- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 17, 2015


The disappointment of the Washington Capitals‘ Game 7 loss to the New York Rangers in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, followed by the devastating Game 6 loss by the Washington Wizards to the Atlanta Hawks when the tying shot left Paul Pierce’s hands a split-second too late, is accentuated by the joy that Washington sports fans seemed to be basking in the glow of for weeks.

You had the rare exacta of the Capitals and the Wizards not just in the playoffs at the same time, but having each of them win a series and move on to the second round.

All things seemed possible.

It turned out to be a brief span when failure did not define the life of a D.C. sports fan, and everyone wanted to embrace it and hold it close and not let it go. It was like that one hour of daylight they get in Alaska during the winter solstice.

And then darkness fell again.

It seemed sad, but understandable, that Washington sports fans would be so giddy about a glimmer of potential championship success. There have been so few of them.

No Washington sports team of note — Wizards, Redskins, Nationals or Capitals — have made it past the semifinals of their playoff bracket in 17 years, when the Capitals made it to the Stanley Cup Final.

Before that, only the Redskins, who advanced to the Super Bowl in 1991, had made it that far — and they won a championship.

Two teams in the same year, playing in the same building at the same time, in two rounds of postseason play would seem like the Golden Age of Washington sports.

A history lesson, if you will — it wasn’t always that way, which should give hope that it doesn’t always have to be that way. And it’s not just the Redskins’ Super Bowl successes.

From 1978 to 1988, being a Washington sports fan meant parades and playoffs, championships and celebrations. Heartbreak during that 10-year stretch meant losing a title game, not a playoff semifinal.

It began in 1978 with the Bullets, who defeated the Seattle SuperSonics in seven games to give that franchise its only title. If that wasn’t enough, Bullets fans got a trip back to the finals the following year in a losing effort to Seattle.

Of course, in 1982, there were the greatest three weeks of sports in Washington, when the Redskins won home playoff games against Detroit, Minnesota and Dallas, and followed that with their first Super Bowl victory. That began the Joe Gibbs era of perennial postseasons, with two more Super Bowl trips over that 10-year period — a 1984 loss to the Los Angeles Raiders and the Doug Williams-led 1988 Super Bowl win over the Broncos.

But again, being a Washington sports fan then meant so much more than just the Redskins’ success. It also was the glory era of college basketball here. John Thompson’s Georgetown teams went to the NCAA championship game in 1982, 1984 and 1985, winning one national title. The area teams were dominated by star power: Patrick Ewing at Georgetown, Len Bias at Maryland and David Robinson at Navy.

There were no Washington Nationals during that 10-year run, but the Baltimore Orioles became a regional baseball franchise under the ownership of legendary Washington lawyer Edward Bennett Williams and won two American League pennants — one in 1979, and then the 1983 World Series. That trophy was displayed for a time at Duke Zeibert’s restaurant in the District.

All things seemed possible — even for the Washington Capitals, who began play as a expansion franchise in 1974 and saw their first Stanley Cup playoff action in 1982, starting a string of playoff appearances that included two second-round trips in 1986 and 1988.

At the time, who would have thought the franchise would make it beyond that point just once — ever?

Even in boxing, Sugar Ray Leonard, the Palmer Park, Maryland, native who won the welterweight championship in 1979, grabbed worldwide attention with his two fights in 1980 against Roberto Duran, his 1981 battle against Tommy Hearns and his comeback win over Marvin Hagler in 1987. Altogether, there was no better time to be Washington sports fan.

Stop settling for second-round playoff crumbs. This city is capable of more.
• Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 and espn980.com.

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