Hope has turned to heartbreak in Washington over the past three months.
The agony of Drew Storen, frozen in front of his locker in October after the Nationals' ninth-inning collapse in Game 5 of the National League Division Series, had barely faded. Same with the rolled-up plastic tarps and mob of reporters in rain jackets to protect against champagne that never came.
The agony moved to Robert Griffin III, who gingerly dressed amid clumps of turf on the locker room carpet Sunday at FedEx Field. The Redskins' first playoff game since 2008 faded into defeat, overwhelmed by the damaged ligaments in the rookie quarterback's right knee.
Despair is easy. So is the communitywide throwing up of hands, the search for scapegoats, the angst of a city beaten down by years of mediocrity and desperate for winners.
The heartbreak of the last three months, however, is the price for relevance. Games matter again. These moments accompany the unfamiliar territory of winning. If these games didn't matter, the way they ended, on the field and in the examination room, wouldn't sting so much.
If anything, the gut-twisting setbacks represent a demarcation from the bad old days of baseball and football in this city that aren't so far removed.
Look at what isn't being discussed, for instance, as the Redskins plunge into the offseason.
No attention is focused on NFL mock drafts (even with the absence of a first-round pick in April as part of the price to select Griffin) in search of the latest franchise savior. No figuring out how to jettison $100 million albatross contracts (hello, Albert Haynesworth). No end-of-season finger-pointing, like former lineman Sean Locklear's Twitter drive-by on the Redskins a year ago. No lingering off-field problems reminiscent of Fred Davis and Trent Williams being suspended for marijuana use last year. No search for a quarterback to provide stability at a position where 28 players started a game in 27 years since Joe Theismann's leg snapped.
Better days are here, even if the sting doesn't allow that feeling yet. What would Nationals' supporters have exchanged during the lean years of Jason Bergmann, Elijah Dukes and company for just a hint of the postseason, never mind if a late bullpen meltdown accompanied the bargain? Or thought of the NFL's most dynamic young quarterback coming to Washington, even with that bum knee, transforming the franchise on and off the field and propelling a surge into the postseason?
Every morsel of news about Griffin's knee, repaired by Dr. James Andrews in Florida on Wednesday, was gobbled up in a city that transformed overnight in the world's largest concentration of knee experts.
How much damage did Griffin's ACL, repaired in 2009, sustain? Was the damage old or new? How partially torn is partially torn? What, exactly, does repair mean?
Sources overwhelmed Twitter. Sources about Griffin's mood. Sources about recovery time. Eight months? Opening day in September? A year? Sources about travel and doctors and rehabilitation and how torn is, well, torn. Everywhere, sources.
One local columnist blamed the Redskins' name for Griffin's injury. A national columnist who generally opines on political matters wagged her finger at coach Mike Shanahan for "dumb football."
Imagine a similar tizzy surrounding the knee of, say, former quarterback John Beck or coming off a 4-12 season (or even the injured knee of former Wizards No. 1 overall pick John Wall that's sidelined him all season as his team has spiraled into irrelevance).
Even having a quarterback whose knee transfixes the city and much of the country shows the progress, even if the attention is wrapped in furor over the injury's much-debated circumstances.
The Redskins are relevant again, and no longer as the butt of national jokes over which big-money free agent signing will go bust. The Nationals, of course, may have baseball's deepest 25-man roster heading into spring training next month in Viera, Fla.
Losses hurt more when they mean something.
Washington's heartbreak in the last three months points to the change, the sometimes-fitful but never dull return to relevance.
And that's a reason for hope.
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