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A Lament: Don’t They See? November 9, 2011

Posted by CapitalSpirit in Uncategorized.

Last night’s 5-2 loss to the Dallas Stars was painful to watch.

On the Metro ride home, I was mentally drafting something which probably would have ended up being the best post I would have regretted all season. But by the time I was finally home, I just couldn’t write. At all. I put a couple of tweets up, collapsed in bed, and stared at the ceiling. I was literally in tears. I have no idea why, but that one loss just hit me in an emotional soft spot, and there was nothing I could do but weep. And stare at the ceiling. And weep. And stare at the ceiling. Rinse and repeat, for a couple of hours straight.

At some point around half past one in the morning, I finally had to get out of bed to get some water. I drank the water, grabbed my cell, and fired something off on Twitter (check my feed, I’m not making this up.)

Then it was back to staring at the ceiling, and crying. I think I finally got some semblance of sleep around 3 in the morning.

All the while, there was one thought I kept coming back to, time and time again: Don’t they see?

Before I get too far into this, a note on style for this post (and only this post). I’m going to be calling the team in the red sweaters last night a lot of different things, but “Washington Capitals” will not be one of them. And that’s because those impersonators who borrowed the home dressing room last night were not the Washington Capitals, at least as I believe them to be.

No, I’m not trying to come up with an “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” scenario here, nor am I going to seriously propose that it was Others of whatever sort which somehow prevented the real Washington Capitals from showing up. Ovechkin was Ovechkin, Erskine was Erskine, and so on throughout the roster. Physically, yeah, that was the Capitals, all right.

But spiritually, it was anyone but. That bunch who purported to represent Washington last night played one of the most half-baked, half-willed, half-numb, half-finished, half-awake, half-done, half-minded, half-witted, half-formed, half-hearted, half-jelled, half-serious, half-dead, half-cocked, half-assed hockey game I have ever been present to witness.

Now, if you’re looking for an LBJ-esque “I have lost Walter Cronkite” moment, I’m afraid I’m going to have to disappoint you. Did I take last night’s loss hard? Absolutely. Am I going to love the Capitals any less? No…because, again, that wasn’t the Washington Capitals (as I understand them) who lost that game. That group of mountebanks was completely bereft of Capitals-ness.

Mike Knuble, God bless him, called it like he saw it (and in color) after the game. The man’s old enough to remember hockey on the Intellivision, so he’s more than likely seen it all by now. The short version: these guys don’t get it yet.

Perhaps I think too highly of the Capitals, but I would have thought coming into the season that getting swept in the playoffs might have taught them a thing or two. After last night, I have to wonder.

Don’t they see?

Washington, DC, has not won a championship in one of the four major sports in a generation. (DC United, your victories are noted, but with all due respect, soccer’s still not considered a major sport in the US.) The Wizards are a few years from being a title threat, and that’s AFTER the NBA settles its labor dispute. The Redskins keep finding ever more creative ways to disappoint. The Nationals could be good, and sooner rather than later, but it’s still a little too soon to buy October baseball tickets in this town. Right now, the Washington Capitals are arguably the best team in DC. This city is thirsting for a champion to call its own. And right now, our most hopeful champions are the Washington Capitals. Right now, they carry the championship hopes and dreams of this entire city.

Don’t they see?

When I take my usual pregame walk around Verizon Center, I see a lot of kids on the concourse. Late thirties sometimes has a way of forgetting the joie de la jeunesse, but the smiles and excitement of the younger fans is unmistakeable. How many of those red-clad kids on the Verizon Center concourse would have the memory of a lifetime if the Capitals got to skate the Stanley Cup? How many of them, years from now, might be inspired by a Capitals Stanley Cup to go that second mile, in some as-yet undefined endeavor, to make the world a better place? The Washington Capitals, right now, have what it takes to bring a lifetime of memories, and maybe even a higher inspiration, to so many young people in this area.

Don’t they see?

I read the news–perhaps too much–and what Main Street thinks of both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue is alarming. According to a recent Rasmussen survey, only 20% of Americans believe that the US Government, as it stands, has the consent of the governed. 63% say it doesn’t; 17% aren’t sure. That’s three in five Americans who think the government does not have the consent of the governed. If that’s your mindset, you’re going to see Washington as the bad guys. The Capitals, however, are not the bad guys. From Brooks Laich’s famous tire change, to John Carlson’s gold-medal winning goal for the United States on the international stage not long ago, to the five nations’ worth of teamwork, to Courage Caps, to Salute to the Troops, and all the way up to the owner who pretty much invented “filmanthropy,” there is a lot of good being done by this organization and its players. (And I haven’t even mentioned Caps Care yet!) The Washington Capitals have a chance to show all of America that doing what’s good and what’s right can bring ultimate rewards…even in a place as widely distrusted as Washington.

