing coaches late in the season -- from Gene Shue to Kevin Loughery -- helped because, as the team ran more, it became more exciting and productive. He likes Manute Bol's future, but was not forthcoming about Gus Williams, who will become a free agent.
"I like the team," he said. "We had nothing to be ashamed of. Just think what kind of team we could have had if we had been healthy all year. Obviously, we'll try to improve."
He wanted to make a deal to get into today's lottery; and he still may push General Manager Bob Ferry to trade for a higher pick before draft day, June 17. Maryland's Len Bias still is uppermost in his mind.
"If we could find a local player who is good and could excite the fans, that would be terrific," he said, remembering that last year's lottery prize was Georgetown's Patrick Ewing. "Unfortunately, we no longer have a territorial draft in the NBA."