And now we come to our list of the 11 (sorry) best D.C. sports moments of 2013, a pretty lousy year for local sports. (Previously: the best D.C. sports quotes of 2013, the worst D.C. sports moments of 2013, the best D.C. sports gifs of 2013.)
This one feels more treacherous than any of the previous lists, because I’m pretty sure that everyone who reads it will disagree with the whole thing.
What were the criteria? I don’t know, exactly. I was trying to capture the moments that created the maximum quantity of happiness and optimism, moments where sports injected joy into the bloodstream of a significant group of local fans, moments when the dry toast of Washington sports was momentarily slathered with oozing, rich butter. That’s a pretty tough thing to rate, because I’m not exactly a fan, and I don’t have a lot of experience with joy, and everyone will react to events differently.
So this is just one man’s list. Feel free to vociferously disagree below.
11. You know it’s a bad year when….
Maybe I’m unfairly influenced by having spent the night of the NBA draft lottery with a bunch of Wizards fans. In a bar. That served beer. But the draft lottery is an annual horror show for the Wizards. Every other year, it seems, the Wizards have top-three odds, and somehow wind up picking 28th.
This time was different. This time, despite only having the eighth-best odds, the Wizards actually moved up the draft ladder, sliding into the third spot. With Bradley Beal and John Wall both showing signs of stardom, the idea of adding yet another top-three pick filled Wizards fans with near-delirium. Or maybe that was the beer.
“Reaction in D.C. to last night’s NBA Draft Lottery can be accurately summed up as: OMG WIZARDS GOT THE NO. 3 PICK!!!” Bullets Forever soberly noted.
Of course, the pick turned into local favorite Otto Porter, who turned out to be injured for the start of his rookie season, so his stat line does not currently reflect that joy. But I’m telling you, it was a good night. As I recall.
10. Dozens, hundred, thousands of D.C. United fans have told me they will never celebrate anything having to do with a new stadium until there are shovels in the ground, and then grass on a field, and lines on the grass, and players crossing the lines. And maybe not even then. Still, this year’s preliminary deal to make a stadium happen at Buzzard Point seemed like a moment of genuine optimism and hope.
“After failed efforts at Poplar Point in Southeast and Prince George’s County, flirtations with Baltimore, exploration in Montgomery County and Virginia, even the fear the team would have to leave the area, United is willing to wait a little longer to complete the most promising proposal since this arduous and frustrating search began,” Goff wrote at the time.
Of course, things got more complicated, because thingzzzzzz always get more complicated, and much of that optimism is now on hiatus. And maybe I was a sucker, a sucker not thinking deeply about city finances and land swaps and D.C. Council priorities and all the rest. But it felt like 24 hours of yesssssss finally, and the proposed deal — in D.C., near downtown, with public transportation options, NOT IN BALTIMORE — was as good as anyone could have hoped.
9. There have been a bunch of individual moments of brilliance for John Wall, who came back from injury to star at the end of last season, and has been one of the East’s best point guards this season. Most memorable, perhaps, was the 47-point game against Memphis last March. My colleague Michael Lee still leans toward Wall leading the Wizards back from an 18-point hole, on the road, against the Lakers, with the point guard accounting for 24 points and a career-high 16 assists.
But last season was such a team-wide let-down that I don’t think anything can count as a best moment. This season’s ending is unknown, but I’d be surprised if it didn’t include an All-Star berth for Wall and a playoff appearance for his team. And the point guard — still the focus of local and national media attention, with the added pressure of a max contract — has had some pretty fine moments. The peak came when he recorded three straight 30-point games for the first time in his career, winning Eastern Conference player of the week honors and helping the Wizards reach .500 for the first time in his career.
I know the temptation is to laugh at a .500 team making this list for reaching .500. And injuries and poor play have since sunk the team under that level again. But if you know ardent Wizards fans, they were riding a legitimate wave of elation after Wall’s emergence in recent weeks. I think it will be back.
8. In a year filled with fantastic team accomplishments, an individual award would be an afterthought. But this wasn’t that year. And Alex Ovechkin’s path to his third MVP award was anything but dull. In the beginning of the season, he and his team were in a massive rut, and there was talk everywhere — including within the Caps’ fan base — that he was no longer elite, and that his massive contract would be a dreadful anchor around this franchise. I sure was convinced that was the case. And then out of nowhere the old Ovechkin was back, and Washington again had the game’s most dominant goal scorer.
