- - Thursday, October 19, 2017


Five days after another knife was plunged into the hearts of Washington sports fans, I went to the scene of previous crimes, to see how some of the victims were doing.

I went to a Tuesday night, Oct. 16 Washington Capitals game — five days after the Nationals went down hard in defeat to the Chicago Cubs in game 5 of the National League Division Series just two miles away from Nationals Park — because, after all, you’ve got to get right back on the horse, right?

Even though the name had changed from Verizon Center to Capital One Arena, evidence of past failures still hung from the rafters — Presidents Trophy banners, division title banners. The hangover not just from the sickness their red partners in pain, the Nationals, had left behind, but all those years of Capitals‘ failures as well, still hung over the building.

Not just Capitals‘ failures, but the other co-habitants of the building, the Wizards, and the Redskins nearby, and all the years of playing and losing in this town.

Not just playing, but playing well for an entire season. Not just losing, but losing every time the door was open to share a meaningful banner or trophy with Washington sports fans.

It was a sparse crowd, but who would expect much more on a Tuesday night in October against the Toronto Maple Leafs. It was a subdued crowd, but who would expect much more from the seventh game of an 82-game schedule that no one should expect to lead to anything — other than, perhaps, something like a 9-8 Game 5 loss to the Cubs. A 115-105 Game 7 loss to the Boston Celtics. A 19-10 season-ending loss to the New York Giants. Or, of course, a 2-0 Game 7 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Yet there were people in those seats at the Capital One Arena — some of them Nationals fans, still nursing the wounds of disappointment less than a week earlier — getting right back on that bucking horse that continues to toss them off, just when the ride starts getting good.

People like 24-year-old Andrew Passaro from Silver Spring, who hasn’t known anything other than crushed expectations, a Nationals fan who made the trek downtown to the Capitals game Tuesday.

“It was hard to be enthusiastic about the Caps game because of the Nats loss but I would chalk part of that up to it being very early in the season still,” Passaro said. “However with both the Nationals and the Capitals I’ve gotten to the point where I expect to be let down. Both teams have gone and signed a player that fills a need at the trade deadline and every year they can’t get it done in the playoffs.”

People like Debbie Francisco. “I was glad to be there, but it was hard to get really excited,” she said. “I was at the Nationals Game 5 on Thursday night and it was a gut-wrenching experience…but I will get it back together and will always be a fan.”

People like Jason Cohen from Chevy Chase, who felt the hangover in the building. “It was just harder to get excited for a somewhat meaningless regular season game,” he said. “I was still feeling kind of down that the Nats didn’t move on — and seeing the Cubs get manhandled doesn’t help.”

Cohen, though, has a greater responsibility to carry — keeping hope alive in 8-year-old son and his other children. They scored on their chance, we just needed to score on ours.”

“I’m more committed than ever,” he said. “My kids were really into the baseball playoffs. After a bit of crying after they lost, I explained to them that we’ve got to keep cheering them on.”

But in the middle of tears, Cohen said, his 8-year-old said, “We always lose in the playoffs! Every year! It’s not fair!”

That’s a tough legacy for an 8-year-old to carry already.

And people like Nettie Stewart, who was at both the Nationals Game 5 loss and Tuesday night’s Capitals game. She said she will soon put the pain behind her and “be right back cheering loudly and proudly” for the Capitals. But it will take some time.

“I tried to cheer them on, but it felt forced,” she said. ‘Even when they played ‘Unleash the Fury,’ the fans are usually going crazy, but it was a weak attempt.”

There is no fury, though, to be unleashed. It’s turned into numbess. One pursuit is not enough. There isn’t enough cowbell.

By the way, the Capitals lost 2-0.

“They scored on their chance, we just needed to score on ours,” coach Barry Trotz said, like Dusty Baker said before him, and Scott Brooks and Jay Gruden and Matt Williams and Bruce Boudreau and Mike Shanahan and Randy Wittman and the other managers of misfortune

Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes, Google Play and the reVolver podcast network.

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