Seriously, there really is something positive coming out of Washington and as you would probably suspect, this has nothing to do with politics.
There’s been sporadic times in the past for Washington, DC sports fans to be positive about the pros. Apart from getting franchises and those franchises finally posting their first winning seasons, the few standouts probably are The 1924 and probably 1925 Washington Senators, the 1937, 1942, 1982, 1987, 1991 and probably the 1936, 1940, 1943, 1945, 1972 & 1983 Washington Redskins and the 1998 and probably 2010 Washington Capitals and not all of them actually ended up leaving fans as happy as they’d all like to be.
With this tragic trajectory of Washington sports comes a deeply cynical and deftly cautious group dedicated fans who’s feelings about beltway blunders are so deep seeded they make political conspiracy theorists probably look sane. In nearly all cases, there are much worse franchises one could choose to root for, but the potential arguments for worse cities to be an overall fan of their overall professional sports are probably more difficult to come by. It takes a certain kind of fan to endure 2005-2007 where the Caps, Nats and Wiz all were basement dwelling while the Redskins lack-luster performance and overall struggles were nothing to write home about as they descended toward the bottom too.
Recently, though, that’s been changing.
The tenor of the town started to sway with the arrival of Russian hockey phenom Alexander Ovechkin to the National Hockey League. The Capitals had stars in the past, developed Hall of Fame caliber players of their own and even had successful seasons, but nothing in Caps history short of probably the Langway trade and nothing in DC since maybe the Joe Theismann ‘Skins era could even remotely compare to what Ovi brought in terms of skill and marketability in his ‘leave it all on the ice’ personality.
Compounding the effect of Ovi was Sidney Crosby, another star-in-the-making playing for the arch-rival franchise Pittsburgh Penguins. The natural tendency internationally was to exploit the existing tension between the teams by accentuating their young stars, beginning with Ovi and Sid. This not only inspire the longstanding franchise fanbase but drew in a new generation to the Caps corner.
Although the Caps struggled to get a footing in the post-lockout NHL they built an exciting team around Ovi and fellow youngsters Mike Green and Nicholas Backstrom who both quickly excelled in their roles as cornerstones to the franchise both on and off the ice. The youth movement coming out of the Caps draft and development system was nothing short of remarkable as for several seasons there were at least 15 regulars under the age of 25 on the big club’s roster that came up through it.
Individual awards (many of which were franchise firsts) aside, the culmination of the re-build thus far peaked at the franchise’s first ever best in the NHL regular season, President’s Trophy for 09-10. The recognition of success keeps coming with playoff births even though they have yet to bring home their first championship and that failure is still a painful pill for plenty of fans to be fed.
The Caps put up good attendance numbers even in their less-than successful seasons just a few short years before but the enthusiasm of Rockin’ the Red took new meaning for fans now and the groundwork for DC Sports fans to actually be genuinely excited for DC Sports.
The Washington Nationals, like the Caps, crafted a team worth treating with respect through a series of deftly crafted draft and develop moves that landed them with the talents of Stephen Strasberg. The legend of Stras alone was enough to invigorate the franchise, so when he finally threw his first pitch it was electric, albeit short lived (due to early-career Tommy John surgery). He made a statement in his first outing as a Nat helping bring in record attendance and putting up numbers unseen since the Nats came to DC.
Stras’ return along with the advent of Jordan Zimmerman, Bryce Harper and Drew Soren making a statement this season means the franchise has bright young stars to build around and is turning in not only their first winning season in current franchise history but they lead the majors for most of the year playing +.600 ball.
It still remains to be seen what becomes of the young core moving into their first post-season and how the franchise will continue to develop, but from the perspective of positives to grow on, this is the foundation the franchise and the city have been dreaming for and are in a full swoon from. It’s no longer an embarrassment to wear a Nats jersey (even if you’re still double checking the spelling on it).
Today, the Washington Redskins took their first bold step in following the Caps and the Nats in inspiring the city with a young gun, or two. Robert Griffin III stood behind center for a franchise in disarray and guided them to a most unanticipated victory setting a few records of his own in the process.
The position of RGIII in the city is remarkably similar to that of Ovi when he first took the ice. Not only will they both have to lead their respective teams to victory on their backs under the local lenses of high expectations but also under the national spotlight while a rival attempts to do the same. For RGIII this will be a season, and potentially a career’s worth of comparisons to Andrew Luck.
Skin’s fans were clearly ready for this from the moment when Shannahan and company traded up for a shot at taking RGIII in the draft and in week one were rewarded for their renewed enthusiasm not only by RGIII but in running back Alfred Morris a fellow rookie. It is still way too early to tell how both will perform over a full season or in the years to come, but their immediate impact cannot be stated enough, it’s good to be a Redskins fan again (even if only for a week).
And, so the story goes, for at least three of DC’s franchises… the Wiz? well… we’ll get to them, eventually).
The advent of youth. The explosive starts to careers. The eventual turn around. These were but pipe dreams just a mere half-decade ago. And now, hopefully the city of Washington is headed for the opportunity for sustained sporting success. It’s much rarer to see an NFL team develop and retain talent the way it happens in the MLB and NHL but for all three there’s a lot to be thankful for both in the near and long term based on what we’re seeing in front of us today.