Being a D.C. sports fan on the city’s biggest night of the year
Once again, fans are put through another painful episode of ‘Groundhog Day’
For 25 years, Washington, D.C., sports fans have felt like the odds never seem to be in their favor. Case in point, these fans found themselves in a situation where their beloved Nationals, Capitals and Wizards were all playing on the same day and all starting within an hour (7:05 p.m., 7:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.) of one another.
If that wasn’t stressful enough, here’s what was on the line Wednesday night:
- The Capitals were at home in Game 7 of the NHL’s Eastern Conference semifinals trying to avenge last season’s loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the same round. Washington would have played in its first Eastern Conference final in almost two decades (1998) with a victory. (The Penguins defeated the Capitals 2-0 to advance to the Eastern Conference final.)
- John Wall, Bradley Beal and company were in Boston for Game 5 of the NBA’s Eastern Conference semifinals. The Wiz haven’t played in a conference championship in slightly less than four decades (1979), and a win in Boston would have given them a 3-2 lead with a chance to advance to the third round in the comfy confines of the Verizon Center. (The Wiz now trail the Celtics, 3-2, in the series after losing 123-101.)
- The Nationals were the only team not playing in the postseason, although the Beltway Series is no joke to fans in these parts. Beating the Baltimore Orioles, who play 45 minutes up the road from the nation’s capital, is always fun for bragging rights. (The Nationals were the lone team from the city to win, rallying against the Orioles in a 7-6 victory at Nationals Park.)
You get the picture — it was a big night for D.C. sports fans. But who exactly hurt these folks so bad that they were anxious a whole 12 (possibly 24) hours ahead of game time? Well, their favorite teams. The last team to bring home the chip was the Washington football team in 1992. But since then, there has been no new hardware among the Major Four.
Since the Capitals were swept by the Detroit Red Wings in their only Stanley Cup finals appearance in 1998, the team has had 18 seasons to get back to the championship series. They missed the playoffs six times and have played in six quarterfinals and six semifinals. The 2004-05 season was wiped out by the lockout.
In the past two seasons, the Capitals won the Presidents’ Trophy, awarded to the team with the best-regular season record, only to be knocked out in the semifinals. Caps fans fear Alex Ovechkin, one of the best players to ever grace the ice, will go into the Hall of Fame having never led a team to the conference championship.
The Wizards lost in the first round 10 times in the past 38 years. Five times during that period, the exit occurred in the second round, and in the other 23 years the team didn’t qualify for the postseason. While the villain has been different each of the past two times the Wiz were knocked out (Indiana Pacers and Atlanta Hawks), the results were similar. Washington needs a victory in Friday’s Game 6 to avoid losing its third straight semifinal series 4-2.
And whenever the Nationals have the best record in baseball (which is essentially every other year), they get knocked out of the playoffs in the first round, typically pushing the games to do-or-die, like the Capitals.
One of the worst episodes in D.C. sports history has to be the 2012 NL Division Series, when the Nationals welcomed the St. Louis Cardinals for Game 5. Any sports fan’s stomach would have fallen to the floor witnessing the Nationals give up a 7-3 lead — at home — in the top of the seventh. Leading 7-5 with two outs and a full count against Yadier Molina, Drew Storen walked him in the ninth inning. Back-to-back singles helped put the Cardinals ahead to stay, 9-7.
Going into Wednesday, the team from Charm City held a 2-0 series lead, beating the Nats in back-to-back games at Camden Yards. The Birds traveled down I-95 and were on the verge of going for the three-peat until Matt “Hello, darkness, my old friend” Wieters hit a two-run single in the bottom of the ninth against his former squad.
So Washington didn’t strike out completely — pun absolutely intended — Wednesday night. But, being realistic: A regular-season win on a night in which both of the teams playing in the postseason lost just doesn’t stack up.
A whole generation of fans in this city has never experienced a championship team. And it’s hard to see people be so jaded, so young. But going into a night like Wednesday, anything was possible, and even the most bitter D.C. sports fan allowed a ray of optimism to peek in.
Emotions ran the gamut — jittery, anxious, excited, confident, fatigued, angry — and eventually the Capitals and Wizards checked their fans into the five-star Heartbreak Hotel.
There’s like a 98% chance the Verizon Center burns down on Wednesday night, regardless of the result
— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) May 9, 2017
Take it from a Maryland fan: Burning things doesn’t really pan out all that great — especially if you need said burned-down venue for the other playoff team in town. Yeah, you really want to save that excitement for later in the postseason.
Tmrw night is gonna be frickin insane: my column thing https://t.co/zSUtwRMWkt
— Dan Steinberg (@dcsportsbog) May 9, 2017
Pulling for my @Capitals in tomorrow night's game 7! Can they do it? I say yes!
— Larry King (@kingsthings) May 9, 2017
— Metro (@wmata) May 9, 2017
If you believe in talking things into existence, then D.C. sports fans were doing a pretty good job of it Tuesday leading into the games. You may also subscribe to expecting the worse and hoping for the best, so the sting of defeat isn’t so great or so the satisfaction of victory remains pure. There’s no one right way to deal with your expectations for your team.
The big day arrived. If all went well, it would feel like Christmas in the nation’s capital. If it didn’t, it would feel like ripping a Band-Aid off super prematurely and only making the injury worse.
That time you were asked to design a sports troll. pic.twitter.com/cEUovGcj7v
— Virginia Singarayar (@vsingarayar) May 10, 2017
Today's cover: With Caps' Game 7, Wizards' crucial Game 5 and the Nats playing the Orioles, this could be D.C.’s biggest sports night ever. pic.twitter.com/13WGRGwcUl
— Express (@WaPoExpress) May 10, 2017
Washington's drought of 66 seasons since a pro team reached final four in its league is by far the longest active. #Caps can end it tonight.
