Photo by Ben Portnoy for The Sports Capitol

Capitals snap doldrums for city, themselves


Championships freeze time. The moment will always be recalled for where you were, how you felt, who you were with. On the streets, at the watch party, or screaming after a hastily assembled trip to Las Vegas, where anyone can find an excuse to celebrate anything. Bobby Dandridge remembers. With these things, 40 years ago seems like yesterday. The participants age. The memories and recognition do not.

“People in your town, your citizens tend to recognize guys playing on championships teams,” Dandridge recently told The Sports Capitol. “Especially with the Bullets winning that first championship. People gravitate toward the winners. Everybody, people that weren’t basketball fans, all of a sudden are now supportive of the team.

“You just become a household name. That’s the way it was when we won the championship in Washington. Especially with the motorcade we had, the parade that touched all parts of the city of Washington, D.C. and parts of Maryland. I think it just gives everybody a sense of pride.

“There are no downsides to being a world champion.”

Forty year later, to the day, the Washington Capitals replicated the Bullets’ feat. When Dandridge and Unseld and Hayes celebrated, the organization broke through the failures of recent years. However, they weren’t saddled with city-wide demons. Ones that patrolled the hockey rink or the ballpark. The aches produced by annual failure, so often doubled-down upon at the worst times. Jordan Zimmermann coming off the field. Sidney Crosby yet again. Triple overtime. Game 5 of the NLDS. So many toenail-removal pains instilled by being so close.

The city was stuck. It had to reach back to 1992 when Joe Gibbs took the Super Bowl for the third time. Years ticked by not just without championships, but no conference titles, a progressively sullied reputation as a sports town and resignation. The worst. The feeling of knowing it won’t happen. Can’t happen. Not here, not with these organizations. Any bright light was going to be dimmed right at the end, part of a preordained doom.

That mood was snapped Thursday night. Revelers on F Street felt it. Alex Ovechkin lived it in Las Vegas. While fans at home hugged and screamed, Ovechkin did the same on the ice of a first-year expansion team that had made it where he couldn’t for more than a decade. He kissed the trophy then shouted for Nicklas Backstrom. They held it together, smashing the past, suggesting there could be a rosy future.

What they will learn, as Dandridge, Gibbs, Riggins and Rypien did, is a decade from now they will be brought back. The town will want to celebrate them again. College students will be parents. Mom and dad can laugh about the idiocy of the night when a cell phone camera caught them on top of the Clyde’s sign or the next-day’s hangover was so potent at work.

They can pull a red hat on to their kid’s head, then explain what a hockey menace this older man with the accent and missing tooth was. How he fixed things in the city one year, pushing the scalded emotions of the past beyond the region’s limits. He brought a title the way Bullets did in the late 70s, the way the Redskins did in the 80s, the way no one else did from 1992 until he finished it in the desert.

Others have been watching. Wizards guard Bradley Beal was at Game 4. Redskins cornerback Josh Norman was there, too. Nationals players were dotted throughout the stands at the same game. Most were rooting for the Capitals. They had latched on at the start of the playoffs by wearing Capitals gear around the clubhouse. Manager Davey Martinez started a text conversation with Barry Trotz, whom he had not met, to show support. The only resistance rested with a reliever and superstar. Brandon Kintzler and Bryce Harper wore their Vegas Golden Knights gear throughout. The Las Vegas natives jabbed at teammates for their sudden backing of the hockey team.

Trotz nodded toward the tormented baseball team during the postseason. “I know the baseball guys are watching us,” he said. They had been partners in pain. The Nationals failing just when the Capitals were starting another journey toward a fruitless end. The two a merry-go-round of misery.

“It’s been fun to seeing them, not parallel, but kind of go through the same things we’ve gone through, so I’m happy for all those guys,” Ryan Zimmerman said before Game 5. “Hopefully, they can win one more.”  

D.J. Swearinger announced on his Twitter account it is the Redskins’ turn now. Among the ethereal questions going is if one title can beget another. Look at Boston, someone will suggest. They snapped a century of burden then ran through a decade of titles.

It doesn’t work like that nor does it have to after this. The Capitals have delivered a title to the District for the first time in 26 years. A quarter century of failure is gone, the clock reset.

“This organization want it so bad,” Ovechkin said. “It’s nice to be part of it. It’s nice to be in this organization all 13 years, 14, whatever. It just was – joy. Was tough time, but we fight through it and we get result.

“Now I’m going home to our family, our fans. It’s just something special, you know. I don’t know. I’m just very excited and I’m very happy right now.”

That tinge of joy won’t leave. It is his now. It is the city’s now. No one can take it away. They will only bring it back.

Brian McNally contributed to this story from Las Vegas.

Todd Dybas is the managing editor and co-founder of The Sports Capitol. He has spent 17 years in the sports editorial industry, working as a writer and layout editor, winning multiple awards in both positions. He has been an NFL beat writer, has worked as a member of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America for seven years, and is a member of the Pro Basketball Writers Association.

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