Don’t they see?

There are a lot of long-time Capitals fans who have been waiting for many, many years, to see this team skate what’s arguably the most well-known trophy in North American sports. I’m not sure how many sports fans could name the Commissioner’s Trophy. Basketball die-hards might know the name “Naismith Memorial Trophy” offhand. And I suppose there are enough football fans out there that you might get a good percentage who know the Vincent Lombardi Trophy. But you don’t have to be a hockey fan to know the name “Stanley Cup.” And if you are a hockey fan, then that 35 pounds of silver might as well be the Ark of the Covenant for how sacred it is. Too many hockey fans in Washington have been here too long, and seen too much coulda-woulda-shoulda-didn’t, for those charlatans in the red sweaters last night to go out there and stink up the joint. Don’t those guys realize that there has been too much disappointment in this town, to just mail it in?

Don’t they see?

Don’t those guys realize that there are fans out here who want nothing more than to see them succeed? Don’t they know that we invest a lot of our time and money to come down to Verizon Center and see them give the best that they’ve got, and not a single effort less? Don’t they understand that there are fans out here who care deeply about them, and about the team as a whole? Don’t they recognize the passionate fans out here who invest not just our time and treasure, but our spirit and emotions as well? And don’t they grasp how painful it can be for some of us, to see them just mail it in?

Don’t they see?

Verizon Center has become the place to be for Capitals games: it’s loud, it’s intimidating, and it’s becoming a terrific hockey arena. But did anyone tell last night’s replacements that sellouts, loud support, a minimum contingent of visiting fans, and an all-red dress code are by no means guaranteed? Fans in Washington will not long suffer a team that always teases in the regular season, but never pleases in the playoffs. Oh, sure, there are going to be some fans who are going to stay through thick and thin. But it was not that long ago that Verizon Center was hosting Dress Like a Seat Night on a regular basis. Some of the long-time Capitals–Ovechkin and Halpern in particular–ought to remember how pin-drop quiet Verizon Center could get when fans were too numbed by the pain of a rebuild to care that much about cheering them on. The attendance for the first Capitals game I ever attended was barely in five figures (and that number was tickets sold, not fannies in the seats.) The idea of going back to a half-empty house ought to be frightening to some of the players now on the roster.

Don’t they see?

I know it’s a bad idea to believe your press clippings, but ignoring them outright is just as big a mistake. Did none of last night’s loafers see the pre-season predictions–from the experts all the way down to spare-timers like me? Don’t they understand how good they really are–that they have what it takes, right now, to win the Stanley Cup, if all they’ll do is work for it? Don’t they know that teams like this don’t come along every day, and that being on a contender is a gift that can be taken away at any time? Don’t they comprehend how golden of an opportunity that they have with this year’s edition of the Washington Capitals? Don’t they grasp how close they could be, to being Stanley Cup Champions? Don’t they understand that this may be the best chance they’ll ever have, in their entire lives, to be champions? And don’t they get that if this team doesn’t succeed, this year, that this kind of an opportunity may be lost to them, forever?

Don’t they see?

Why, exactly, do those guys insist on playing like Just Another Team? Just Another Team ultimately means just another bunch of losers. Just Another Team means you don’t stand out. Just Another Team means you have no identity of your own. Why couldn’t those guys in the red sweaters last night play like the Washington Capitals? No…not just the Washington Capitals, but the same Washington Capitals that their most passionate fans believe them all to be, right now? Don’t those guys understand that there are a lot of us out here, right now, who sincerely believe that they have all they need, right now, to be the best hockey team this town has ever known?

Don’t they see?

It literally pains me, to see a team that I love so much, play like a team that I believe it isn’t, and a team that it should never be.

I hope that whatever adjustments are needed, are made. I have to think there will be coaching adjustments, but what I would be happiest to observe in the weeks and months ahead, would be attitude adjustments.

Don’t those guys grasp how good they are, how good they can be, and how good their fans think they are? And if so, when will they play like it? Don’t they know what it ultimately means to be a Washington Capital?

Don’t they see?




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