By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
This can’t be considered current content anymore, not in this age of 24/7 wire feeds. Give me some latitude here – it’s an article I’ve written in my head countless times over the last 35 years. I’ve dreamt about it, wrote a fictional version for a high school assignment and flirted with it several times in this column. And for my entire life, it’s been a recurring spring-time obsession, a time of year when it almost always had a chance of becoming reality, but never did – until last Thursday night.
Every long-time fan of the Washington Capitals has their story. Mine starts around 1982, when my uncle, in his VW Bug, began regularly jetting me and my cousin up to the Capital Centre – The Great Pringle – to cheer the likes of Dennis Maruk, Mike Gartner and Rod Langway. Years later, a poster of Peter Bondra adorned my college dorm room. For much of the Alexander Ovechkin era, my wife and I have made annual trips to Verizon Center/Capital One Arena to meet up with old friends and “Rock the Red”.
Which is to say, like most fans of this prodigal-son-like team, the Caps are in my bones. My emotional attachment is deep and as strong as it was in childhood. The sustained affection is rooted in success: Having missed the playoffs only seven times since 1982, the Caps have been, by far, the most consistent D.C. sports team. In recent years, they’ve been regularly among the NHL’s very best, winning three President’s trophies (given to the team with the best regular season record) since 2010.
And yet, for all this regular season success, there was nothing, ultimately, but playoff anguish. Unimaginable anguish. Their history was a script for a horror film or plot for a Stephen King novel: too-many-to-count blown 3-1 leads, only two trips past the second round, one token appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals and numerous losses to the Islanders, the Rangers, the Flyers and the Penguins and the Penguins and the Penguins.
Considering the random nature of NHL hockey – follow the pinball/puck - and the sheer number of times the Caps had sent high-quality teams into the playoffs, this never-ending story of epic disaster defied all statistical explanation. There was something else in play here, some dark force that sentenced the franchise and its poor, innocent fans to eternal condemnation. Watching it all unfold, year after miserable year, was sports’ version of hell. Hoisting a Stanley Cup was just something that happened to other teams in other towns – until last Thursday night.
At the beginning of every Caps playoff journey over the years, I have faithfully written down the number “16” (the number of wins needed to hoist the Stanley Cup) – on calendars, notebooks or dry erase boards - and started a hopeful countdown. For 30-plus years, I never wrote down “0”. In franchise history, the Caps had never reached the summit, their fans’ faith had never been rewarded and the sun had never come out – until last Thursday night…when the Washington Capitals won the Stanley Cup!!!
I am so happy for so many: my Uncle Wayne for taking me to so many games, the players – past and present, the D.C. sports media who have dutifully covered losing teams and playoff heartbreaks and D.C. sports fans, a strong and hearty lot that has been unfairly criticized during this long streak of futility and distress. We were always there, waiting to erupt and after 26 years of pain since our last major professional sport championship, The Darkness – that omnipresent villain - has been exorcised. It’s the kind of stuff that makes grown men cry – this one included.
How did this happen? Was there something in the water? With the Cubs (2016), the city of Cleveland (Cavaliers, 2016) and the Eagles (2018) having won recent championships, you have to wonder. Or did a determined organization and core of players just keep pushing through adversity, knowing that eventually it would all come together and be their time. Maybe it’s that simple. Maybe that’s the lesson we all learned amid the tears and euphoria – last Thursday night.
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