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We Need Champions September 18, 2010

Posted by CapitalSpirit in Uncategorized.

I’ve had enough reminders of last season’s playoffs. Enough already–I got the point when the final horn sounded on the season back in April, and I’ve been looking forward to camp because now we can, well, look FORWARD. The past is done, it’s over, there’s nothing we can do about it, and frankly, it’s time to look ahead. Lesson learned–turn the darn page already! Everybody! Look forward to what you CAN change, not backward at what you CAN’T!

With all due respect, that means you, too, Mike Vogel. This is the wrong take on the start of camp. Camp is about the excitement of a new season; the fresh beginnings of a new campaign; and the hopes and dreams of many, many victories to come. I don’t think any of us need to be reminded, again, how last season ended. Been there, suffered through that, learned from it, got the T-shirt, and ready to stop reading about it.

Looking back in bitter regret–or even looking back in white-hot anger–is not the attitude of a champion. You have to talk about what you hope to accomplish, and let the past be the past. Hopes; dreams; expectations; aspirations–THAT is what the start of the season is about. It’s not about walking in as 2010’s failures: it’s about walking in as 2011’s aspiring champions.

I’m not someone they’d invite into the room, but if they gave me a shot, I’d say something like this. Bear in mind, I have a well-worn Backspace key here online that I wouldn’t have in real life, and I would be terrified to go in there anyway, so writing it out is the best I can do. Also bear in mind that this was written in stages–my publishing ratio on this post is atrocious.

Guys, congratulations on a spectacular 2010 season. You gave Caps fans a lot to cheer about, and a lot of memories that will last us all long after you’ve left us. You took command of the standings; you won fans all across America; and in the process, you gave the Washington area something to cheer for. Washington needs someone to cheer for: in a word, we need champions.

You weren’t champions last year, and I know that stings a lot of you; it even stings a lot of us in the stands. We believed in you; and we were heartbroken when the season ended the way it did. But a new season is here, and we’re ready to believe once more. We need you to give us, once again, something special to believe in. Gentlemen, we need champions.

Now, obviously, the first thing you probably think when I say champions is “victors,” that is, those who take first place. In your case, that means winning the Stanley Cup. Washington has not won a championship in football, baseball, basketball, or hockey, since 1991. A generation has gone by in Washington since this city stood victorious in one of the major sports. As for the Capitals, well, we all know that part, don’t we? The Stanley Cup has yet to be won here. I know this city is an adopted home for most of you, and perhaps even a temporary home for some. But if you need something to play for, then here: this city has grown weary of no-goods, also-rans, and might-have-beens. We are sick and tired of being first in war, first in peace, and everything but first in sports. We need a team that can rise above, take on the world, face down all comers, and ultimately stand victorious. Gentlemen, your victory would give Washington something it hasn’t had for a very long time: ultimate success. Gentlemen, we need victors. We need champions.

“Champions” can also mean “heroes.” And here, in the nation’s capital, heroes have been hard to find lately. Turn on the local, or even national, news most evenings, and Washington can seem like a veritable rogue’s gallery. Washington may perhaps have claim to being one of the most hated cities in America to those who don’t live here. Washington needs more faces, and fewer heels; more aces, and fewer knaves; more lions, and fewer jackals. And if you need something to play for, then here: this city, and, I submit, this country, have grown weary of the grabby, greedy, grubby, graft that has taken over this town. We need to show the world that there can be good guys in Washington, as well. Enough with the riff-raff that so many outside this city look down on with contempt; we need people in this city that the world can look up to, with respect, perhaps even love. Gentlemen, we need heroes. We need champions.

“Champions” can also mean “advocates.” Many of you, because of your place in life, are involved with many noble causes away from the game. I salute that: you have earned much, and are giving back of the blessings you have worked so hard to earn. Maybe what I’m about to say is simplistic, maybe it’s overly romantic, I don’t know, but here goes. I’ve always believed that in the long run, the good guys have to win. I believe that we live in a just universe, and that in the end, good must prevail. And so it can only help you to give of yourselves to others; for in the end, you get what you give. You have your causes; pursue them. Speak up for them. Get more people involved. We’ve seen enough stories in the sports pages of professional athletes behaving like second-tier citizens; our hope is that more of you are recognized as first-class. Gentlemen, we need advocates. We need champions.

“Champions” can also mean “warriors.” Victory may prove elusive, but a fighting spirit and a never-say-die attitude can never, ever be taken away from you. The game you play is arguably the most demanding in the world; the league you play in is the most talented in the world; and the road to ultimate victory is perhaps the most grueling in the world. It takes a lot of fight to overcome the numerous obstacles you will no doubt encounter this year. It takes a lot of heart to endure time away from your loved ones, thousands of miles of travel, and hostile enemy arenas. But the heart of the warrior is one of honor; of loyalty; of courage; and ultimately, of service to something much greater than himself. No one goes to war for himself, and himself alone; there is always something greater for which he fights. And this is my ultimate challenge for you: find that something greater, whatever you define it to be, and give your utmost to fight to the end for it. Never, ever stop fighting for that great cause to which you commit yourself. We need you all, each and every one of you, to fight on, no matter the cost. Gentlemen, we need warriors. We need champions.

This next bit probably won’t mean much after all that, but here goes. When you guys visit Nashville, it will mark five years to the day since I saw my first Capitals game. It’s been, on balance, the happiest five-year stretch of my entire life. There have been times in my life when I’ve wondered if I’d ever have a place to belong, anywhere in this world. I’ve found that place, and it’s right here. You guys have given a vagabond like me a reason to want to settle down. You’ve given me a place to express my own creativity. You’ve given me a place where I don’t feel like I have to hide. You’ve given me the happiest half-decade of my entire life, and I suspect there’s more where that came from. It’s been a privilege to have cheered you on for as long as I have; and I hope that I’ll get to do more of it for a long, long time.

Regardless of how this season turns out, you’re champions to me already. And now it’s time for you to go be champions for yourselves, and for this city, for all time.

Gentlemen, we need champions.




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