— Stephen Whyno (@SWhyno) May 10, 2017
This may be the biggest night in D.C. Sports history
— Tamir Rice🌙 (@pacman1017) May 10, 2017
I wish I could fast forward 10 hours man https://t.co/PyppSwOBKr
— OG Dwayne Wayne (@_92Infinity) May 10, 2017
It's not even noon and my anxiety about D.C. sports tonight is off the charts.
— Fungo Velo (@clintonyates) May 10, 2017
You could cut the tension in the proverbial social media air with a butcher knife if you felt so inclined.
— Hoop District (@HoopDistrictDC) May 10, 2017
On that note, Stephen Strasburg was wearing a Capitals sweatshirt in the clubhouse before his start tonight.
— Chelsea Janes (@chelsea_janes) May 10, 2017
— Washington Wizards (@WashWizards) May 10, 2017
— Maryland Terrapins (@umterps) May 10, 2017
A prayer circle was formed by the professional and collegiate teams in the area to send well wishes and good vibes.
Since '98 Stanley Cup Finals, the Caps/Nats/Wiz/Skins have been in final eight of their leagues 13 times. They're 0-13 in advancing.
— Dan Steinberg (@dcsportsbog) May 10, 2017
Game 5 gonna be a good one
— Marcus Morris (@MookMorris2) May 11, 2017
— Jake Russell (@_JakeRussell) May 11, 2017
— Cy Fenwick (@WiseGuyCy980) May 11, 2017
Season? Ovechkin's legacy is on the line. https://t.co/1yMEfH2wxx
— Neil Greenberg (@ngreenberg) May 11, 2017
Somehow the Redskins will find a way to lose tonight too lol #DCsports
— Joseph Cavan (@joecavan) May 11, 2017
The only team in the #DCTrifecta to win tonight was the Nats…in a meaningless May game.
All you can do is laugh at that…#DCSports
— Nick Ashooh 🤧 (@NickAshooh) May 11, 2017
D.C Sports Fans: "We just want one conference finals appearance"
D.C Sports Teams: "wE jUsT waNt oNe ConFErence FinAlS aPpeAraNcE" pic.twitter.com/mWoPSNqKaX
— Redskins Realm (@SkinsRealm) May 11, 2017
Sports will never make me happy when it counts. Ever.
— OG Dwayne Wayne (@_92Infinity) May 11, 2017
update: it was not. sorry everyone pic.twitter.com/lwaoYSxrfX
— Dan Steinberg (@dcsportsbog) May 11, 2017
Sports in DC forever and always pic.twitter.com/D6w23N8c8M
— Brendan Darr (@BrendanDarr) May 11, 2017
— DC Maryland Virginia (@DMVFollowers) May 11, 2017
Ugly scene outside Verizon pic.twitter.com/ji6t2TmfyC
— Rudy Gersten (@DCBarno) May 11, 2017
I'm genuinely depressed I'm the biggest dc sports fan and it hurts getting your spirits crushed year after year
— Sydnee W. (@sydneeW_) May 11, 2017
#Caps headline: Out of excuses, out of answers
— Fungo Velo (@clintonyates) May 11, 2017
Second Wednesday in May, 2015:
Caps season ends in game 7
Wiz, tied 2-2, drop game 5 on the road
Nats come from behind to win in 9th pic.twitter.com/LGbHByVvx5
— Dan Steinberg (@dcsportsbog) May 11, 2017
Scott Van Pelt opens his show: "I am sick and tired… sick and freakin' tired of this same routine with the Caps." https://t.co/f3NgOL7bZq
— Jake Russell (@_JakeRussell) May 11, 2017
Unfortunately for D.C. sports fans, the day after has not proved to be any better. As they are well aware, to the winner goes the spoils, and in this case the winner is social media, which is simply ruthless in situations like these.
BREAKING NEWS: Mario Lemieux has been named owner of the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
— Josh Yohe (@JoshYohe_PGH) May 11, 2017
don’t feel too bad, DC. the Capitals could have made it to the Super Bowl and blown a 28-3 lead
— Harry Lyles Jr. (@harrylylesjr) May 11, 2017
— Post Sports (@PostSports) May 11, 2017
Capitals fans in one Gif every year pic.twitter.com/NrUBNLua4n
— The Hockey Hangout (@HockeyHangout) May 11, 2017
— Steve Chenevey FOX5 (@stevechenevey) May 11, 2017
— Reese Waters (@reesewaters) May 11, 2017
📂 National Hockey League
└📁 Washington Capitals
└📁 Ovechkin era
└📁 ECF appearances
└⚠️ Folder is empty
— 🤖 (@RielIy) May 11, 2017
So Wizards got blown out and have to play 2 elimination games.
Caps got eliminated.
And today is cold and rainy. Cool. #DCSports
— TheAbstract (@AltBoosterGold) May 11, 2017
There should be special mental health + wellness centers all around the the DMV for DC sports fans
— Wizards Now (@WizardsNow_) May 11, 2017
Caps..Wizards…Nationals. Here in the DMV, we live in the Valley of Just Good Enough to Rip Out Your Scorched Graveyard of a Heart. Again.
— Mike Wise (@MikeWiseguy) May 11, 2017
You can't just be DeathRowDC at home. You gotta take that on the road. This game was truly horrible!!
— Jocelyn J. Hill (@WizardsWoman) May 11, 2017
Bottom of the 9th?
Take it away Matt Wieters… pic.twitter.com/ZfVdTWZJ2K
— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) May 11, 2017