- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 28, 2004

The battling Caps. The players might not be world beaters on the ice, but the suits who run the team are one tough bunch that don’t back down from anyone.

First there was general manager George McPhee, who four years ago entered the Chicago locker room after a particular rough exhibition game and went after the Blackhawks coach.

Now there is the boss himself, Ted Leonsis, reportedly going after a fan who harassed him at a game Sunday night at MCI Center.

Hey, this ain’t tiddlywinks. It’s hockey.

Former Sabres coach Ted Nolan put it this way: “You have to know what pro hockey is all about. You have to live and breathe and sleep it. You have to lose a few teeth and take some shots to the face. It’s not a pretty thing.”

No, it’s not a pretty thing, and if hockey is measured by its ugliness, well, I don’t know why fans are upset with the Caps. I’d say the owner is giving them their money’s worth.

According to a report in The Washington Post yesterday, Leonsis was involved in an altercation with a fan named Jason Hammer, who had sat near the owner’s box, held up a sign criticizing Leonsis and jeered the owner with a group of fans during Sunday night’s loss to the Philadelphia Flyers. Hammer told The Post he was near the owner’s box after the game, and Leonsis ran after him and put his hands on him, “strangling me,” Hammer said. Other witnesses told The Post Leonsis grabbed Hammer and threw him to the ground.

Something happened, and it wasn’t good, and Leonsis has since apologized to Hammer, who told The Post he did not intend to pursue the matter further.

We’ll see what happens after all the lawyers who read about the fight stop calling him.

You might not have been able to see something as bizarre as this coming, but you could see that the weight of Leonsis’ disastrous tenure as owner of the Caps and his involvement with Washington sports as a minority owner of the Wizards, with the hope of soon taking over the basketball team and MCI Center, was taking its toll.

This is how it started out for Leonsis, as laid out in a Talk magazine profile more than three years ago, speaking of his desire to make the franchise fan-friendly in a revolutionary style:

“‘It’s not my team, it’s their team. We’re going to build a community of interest, like AOL and Yahoo and EBay, and we’ll start by becoming a brand that’s loved.’ A few minutes later, he’s back in the owner’s box, and the Caps have scored another goal, and he’s kissing his wife, and the giant TV screen over the ice is showing a 30-foot-high image of the owner, the big guy in the sweater, and the whole place is screaming and clapping for him, and it’s the loudest cheer of the night.”

Now they go out of their way to jeer the big guy.

Since then, nearly everything he has done that seemed so right has turned out to be so wrong, from bringing in Michael Jordan to run the Wizards to trading for Jaromir Jagr. Both Jordan and Jagr (who will still be paid between $16million and $20million by Leonsis while he plays for the New York Rangers for the next four seasons) are gone, Abe Pollin still owns the Wizards and the best thing that could happen for his Caps is for the National Hockey League to shut down next season.

Wouldn’t you want to strangle somebody?

Leonsis could learn a few things from Pollin, who has survived the black hole of losing and the indignities of one failed move after another with blissful ignorance.

Pollin hires Gar Heard in an offseason where Phil Jackson and Isiah Thomas are available, and says this was the coach he wanted all along.

Pollin hires Eddie Jordan in an offseason where Larry Brown and Jeff Van Gundy are available, and says now he has the pieces in place to win. And yes, the Wizards will win, Pollin says, despite the fact that they have had five winning seasons in 24 years.

Pollin says he intends on remaining the owner of the Wizards until they win another championship, which leaves Leonsis, who owns more of the Wizards than many of the managing general partners who run their NBA franchises, as a bystander.

Maybe Leonsis was just suffering from a case of misplaced anger Sunday night.

Shortly after he purchased the team, Leonsis did an interview with The Washington Times and spoke of his desire to connect with fans. “I’ll go to their houses,” he said. “I’ll sit with them.”

Lock your doors.

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