Kyle Brooks was born 29 days after the Redskins’ last Super Bowl win, which was also the last time Washington celebrated a major professional championship. At some point, as the title drought commenced, his older brother decided young Kyle was to blame.
“I’ve been called ‘The Curse’ for years now,” said Brooks, a diehard fan of the Redskins, Nats, Wizards and Caps. “I was 5, he was about 22, and he was calling me ‘The Curse.’ I was like, ‘I’m sorry. I don’t know what to do.’ ”
Except maybe it wasn’t his fault. Because Dakota Smith — born a few weeks later, and similarly obsessed with Washington sports — always figured he was the problem.
“What better way is there to explain it?” Smith asked. “I mean, of course I don’t actually believe that. I don’t think I’m a curse anymore. It’s not the worst reasoning, though.”
But don’t forget about Harris Fanaroff, born that April. (“Absolutely a cursed D.C. sports fan,” he wrote.) Or Beteley Solomon, born that February. (“We’re cursed, we’re definitely cursed,” he said.)
Their generation of local sports fans, if you think about it, has had a first 23 years unlike any in this town’s past. When they were in middle school, the Nats arrived, finally giving Washington pro franchises in baseball, basketball, football and hockey. Their high school and college years featured some of the biggest national stars in Washington history, from Alex Ovechkin and John Wall to Bryce Harper and Robert Griffin III. They’ve been able to follow a pro team, in every season, for as long as they can remember.
And yet — aside from D.C. United — Washington’s only championship appearance of their lifetimes came when the Caps were swept out of the Stanley Cup finals. They were 6. They’ve seen dominant regular season teams fail, promising careers wrecked by tragedy and poor judgment, and virtually no postseason success, in any sport.
“I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop,” said Kyle Prentice of Fairfax County, another spring of 1992 baby. “I just feel like something’s going to happen, something’s going to go wrong.”
“After we lose, that’s the first thing that goes through my mind: why do I have so much loyalty to these teams that have done me wrong so much?” said Solomon, who grew up in Prince George’s County. “And there’s no answer to it.”
“We talk about all the absurd things we would do just to sniff a conference championship,” said Fanaroff, a Montgomery County native and 50th-round draft pick of the Nationals in 2010. “We can’t even fathom the amount of happiness that a Redskins Super Bowl would bring. We don’t even know how we’d react to that situation, because we’ve been deprived so long.”
They have fond sports memories, of course. But for the past 60 years, no D.C. native has passed the age of 23 without seeing a title in one of the major sports. Today’s 23-year olds are running out of time. Their best memories are instead mixed with pain. Several, for example, mentioned the 2012 Redskins triumph over Dallas as their fondest moment.
“I’ve never seen Redskins fans that happy,” Solomon said. “You would have thought we were at church choir. I’ve never walked out of FedEx Field that happy in my life.”
The next week, Griffin’s knee exploded during a playoff loss.
Others mentioned Jayson Werth’s walk-off homer against the Cardinals in Game 4 of the 2012 NLDS.
“The uproar was indescribable,” said Anthony King of Prince George’s County, who attended that game with his father. “It was like being born again, in a sense. I can’t even explain it. It’s one of those moments in life that you never really forget.”
The next day, the Nats coughed up a six-run lead and were eliminated from the playoffs.
And the stories of moments gone awry are just as searing. That Game 5 loss to St. Louis? Two different fans I spoke with watched it in dismay during college parties; improbably, both their stories involved bottles of cheap Vodka.
Or there’s Brian DeVito (born five days after Washington’s last Super Bowl), who ditched plans with his prom date to attend a Caps-Penguins playoff game in 2009, telling her he didn’t feel well. The Caps lost, of course, and after the television broadcast showed DeVito, his date called off prom.
Or there’s Fanaroff, who was at the final game of the 1998 Stanley Cup finals. Which means one of his very first memories is of the Red Wings, celebrating their championship, in Washington.
“And that’s the furthest a [Washington] team has gone in my whole life,” he said. “Like, by far. Which is just unreal.”
So ask these poor souls to describe in one word what this has been like, their 23 years spent rooting for D.C. teams.
“Debilitating,” offered Fanaroff.
“Exhausting,” said Smith.
“Sickening,” suggested Solomon.
“Complicated,” said Prentice.
“Abusive,” said Brooks.
These are not, you’ll notice, particularly positive words. But this isn’t only a story of misery. Because to a man, the eight 1992 babies I spoke with said they would never stop rooting for Washington sports teams. And while several said they’ve scolded their parents for introducing them to this life of pain — “I joke with my dad, like why did you make me a Washington sports fan?” Smith said — they plan to raise their children the same way.
“I will put my kids in the same outfits I wore, no matter what,” Brooks promised.
“I’d rather not watch the NFL than root for another team,” DeVito said.
“It’s definitely not worth the time, but at this point it’s an unconditional thing,” Smith said. “I’ve never thought about jumping ship. That’s never been a thought. If you do that, you’re not a fan.”
Talking to this post-Super Bowl crew, in fact, actually made me feel better about Washington sports. They’re a diverse lot, in race, background and geography. They don’t know each other, and will probably never meet. They went to an assortment of colleges, work in a variety of fields.
But they have the same memories, the same busted-up hopes and the same vague visions of the future. They went through the same moments at the same ages — Daniel Snyder bought the Redskins when they were in elementary school, Gilbert Arenas captivated them in middle school, Nationals Park opened when they were in high school — and they now speak of such events in remarkably similar ways. And when you ask them to imagine what a D.C. championship would feel like, again, the words sound the same.
“I want it so bad,” DeVito said. “I don’t even know how to describe it.”
“It would just be elation and relief, and make it sort of all worth it,” Prentice said.
“It would probably be the greatest moment of my life,” Brooks said.
They’re part of a club, in other words, one where membership is granted at birth, with scheduled meetings in front of TV screens or at stadiums virtually 365 days a year.
“It’s just unifying to root for the same teams,” as King put it. “I think that’s what sports is about; it’s about bringing people together.”
Which makes this start to feel, in the end, like something other than a curse.
More from ‘Where The Game’s Always On:’
Interactive graphic: Compare two cities side by side