- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 21, 2005

ESPN seems able to find Staunton, Va., all right. In fact, “SportsCenter” will be setting up shop there tomorrow, using the fourth annual Thunder in the Mountains Virginia Open Foosball Spectacular — whatever the heck that is — as a backdrop.

The Worldwide Leader in Sports also has no trouble, apparently, locating Port Republic, Md., where “SC” will be plopping down next month at a jousting tournament.

But the District of Columbia, capital of the free world and home of the country’s largest Nat population, isn’t on any of the maps in Bristol, Conn., I guess. That’s why ESPN won’t be stopping in Washington during its much-ballyhooed 50 states in 50 days road trip. (That, of course, and the technicality that D.C. isn’t actually a state. Talk about picking nits.)

Could it be just a year ago we were going through this same silliness with Sports Illustrated? Indeed it could. SI, you may recall, celebrated its 50th anniversary by devoting a special section to each of the 50 states — its greatest athletes, historical points of sports interest, etc., etc. The District almost got left out then, too, but complaints by local bigwigs shamed the magazine into belatedly — and half-heartedly — giving D.C. its own spread.

(Worse, the D.C. section ran in the July 12, 2004 issue, the one that featured newly crowned Wimbledon champ Maria Sharapova on the cover flashing some Serious Leg. Most readers probably didn’t even make it to the table of contents, never mind the mini-tribute to Washington sports.)

But that was before we got major league baseball. We’re really big time now — except in the all-seeing eyes of ESPN, which reportedly plans to deal with the District as an appendage of either Maryland or Virginia. The horror.

Other than the fact that 50 is a rounder, nicer-sounding number than 51, though, I can’t think of a single reason why That Cable Network shouldn’t give D.C. equal status with the other 50, uh, geographical entities. I mean, we’re not talking about some distant Pacific atoll here, some place you might go to test a new weapon. We’re talking about, um, the site of the 2009 men’s Frozen Four. That’s right, folks, among its many other claims to athletic fame, Washington will soon be the southernmost city to play host to the NCAA hockey championship.

Put that in your halfpipe and smoke it, ESPN.

Admittedly, D.C. has been keeping a low profile, sports-wise, in recent years — almost subterranean. The Redskins have made the playoffs just once since Joe Gibbs’ first retirement, the Wizards couldn’t even contend when they had Michael Jordan and the Capitals have fallen on such hard times that they picked first in the 2004 draft. Then there was the District’s unsuccessful bid for the 2012 Olympics; that didn’t exactly help its image either.

It’s a whole new ballgame now, though. The Wizards just advanced to the second round of the postseason, the Nationals are in first place in the National League East and there’s a new baseball stadium on the horizon (assuming it doesn’t get strangled in red tape). How can ESPN overlook all this — and then go trucking up I-95 to bring us “SportsCenter” live from a New Hampshire Fisher Cats game? What … about … us?

The network is obviously accentuating the oddball — the “constant variety of sport,” as “The Wide World of Sports” once put it — in its “SportsCenter” Across America tour. (That is, when it isn’t congratulating itself for its own ubiquity.) Today, for instance, the caravan is in Alaska for the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics; future stops will bring us cardboard boat racing from Arkansas, a blueberry pie-eating contest from Maine and a balloon festival from Wyoming.

(Almost sounds like ESPN’s first day of programming in ‘79, doesn’t it?)

But, hey, if that’s what the network is looking for, I’m sure D.C. could dream something up. How about a Meter Maid Marathon in which the District’s top ticket writers compete to see how many they can issue from dawn to dusk? Another possibility: The Washington chapter of the Sierra Club explores the city’s largest potholes. Those “events” would be at least as exciting, I’ve gotta believe, as the National Darts Championship in Nevada.

Anyway, the ball is in ESPN’s court, so to speak. Hopefully, the network will come to its senses and make a side trip to D.C. sometime in the next couple of months. Washington really isn’t hard to find, fellas. Just take the parkway south from Baltimore. You can’t miss it.

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