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.