November 27, 2014

OPINION: Why do you root for the Washington Capitals?

Why do you root?

Do you root for the Washington Capitals simply because they are the home team? Do you root for the specific personalities on the team, and will stop rooting for the Caps when they no longer wear the sweater? Do you follow the Caps because you’re a fan of the NHL and they are the local team?

Do you root for the Caps because you expect them to win?

The Washington Capitals certainly test the limits of fandom. For those of us that have been around since the beginning, the answer might be different than the newcomers that have been rocking the red only since the coming of the Ovechkin Era. Judging by the reactions to Monday night’s collapse against the New York Rangers in yet another Game 7 loss, there’s a lot of anger– maybe even a different kind of anger — than in year’s past.

The situation is the same: Caps take an early lead in the series, fail to close it out early, and allow lesser known role players to beat them when the stakes are highest. Joffrey Lupul. Jaroslav Halak. Arron Asham. The names don’t matter any more. It’s been happening for close to a decade now. No one can be blamed for accepting a defeatist attitude around these parts anymore. It almost seems as much a sign of spring as the cherry blossoms.

In years past, fans have expressed disappointment, frustration, anger. But something’s different this year. The reaction borders on outrage. It’s as if for a certain segment of the fan base, the fact that the Caps lost was a personal affront to their well being, livelihoods or family security.

I get disappointment. We all want our teams to win. I understand frustration, especially when it seems like every year they’re one goal away from advancing. But anger? Outrage?

Maybe the lingering resentment of the lockout is subconsciously fueling this new reaction to getting dumped from the playoffs. Maybe the continuing sameness of the manner in which the Caps exit the game’s biggest stage is to blame.

Sports entertainment is supposed to be an escape, a release from the mundanity of day-to-day life. It isn’t supposed to add to the misery. Fan bases take a different personality in each locality, especially on the east coast. New York fans have an arrogance about them that mirrors the attitude of the city. Philly fans have that special brand of obnoxious that comes from the collective inferiority complex from being wedged between New York and D.C. Boston fans have an insular pride that can only come from Boston.

In Washington, though, a certain segment of the fan base has a sense of entitlement, like they are owed something. Maybe that’s an extension of the over-achiever personality that draws so many to D.C. in the first place. For a city that’s main industry is politics and law firms, I guess that’s not too hard to understand. If you’re accustomed to always getting what you want, and what you want is out of your control, I suppose I’d react with anger when I couldn’t get it as well.

This social commentary isn’t aimed at the fans of hockey. It’s aimed at the fans of winning. Hockey fans know that hockey is hard. Only one team wins every year. People complain the Caps haven’t yet won the Stanley Cup in their almost 40 years of existence. The Rangers have won once in the past 70 years. Seriously?

If you’re angry that the Caps lost again, that’s your right. And I’m not here making excuses for the team. I’ll have a column very soon about my feelings of how the team is constructed and their elemental flaws. But I’m a hockey fan. I enjoyed watching the Caps this season rebound from a seemingly disastrous start to win the final Southeast Division title and the third seed in the Eastern Conference. I enjoy the personalities that make up this team. I enjoyed watching Alex Ovechkin rediscover himself this season.

Maybe I’m just too numb to the losing, I’ve been watching it for almost 40 years.

Am I disappointed the Caps didn’t advance? Sure I am. But am I angry they lost? No. It’s part of hockey.

I’m a fan of hockey, not a fan of winning.

About Dave Nichols

Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Washington Nationals, Capitals, Wizards and Mystics. Dave also covers national college football and basketball and Major League Soccer for Associated Press. He spent four years in radio covering the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Redskins and the University of Maryland football and basketball teams. Dave is a life-long D.C. sports fan and attended his first pro game in 1974 — the Caps’ second game in existence. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveNicholsDSP

Comments

  1. susan richardson says:

    Although I am sure I havent watched the team as long as most you have I so love the Washington Capitals. Being from the Toronto Area everyone expects you to root for The Leafs. I have never liked them and never really enjoyed watching them on Tv as I found the attitude of the Maple Leafs was almost deserving. I started watching Washington as my son was a big fan of Ovechkin although he watched them prior to him. I immediately enjoyed watching. Their whole outlook on not only Hockey but what they could do for the community was over whelming. The give back more than most and continue to do it and they are just an easy going nice bunch of guys. You see atricle after article about what they are doing and it makes me sad that living in Toronto you dont see our teams doing that. People should appreciate the fact that although they may not have won. In my eyes they win daily with their likeable attitudes and contributions. One day they will win and when they do I am sure Washington will go crazy and I will as well but until that time I will support them as they are amazing individuals who make an amazing team. Till next season I will watch past games and get to enjoy reruns. Go Caps You will always Rock The Red!!!

    • Dave Nichols says:

      Thanks for your comment. It’s always interesting to get an opinion from someone out of the market. The Caps do a great job in the community and in the schools in the area but that is often lost when folks talk about wins and losses.

      • susan richardson says:

        Its sad that all some people can see are the Wins and Losses. I was a competitor for almost 20 years in baton twirling and let me tell you I didnt need anyone to tell what I did wrong, I knew myself and was harder on myself than anyone could ever be so in saying that. For the fans to storm out of the building or boo them doesnt really help, they know what is going on and feel worse than anyone else. In the end all that matters is that they try their hardest. Thats all anyone can ask for professional or not. Some nights its just a lucky bounce that decides it and you cant control that. Cant wait for next season.

  2. Over_head says:

    I have followed the Caps since I was a child, I grew up in NOVA. There was a time when a sports team loss would upset me, make me angry, but that just doesn’t happen anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I am not happy when they lose and I will complain just like anyone else, it just does not have that much of an emotional impact on me. You are correct, it is entertainment and in the end it is just not that important.

  3. Bucky Katt says:

    The origin of the word “fan” comes from fanatic. So it’s not surprising. As a long time Caps fan….
    the situation every spring feels like Lucy, Charlie Brown and the football. Your hopes get raised and then dashed cruelly in the 1st or 2nd round.

    I’m just hoping that the transition to the new division, toughens these guys up to where they
    can make it to the ECF. Hope springs eternal!

  4. Aaron A says:

    Maybe Ovie should take up baton twirling

  5. Maureen Kentoff says:

    I loved this piece. My husband e-mailed it to me when it first appeared, and I finally read it today. I’ve had to put some space between hockey and myself since our last game. But I was there, and I stayed until the end. I was seriously disappointed that more attendees didn’t. And in that moment, I experienced some cognitive dissonance – it didn’t make sense to me that folks were leaving early. It didn’t seem like Caps-fan behavior. Perhaps that’s when I started to realize what makes this team tick in DC (and thanks to your article I am now even more conscious of this): the Caps have brought our oft-devisive and contentious DC-area residents TOGETHER. And for the many of us who are imports from elsewhere, the team is also a grounding influence. It reminds us that this really is our (new) hometown. Some might argue that the Redskins have done this for decades, or that the Nats bringing baseball back to DC has revitalized our community. But I would argue that the Caps have not only raised the cachet of hockey in our town, but because they are located in the heart of DC, we are drawn together by them in a more intimate way. And I love each and every player, coach, manager, and employee for it. Thanks again for this article – it made me conscious of what has been an amorphous quality of this team, and why I will ALWAYS come back for more: they remind me that is my home town, and they are my home team.

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