- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Not to get carried away or anything, but how many events in D.C. sports history have been as breathlessly awaited as this Capitals-Penguins finale? It’s a short list, you have to admit. We don’t, after all, host Super Bowls around here, and the local teams - the pro ones - haven’t exactly been piling up the trophies lately.

Maryland won an NCAA basketball championship, sure, but the Terps won it in Atlanta - just like the Georgetown Hoyas cut down the nets in Seattle. The Maryland women won a hoops title, too… in Boston. See what I mean?

The NBA’s All-Stars paid us a visit not long ago, as did the NHL’s and major league baseball’s once upon a time. But those are merely high-gloss exhibitions, nothing on the order of the Caps-Pens hatefest.

No, the nation’s capital has definitely been experiencing a downturn in the thrills department. That’s why folks are so gaga over Wednesday’s Game 7. I mean, how many Game 7s have we even seen in these parts - in any sport? By my count, this will be the 11th - and maybe the best of the bunch considering the presence of Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and their collaborators. Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau is so excited he jumped, by his own estimate, “eight inches” off the ground when his club pushed the series to the limit the other night in Pittsburgh.

The Bullets/Wizards, you may recall, went seven games when they captured their only NBA crown in 1978. What you may not recall is that the deciding game was played in Seattle. Bummer. (The next season, though, they treated us to not one but two seventh games on their homecourt - and won both. Alas, the Sonics swept them aside in the finals.)

Anyway, if you were putting together a list of the top, oh, nine sports events of all time in the D.C. area - leaving room for Caps-Pens Chapter 7 to make it an even 10 - which would you include? Here are my nominees in ascending order:

• The 1997 Kemper Open and U.S. Open - For two glorious weeks in June, the D.C. area was the center of the golf world. Most of the big names played in the Kemper - which was rare enough - to prepare for the Open, and Greg Norman, Nick Faldo and Nick Price tied for third behind winner Justin Leonard. The next weekend at Congressional, Ernie Els worked around the weather delays and, down the stretch Sunday, out-toughed Colin Montgomerie and Tom Lehman to walk off with Open No. 2.

Why it’s not ranked higher: Tiger Woods withdrew from the Kemper with an injury and wasn’t a factor at Congressional.

• The ‘78 NBA Finals - As previously stated, it’s the Bullets/Wizards’ lone title. They smoked the Sonics 117-82 in Game 6 in Landover - getting 12 points, 12 boards and six assists off the bench from rookie Greg Ballard - to set up their clinching victory in Seattle.

Why it’s not higher: The Bullets had only recently moved to the D.C. area. Until 1973, they were Baltimore’s team.

• Joe Louis’ 1941 bout against Max Baer at the Senators’ ballyard - Some might lobby for one of Muhammad Ali’s or Sugar Ray Leonard’s fights at the old Capital Centre, but this was the Brown Bomber’s only local appearance. He went reeling through the ropes at one point but kept his heavyweight title by knocking Baer down three times in the sixth.

Why it’s not higher: His opponent wasn’t Max Schmeling.

• The first home game of Michael Jordan’s comeback with the Wizards in 2001 - It was like Napoleon returning from Elba. Granted, he made only seven of 21 shots in a 90-76 win over the 76ers, but it hardly mattered. What mattered was this: Arguably the greatest player in basketball history was wearing a Washington uniform.

Why it’s not higher: The hype far exceeded the reality of a 38-year-old trying to crank it up again after three seasons in retirement.

• The 1924 World Series - The only one the Senators ever won, it featured a dozen future Hall of Famers. The seventh game, at Griffith Stadium, went 12 innings before the Original Nats prevailed over John McGraw’s New York Giants on a bad-hop single. The legendary Walter Johnson got the victory in relief.

Why it’s not ranked higher: There were 4,000 empty seats for the last game.

• One of the Redskins’ NFC title games against the Cowboys at RFK Stadium (1972 and ‘82 seasons). I’ll opt for the earlier one, a 26-3 drubbing of Dallas, because of George Allen’s histrionics and because it put Washington in the Super Bowl for the first time. Besides, ‘82 was a strike year.

Why it’s not higher: Dolphins 14, Redskins 7.

• The final of the 1966 NCAA basketball tournament between Texas Western and Kentucky - You know the story. Two years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, 12 years after Brown v. Board of Education, the Miners’ all-black starting lineup schooled the Wildcats’ all-white contingent at Cole Field House - and changed hoops forever.

Why it’s not No. 1: Perhaps it should be, given its overall impact, but…

• George Mason vs. Connecticut for a berth in the Final Four, 2006 NCAA tournament - It still seems impossible that Mason, a mid-major out of the Colonial Athletic Association, beat mighty UConn in overtime. A certifiably great game that included a stirring second-half comeback by the Patriots. Has the Phone Booth ever been louder?

Why it edges Texas Western-Kentucky: The shock factor. The Miners might have been unknown to much of the country, but they were ranked third in the polls before the tourney and lost just one game all season. Mason was a bubble team that could just as easily have been left out of the NCAA field. And how long will it be before another mid-major matches the Patriots’ feat?

And now we have Capitals-Penguins, Game 7 - a event that has attracted attention from here to Moscow, an event bigger, even, than the ‘98 finals. If it’s anything like the first six games… well, put it this way: Verizon Center might seat 18,277 for hockey, but there will be 118,277 who will say they were there.

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