(It actually look longer than three sentences, and there was a position change mixed in, but this is already long.)
Ovechkin became just the eighth player in NHL history to earn the MVP award three or more times. And in a year when Washington’s more heralded stars — Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg, RGIII, John Wall — missed the playoffs and struggled with injuries, Ovechkin firmly entrenched himself, yet again, as this city’s biggest athletic star.
Now, does this meet my qualifications above, of causing immense joy for a sizable group of people? I’m not sure if the MVP announcement itself did that. But Ovechkin’s re-emergence as an all-world talent — he easily leads the league with 28 goals in 32 games as I type — was one of the best parts of 2013, and it was best symbolized by that MVP trophy.
7. The Nats had plenty of memorable and smile-provoking wins this season, even though the campaign will be judged a major disappointment. One of the best days, oddly, came in mid-September, as the calendar was already counting down their hopes.
A day after a game with the first-place Braves was canceled due to the Navy Yard shootings, the team resumed its schedule with a day-night doubleheader against Atlanta. For weeks, some Nats fans had looked with dread at that series, fearing the Braves would clinch an NL East title at Nationals Park. Instead, the Nats wound up sweeping both games with a pair of unlikely performances. First, they somehow scraped together three ninth-inning runs off untouchable closer Craig Kimbrel, his first blown save in four months and the first time he had ever yielded three runs in a game. Then, they threw the relatively unknown Tanner Roark on the mound at night, and the 26-year old gave them seven scoreless innings, as the Nats won their 10th game in 11 tries.
It all meant that Atlanta would leave town without a division title, as the Nats remained just 4.5 games back of the wild-card. There was plenty of scoreboard-watching and schedule-plotting in Nats Town that night. Obviously the drama soon ended, but that was among the season’s best days.
6. Look, the Redskins have to be on here somewhere, even during their worst season in two decades. The single most joyous moment of 2013, of course, came when they went up 14-0 in the first quarter of a playoff meeting with Seattle, but that ended in a loss. The second-most joyous moment of 2013 came when RGIII charged into FedEx Field before the Monday Night opener against Philadelphia, but that game ended in a loss, too.
So what are we left with? Stick with me here: I think it was the home win against the Chargers. Washington did everything in its power to blow that game; the Chargers had 1st-and-goal from the one-iPhone line at the end of regulation, and the season seemed out-of-juice. But the maligned defense rose up and held San Diego to a field goal, and the Redskins won the coin flip, and then Washington stormed down the field on a 10-play game-winning drive. RGIII was 23-of-32 passes for 291 yards in the game, and looked terrific in overtime.
Yes, they were still only 3-5. But with what felt like a winnable trip to Minnesota up next, and with four remaining NFC East games, and with Griffin seemingly finding his legs, the season felt eminently salvageable. It was not. That goal-line stand and overtime drive remain its last good moment.
5. If you have a great moment that’s canceled out by a gallbladder-ripping loss a few hours later, I’m not going to count it as great. But if the bile doesn’t start leaking for a few more days, then the smiles still count.
Thus, Mike Ribeiro’s overtime winner in Game 5 of Washington’s playoff series with New York. If you’ll review the aftermath, you’ll note that it seemed fairly joyous. “Tell your mom you love her and let’s go Caps!” Rob Parker wrote at Japers Rink, in one of the more serious bits of postgame commentary.
Indeed, the Ovechkin-era Caps had played three previous Game 5s while tied two games apiece; in each of those three series, the Game 5 winner claimed the series. Fans were gradually coming around to the view that hey, maybe this was finally the year.
“I love this team,” Peter Hassett wrote. “Have a great Friday night. Let’s end this on Sunday.”
They didn’t. But Friday was a party.
4. It wasn’t a great season for Maryland basketball, but there was one bona fide unforgettable moment. It came, as you’d expect, against Duke. The Terps weren’t eliminated from NCAA tournament consideration yet, and Duke was ranked No. 2 in the country. But the potential for greatness was raised by this being Duke’s final trip to College Park as an ACC rival. Duke-Maryland basketball has been among the best local rivalries of the past decade, along with Caps-Penguins and Redskins-Cowboys, which is running on fumes. For the last game to go down to the last minute, to prompt a 19-and-9 night from Alex Len, to end with fans storming the court — it was all terrific.
And the accents were great, too, from a school-coordinated flash mob (the video would get more than 8 million views on YouTube) to Mark Turgeon getting emotional during his postgame press conference.
