Some people loved the idea of tossing a crab on the ice — as 15-year-old Jack Merritt did Saturday night after the Washington Capitals’ Game 3 win and another fan did after Monday’s Game 4 — becoming a Capitals playoff tradition. Some people hated it. Still others just wanted the record to show that Merritt, who sneaked a single crab into Capital One Arena between two pairs of underwear, wasn’t the first Capitals fan to throw a steamed crustacean over the glass at a Stanley Cup finals game in D.C.
The story of Merritt’s crab toss was a hot topic on a group text that includes longtime friends and Capitals fans Rob Birgfeld, Jeff Bogart, Jeremy Welsh and seven others.
“No one could believe that it actually happened again,” Birgfield told The Washington Post in a phone interview.
“[The group text] blew up Sunday when the article came out,” Welsh said. “We were like, ‘That’s BS! That was us. We did that first.’ ”
Birgfeld said he recently told another friend the story of the time he, Welsh and Bogart — high school buddies from Montgomery County who were home from college during the summer of 1998 — sneaked a half-dozen steamed crabs into MCI Center for Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals and hurled two of them toward the ice. Twenty years later, here’s the story of the OG Caps Crabs, as remembered by the men who threw them.
Birgfeld: At the time, the league was trying to cut down on it, I think, but Detroit had the octopus. A couple years earlier, [Florida Panthers] fans were throwing rubber rats on the ice. We were like, we need a thing. The day of the game, we talked about it and talked about it. One of my friends went to Bethesda Crab House and got six crabs and brought them over to my house. [Editor’s note: Coincidentally, Merritt also purchased his crab at Bethesda Crab House, which makes the 57-year-old establishment the official Caps Crab provider. Or something.]
Bogart: I had them in a brown paper bag. We went to Rob’s house to meet up. Rob’s dad said we shouldn’t bring them live to the arena, so he steamed them up for us, put some Old Bay in there. We put them back in the brown paper bag and took the Metro down. Back then, you could walk right into the arena.
Welsh: We had to bring this bag of crabs under our shirts. This was pre-9/11, so the security wasn’t nearly as tight as it is today. I believe we paid like $110 to get 200-level seats for the Stanley Cup, which was incredible. We were big Caps fans. My dad was a season ticket holder back in the day.
Birgfeld: I think we were down 2-0. It wasn’t going well. It was overwhelming. Finally, we scored and my friends kind of looked each other. They were always more willing to take a chance than I was.
Bogart: We were getting beat pretty bad, and we finally score. I flung it. It hit right next to the net and it broke into like 100 pieces. They came out with the shovel and had to scrape it up.
Birgfeld: It went probably into 30 pieces on the ice. No one seemed to notice, except the refs, who were picking up the pieces. They were probably like, “What the hell just happened?” Then Jeremy grabbed his crab and flung it.
Welsh: It was a look of shock and confusion from the refs and the crew. The crab kind of hit the ice and exploded, and they were extremely confused as to what was going on. There’s security behind us, so we had to be a little sneaky about it. Mine, it was kind of like a discus throw because I was on the end and had to get it up and around. I launched it, and it didn’t quite make it. It hit the glass and bounced off and hit some dude in the front row in the chest.
Birgfeld: There’s a guy that can validate this story. We don’t know where he is, or who he is, but he got hit in the chest with Jeremy’s crab. It fell short. Some guy is probably still telling this story right now.
Welsh: If this article goes out, and you find this guy, I’ll buy him a beer. It ricocheted, bank shot and hits him right in the chest. I’ve never seen anyone look more confused in their life. I’m hoping that this guys reads this or comes forward and says, ‘I was that guy. I got hit.’
Birgfeld: We took six in but only threw two. One made it, one didn’t.
Decapods die in darkness, so I attempted to find video evidence to support this wonderful tale, which Birgfeld, Bogart and Welsh relayed to me individually. (You haven’t lived until you’ve watched a grainy YouTube video of a 20-year-old hockey broadcast looking for crab shell fragments while eating crab chips from your office’s snack drawer. Follow your Old Bay-dusted dreams, kids.) My search turned up empty, but I have no reason to doubt the veracity of the story.
I asked the friends what they thought about the crab-tossing tradition they attempted to start 20 years ago being revived.
“I think it has potential,” Welsh said. “I give [Merritt] full props. He went out on his own, and it’s not easy to get it over the glass now. It’s harder to sneak things in. He’s clearly keeping on the tradition. It’s amazing, the full circle of crab coming back to us.”
“Two pairs of underwear, I give it up for him,” Bogart said. “We didn’t have to go through that back in our day. We just walked right in.”
Bogart, who now lives in Orlando, actually considered throwing a crab on the ice at Game 7 of the Capitals-Tampa Bay Lightning Eastern Conference finals series in Tampa. He mentioned his plan on the group text, so when Tom Wilson fought Braydon Coburn in the first period, his phone lit up with friends urging him to do the deed.
“Throw the crabs NOW!”
“Crab the f—— ice! Let’s go caps!!”
“Do it Jeff!!!”
“We decided it wasn’t the best choice to do it in an away arena,” said Bogart, who is older and perhaps wiser 20 years after he first threw a crab on the ice during the Stanley Cup finals. “It could get really messy. It’s not ideal, like squid or octopus that stay together. Maybe fake crabs would be a better solution.”
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