- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 4, 2012


Who needs August? Welcome to the dog days of January, when every new year seems just like the old year for many sports fans in these parts.

The Redskins have just ended a 5-11 season, running their two-year record under the supposedly superior Mike Shanahan to 11-21. In retrospect, the much-maligned Jim Zorn doesn’t look quite so bad. Nor do Norv Turner and Steve Spurrier, two hapless headset honchos who preceded the so-so second coming of Joe Gibbs.

Elsewhere, matters are similarly sickening. The Wizards lost their first five games, and coach Phillip Saunders, to use his formal moniker, probably considered it the season’s high point when he was tossed by the refs during No. 5 in Boston on Monday night.

If you join Saunders’ nickname and his team’s early performances, you get Flip Flop. If Mitt Romney’s presidential bid fails, maybe he should coach this ghastly gang.

And, oh yes, the Capitals. Just like the political likes of Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain, they started fast and faded just as fast. Despite the Caps’ current four-game winning streak, do you suppose coach Dale Hunter wonders why in the name of Scotty Bowman he ever returned to the NHL?

Not that sporting dog days are confined to January or August hereabouts. Except for the Redskins’ two NFL titles under Ray Flaherty, their three Super Bowl victories during Gibbs I and the Bullets’ lone NBA title in 1978, no Washington team has won a championship in a major professional league since the Gay Twenties.

Back when the Pirates, Steelers and Penguins were occasional masters of all they surveyed, Pittsburgh liked to call itself Titletown USA. Maybe the nation’s capital should be renamed Loserville USA — and that’s without even considering Congress.

Every January, when holidays are past and holiday bills impending, those of us who consider baseball the first and foremost sporting pursuit begin dreaming of a date that seems to glow in the distance. This year it coincides with Valentine’s Day, which means we can simultaneously hail the person and the sport we love. Surely you know this lovely annual event that melts snow off the mind: Pitchers and catchers report.

Assorted and sundry polls tell us that baseball trails pro football and possibly pro basketball in popularity. Be that as it may, for those of a certain age, baseball always will reign supreme because when we were growing up it was king of the games people play and watch.

And when the snows of winter swirl deeper and our teams in other sports sink faster, we appreciate even more baseball’s promise of a new spring. Especially now that the Nationals appear on a fast track to genuine contention.

The only time a Washington team won a World Series, in 1924, Calvin Coolidge was president and flappers Charlestoned the night away. The last time a Washington team even gave us a winning season, in 1969, Richard Nixon was in the White House and the Silent Majority was making big political noise. Then came 33 years of no baseball and six more of mostly bad baseball in these forsaken precincts.

But now, just let the names roll off your mind and tongue … Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, Ryan Zimmerman, Michael Morse, Wilson Ramos, Danny Espinosa, a healthy Adam LaRoche and, sooner rather than later, Bryce Harper. Add a dugout wizard like proven winner Davey Johnson and you have a recipe that should only get tastier.

Late winter and early spring are the times when we forget failure and foresee fun from April until October. So there is reason indeed to remain faithful to our baseball team and dream.

After all, Feb. 14 is only 40 days away — and may they pass with gathering speed.

For more of the author’s columns, go to dickheller.wordpress.com

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