“Excuse me,” the coach said, choking up. “I take a lot of pride in my coaching. I don’t do a lot of things well, but I’d like to think I can coach a little bit. And I haven’t done a very good job.”
3. A February Georgetown-Syracuse game wouldn’t ordinarily rate in the top 103 of local sports moments, much less the top three. But this wasn’t an ordinary game. Both teams were highly ranked: Syracuse 8th and Georgetown 11th. It was their final meeting as Big East rivals at the Carrier Dome. Syracuse had the longest home winning streak in the country and in Carrier Dome history; the Orange’s only longer streak had been broken when the Hoyas closed down Manley Field House.
This time the arena had a record crowd on hand, and Carmelo Anthony’s jersey was retired at halftime. And with all of those storylines swimming in the background, Otto Porter had one of the great individual games in Georgetown history, scoring 33 points in a 57-46 win.
It was the kind of win that leads to some serious Important Writing by fans. Here’s from Casual Hoya’s recap, titled The Carrier Dome is Officially Closed:
Today reaffirms why we spend far too much time thinking, arguing, and writing about Georgetown basketball: individual magnificence rarely seen; collective toughness forged gradually but indelibly; gathering with friends and loved ones to cheer on good over evil; and, finally, the spirit and joy of a hard-fought win.
When magnificence and evil are involved, you know it was a big game.
2. The Caps started the 2013 season so poorly that they had to be nearly flawless down the stretch to make the playoffs. They were, and they did. It became clear that the Caps would reach the postseason before it was official, but the official moment wasn’t bad either. From the game story:
Eleven weeks ago when the Washington Capitals sat adrift as the worst team in the NHL, few believed that this squad with its new coach and new system could find a way to pull itself together and reach the playoffs.
On Tuesday night, the Capitals demonstrated the product of months of perseverance and hard-earned progress to complete a meteoric rise up the standings. Washington clinched their fifth Southeast Division title in the past six years and their sixth consecutive postseason berth with a 5-3 win over the Winnipeg Jets at Verizon Center.
The third period ended with a length ovation, an ovation that endured well after the game ended. And even players admitted that what they had just accomplished had seemed nearly impossible.
”I remember 20 games ago looking at the schedule,” Mathieu Perreault said that night, via the AP’s Joseph White. ”Like, ‘Man, we’re probably going to have to go 16-4 to get in’ – and basically did it.”
“What a great damn game,” RMNB’s Peter Hassett wrote. “Fun hockey, to me, is Capitals hockey. That means tons of offense, creative passing, and lots of playing where the ice is painted. The Caps played fun hockey tonight.”
And it clinched them a playoff berth, which was about the only playoff berth clinched in 2013. Plus, the broadcast ended with this.
1. I know, I know, I know. How could a regular-season baseball game — just one game of 162 — possibly be the best sports moment of the year? How could a baseball game in April be as good as it gets? How could a team that mostly represented disappointment create the best afternoon of the year?
Well, I’ll tell you why. Because on that one day in April — with Stephen Strasburg dominating, with Bryce Harper hitting a pair of home runs, with the runaway success of 2012 still fresh in everyone’s mind, with the World Series predictions not yet a cruel joke — the Nats seemed perfect. I don’t think we quite understood how bad the Marlins would be. We didn’t anticipate Bryce Harper’s body taking a pounding, and the bench disappearing, and Dan Haren happening. We just saw the team everyone told us we would see, and it felt great. It felt like happiness.
If you’ve forgotten, take a look at Boz from that day:
Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg announced themselves as a full-season, full-force tandem for the first time on opening day Monday. They turned Nationals Park, packed far past capacity, into an arena of pure possibility, a place where fantasy goes when it dreams of becoming reality. If this day was any hint, the rest of baseball can brace for hardship, Washington for the sight of two of the biggest baseball talents in many years….On days like this, with a spring, summer and fall laid out before them, that means months of cheers, hand-numbing high-fives and, who knows, maybe keys to the city, too.
Ok, ok, that’s Boz. But Kilgore was right there, too.
If the next six months unfold like the Nationals’ 2-0, opening day victory over the Miami Marlins, Washington’s 2013 season may be an exercise in imagination. Try to think of the perfect thing to happen. And then, if form from Game 1 holds, double it.
It felt like anything was possible, in a time when very little actually was. That’s why, to me, it was the best sporting moment of the year.