Thirty-three years ago, I was sitting in the upper deck at RFK Stadium with my two 17-year-old friends for the Senators' final game. You were sitting behind us asking questions for a story. I kept that story until age got it several years ago. I remember where we sat that night. So how about meeting the three of us -- all 50-year-olds now -- in the same seats this April and let's pick up where we left off.
-- Joe Fries, Los Angeles
So, Joe, where were we? Was that Frank Howard who hit that last home run against the Yankees that night? Do you think Gordon Peterson and Warner Wolf led the 11 o'clock news on Channel 9 with the game? And how 'bout that George Allen starting Billy over Sonny?
Joe, 33 years is a long time between conversations. We are talking seven presidents, several wars, that break-in at the Watergate and for me, two additional sons thrown into the back seat of the green Malibu station wagon joining the oldest bouncing dangerously in a car seat.
In 1971 Joe Gibbs was still a college assistant, at USC and then Arkansas; Abe Pollin's Bullets were an NBA power in Baltimore, about to move to Capital Centre in Landover; the Capitals were three years from their first game; soccer was being touted as the sport of the '70s; Lefty ran College Park; John Thompson was about to take possession of the keys at Georgetown's McDonough gym; Howard was good at football; people still went to the horse races; Sugar Ray Leonard was learning how to box in Palmer Park; Daniel Synder was a six-year-old building a 90,000-seat stadium out of Legos; Morgan Wootten was already winning big at DeMatha and by age 10, Feinstein had written his first four books.
The night we parted after that game, we all thought we would have another baseball team back in town in a couple of years. We were so wrong. A number of times we were close only to have the rug pulled out from under us. Baseball owners never liked our demographics, or that we lost two American League teams after joining in 1901. We were considered the Rust Belt without the rust; the city of monuments without a heart; a place where big shots worked but did not go to ballgames. Baseball really disliked us.
But we survived.
The Redskins got very good under Allen and Gibbs, went to five Super Bowls, winning three under Gibbs. Then they got bad after Gibbs left, moved from RFK to the big house in Landover where Gibbs has come back to try and energize the team. The Bullets won the NBA championship in 1978 with Wes Unseld, Elvin Hayes and Dick Motta, got bad, became the Wizards, moved to a first-class arena downtown that was home to Michael Jordan's comeback. The Caps made the Stanley Cup finals in 1998, were bought by AOLster Ted Leonsis, and with the rest of the NHL stopped playing hockey this fall because owners believe the players make too much money. Soccer tried to become the sport of the '80s, '90s and whichever decade we are in now. Freddy Adu was born three years after Joe Theismann broke his leg and at 15 plays for D.C. United. Women's sports became important.
Maryland is now good in everything. Another John Thompson now coaches basketball at Georgetown. Navy and Virginia are hot, as are Kornheiser and Wilbon.
But for 33 years we have been adrift in a baseball wasteland. The three sons, now grown and with their own medical benefits, never saw the Senators at RFK. They became fans of Cal Ripken and Eddie Murray. The Orioles won them over, as they tried to do with all Washington area fans, and were accorded patronage if not complete devotion. The O's claim 25 percent of their fans were from our side of the parkway. Please. Propaganda by the team's marketing department, whose efforts to win us over included an Orioles retail store in downtown D.C., free hot dogs, orange balloons, autographs, an annual FanFest and a swift kick in the pants by the team's owner, Peter Angelos, to Washingtonians who bought his tickets and schlepped to his town for 33 years. What a way to say thanks. What a guy.
That, Joe Fries, brings us to our much anticipated April reunion in RFK Stadium, to the 2005 version of Washington's National League baseball team. For historians, that would be 71 years in the major leagues, even with the missing 33.
By the time we meet, it's my hope the team has solid local ownership (who needs deep pockets from out of town?), a meaningful nickname, affordable ticket prices, a smart general manager who has read and quotes "Moneyball," a bright field manager and true fan support from real people, not just politicians and lobbyists in a spruced up RFK Stadium.
When next we meet, you might notice that now I have a few gray hairs, did not grow taller or lose much weight. Joining us at the game will be three grown sons and two very young grandchildren who may not stay the full nine innings but will someday understand the significance of why they were there.
Navy's incredible 5-0 start, including its 24-21 victory over Air Force Thursday night, enhances Coach Paul Johnson's reputation. Johnson is in his third year in Annapolis, after a successful stint at I-AA Georgia Southern. His triple option spread offense, reports The Post's Mark Schlabach, produces results if not pro-like plays.
Still, Navy officials should expect Johnson to be the top choice for a number of big schools in search of a new football coach in December. He'll be tough to keep despite Navy's success on the field and in the stands. That especially will be the case if the queries come from the South. . . .
Expectations that Gibbs would produce an instant miracle for the Redskins have resulted in a number of long faces around town after the team's 1-2 start. But three games is hardly a full season and getting beaten by a Bill Parcells-coached team is nothing to be embarrassed about. Fans need to see the big picture with regard to Gibbs's return to the sideline after 11 years.
Gibbs needs to manage the clock and replay challenges better. But his focus will remain as strong as ever, at least in this view, and his offense will improve to match the strides made by the defense. . . .
Quarterback Mark Brunell played reasonably well against the Cowboys after a slow start, despite his hamstring injury. He'll do better once his offensive line improves and his receivers run their routes correctly and stop dropping balls.
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