Some 30 years after he first referred to the Capitals as “choking dogs” in the pages of The Washington Post, former sports columnist Tony Kornheiser announced that he has retired the phrase for good. Unless, that is, Kornheiser decides to bring it back again, as he did a few years after declaring that “choking dogs” was dead and buried in the wake of Washington’s first trip to the Stanley Cup finals in 1998.
“As somebody who originated it, and I have these rights, like I have them with The Bandwagon, that’s over,” Kornheiser said Thursday on his podcast. “That’s over now. That was an era. That was an absolute era that encompassed the [Alex] Ovechkin teams and other teams as well. That is gone now. You have gotten to the finals. I will sit here and say to you that I don’t even think it matters if they win the Stanley Cup. Others will say it does, especially if they go out 4-0. I think they’re going to win the Stanley Cup. They’re playing a team that was born an hour and a half ago. Honestly, they have not played together all that long. The Caps’ main guys have been together for a while, longer than the Vegas Golden Knights’ main guys. But I don’t honestly think it matters. I think what matters is how history now looks at Alexander Ovechkin.”
Kornheiser went on to say that while Ovechkin will never be Sidney Crosby, who already has three Stanley Cup titles, Ovechkin finally being in position to win his first championship is an accomplishment in its own right.
“It’s one thing to win,” Kornheiser said. “It’s greater if you win, but at least you get there, you have a shot at it. … You hang your coat on that hook. You get to the Stanley Cup [finals]. I don’t know that you can judge him in the same way ever again.”
Earlier this month, Kornheiser predicted the Capitals would win the Stanley Cup. He has done that before, including two years ago, when he also expressed hope that the franchise would shed the “choking dogs” label he created once, er, twice and for all. Here’s Kornheiser, writing in The Post, after the Red Wings took a three-games-to-none lead on the Capitals in the 1998 Stanley Cup finals:
One last time for auld lang syne:
Now let’s bury the phrase forever.
Lock it in a box, seal the box in a vault, drop the vault in the river, let it sleep with the fishes.
You can fault the Washington Capitals for not bringing their A-game to the Stanley Cup finals if you want. You can fault them for being swept, for hardly putting any pressure on the elegant Detroit Red Wings, for falling behind quickly in every game. But I can’t find it in my heart to blast them. After so many years of untimely playoff exits, there was a hockey game in town last night. And the date was June 16. The fact that the Caps were still playing a hockey game is more important than that they weren’t winning it.
Well, it turns out you can teach a choking dog new tricks. The Capitals entered the following season with high hopes of making another run for the Stanley Cup, but they missed the playoffs entirely. There was stifled barking from the grave.
“If ever there was a team deserving of being labeled ‘Choking Dogs,’ it’s this one,” Kornheiser wrote April 13, 1999, with two games left in Washington’s disappointing regular season. “But I vowed not to call them that again this season no matter what they did. I vowed that however horribly the Capitals played, I would remember last June they went all the way to the Stanley Cup finals, and I would hold my tongue. But I warn you, my grip is getting tired.”
Flash forward to 2003, when the Lightning won four straight games to eliminate the Capitals in the first round after Washington took a 2-0 series lead with a pair of wins in Tampa. Kornheiser revived the phrase, which really should’ve been amended to “zombie choking dogs.”
Dear Tony: For years you have called the Capitals “choking dogs.” However, this year you haven’t said anything bad about the Caps. (Have you been ill?) Your colleague, Bill Gildea, said if the Caps lost to Tampa Bay, it would be their worst loss ever. Do you still think they are choking dogs? Signed, Anxious in AOL-Land.
Of course they’re Choking Dogs. Do you think I’d voluntarily give up a phrase that good? Heck, I’m still trotting out The Bandwagon.
Earlier this month, the Capitals took a 2-0 lead in their Eastern Conference finals series against the Lightning with a pair of road wins. Tampa Bay rallied to win three straight and, had it completed the comeback, there’s a decent chance we would’ve heard the phrase “choking dogs” on an episode of ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption.” Instead, Ovechkin was brilliant in Game 6 to stave off elimination and scored the game-winning goal in Game 7. The Capitals are in the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since 1998. “Choking dogs” is dead again. May the label never return.
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