A participant in Post Sports columnist Thomas Boswell’s weekly online chat with readers expressed the relief felt by many Washington sports fans after the Capitals’ Game 6 win over the Penguins on Monday night. Boz agreed and then presented his theory of cyclical sports success and failure for many cities — and his suspicion that after a series of postseason disappointments, Washington sports are entering a new, more hopeful era.
Question: I’m old enough to remember some real sports celebrations in this town (Super Bowl 17, Hoyas national championship), so I never thought this win was going to equal that. But I do feel enormous relief, and anticipation for the conference finals. And I misted up looking at all the tweets and Instagrams of people going crazy for Kuzy’s game-winner.
Answer: I’m right there with you.
One of the nice things about Twitter, as opposed to some of the bad ones, is the sense of a “community of like minds” in emotionally satisfying moments.
Last night, I was thinking, tweeting, about one of my recurring ideas — that for some cities, and certainly for D.C., there seem to be long cycles of almost-all success or almost-all disappointment in terms of titles and long postseason runs.
Those cycles, in D.C.’s case, have been 20 years or more. From 1924 through 1945, Washington had Walter Johnson and Sammy Baugh, who were perhaps the greatest pitcher and greatest quarterback from 1900 through 1950. The Senators went to the World Series in ’24, ’25 and ’33. The Skins went to the NFL championship game six times (and won twice). Back then, MLB and the NFL were the only two pro sports leagues that mattered, and for superstars (and to some degree title contenders), Washington was right up there.
Then came the ’45 to ’69 drought. That took me up to age 21 without anything remotely like a “winner” to root for. That’s why I understand the feelings of people (like my 31-year-old son) who say/think, “When do I get my turn?”
Things turned in about ’68, and remarkable coaches, managers and individual players started arriving, followed by great teams and players, then titles, too. Vince Lombardi to coach the Skins, Ted Williams to manage the Senators, then Lefty Driesell at Maryland, George Allen with the Skins, Larry Brown as NFL MVP, John Thompson at Georgetown. Many have forgotten, but from ’78 through ’83 Washington was quite devoted Orioles country with Cal Ripken and Eddie Murray. The Bullets came to Washington in the ’70s with The Big E (Elvin Hayes) and Wes Unseld; they reached the final four seven times, including three trips to the NBA Finals and a title. Joe Gibbs’s teams brought the most excitement. But it was always something good materializing, like Sugar Ray Leonard in boxing.
I was in The Post sports department during all of that, starting in late ’69, and I covered tons of those teams and athletes, especially from ’76 through ’92, so that’s why the idea that “Washington Can’t Win” is so strange to me. Except for the Yankees, and a few other dynasties, no team or no town wins all the time.
Patience can be painful. But about three years ago, I said that I thought the worm was turning again. D.C. sports started getting much better in ’69, but the Skins didn’t go to a Super Bowl until ’72 and the Bullets won the town’s first title in ’78 — after a 33-year (!!) major sport drought since the Skins championship in ’45.
I think we’ve been in a different D.C. sports era for a while now and just don’t fully realize it yet. The Nats and Caps are very well-run organizations. I suspect that, as with the Gibbs I Skins, there will be years in the next decade or so when people will think the Nats or Caps are going to fade. But the organizational strength will outweigh the pessimism, as it did for a dozen years with Gibbs and many years with Big John at Georgetown.
Last night was a big step — especially a big step emotionally and psychologically — for Washington teams and fans.
Nats GM Mike Rizzo sent out an email that said, “What curse?”
It’s been nice to see the Caps, Nats and Wiz supporting one another in recent years. And the Skins to a lesser degree but among actual Skins players — plenty.
This is the day to just enjoy a change in tone and a shift in expectation from “They/we will lose — just watch, if you can stand it” to “They/we might win or might lose — just watch and, maybe, love it.”
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