On Thursday, Washington completed another historic playoff collapse, blowing a 3-1 series lead… Wait, scratch that.
On Thursday, Washington fired its coach after another losing season… No, that’s not right either.
On Thursday night, Washington Won. A. Championship. And not just any championship, but the oldest and most recognizable championship trophy in major team sports: The Washington Capitals won the National Hockey League title, taking home Lord Stanley’s Cup.
It’s been a long time coming. Washington last won a championship in January 1992. That was so long ago, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at 3,240.61 the next day. By comparison, it closed at 25,241.41 on Thursday.
That was so long ago, the speaker of the House was Tom Foley, a largely forgettable politician best known for his vague resemblance to The Muppets’ Sam the Eagle. That was so long ago, social media had yet to exist, in part because Al Gore—then still a senator—hadn’t invented the Internet.
Since January 1992, Washingtonians have endured myriad sports heartaches. In football, the Redskins have won exactly one playoff game—one—in the past two decades. As a native Pennsylvanian and longtime fan of the World Champion Philadelphia Eagles, I take no small amount of joy in writing that sentence.
The basketball franchise went from winning its lone championship 40 years ago Thursday as the Washington Bullets to playing with real bullets. (I’m not making that up.) Despite having a surefire Hall of Fame pitcher in Max Scherzer and one of the best young sluggers in Bryce Harper, baseball’s Nationals have yet to win a single playoff series since moving to Washington—and the team couldn’t even spell its own name correctly. I’m not making that up either.
Of all the teams, however, the Capitals have seemed the most consistently snakebitten. Going into Thursday, they had surrendered 3-1 leads in playoff series—that is, losing three straight games—five times, a record. They finally defeated their archrival Pittsburgh Penguins earlier in the playoffs, and after taking a 3-1 series lead on the Vegas Golden Knights on Monday, closed out the series on Thursday to take home the Stanley Cup.
As a result, the rest of the country might finally start to look differently at Washington. Most people view the city, and the region, as both a literal and figurative swamp. However, they ignore that the Potomac was once clean enough that the president of the United States went skinny dipping in its waters. No, it’s neither of the presidents you’re thinking of—it was John Quincy Adams. (Of course, now that I’ve let this cat out of the bag, Michael Avenatti will soon file a subpoena asking for access to Adams’ estate.)
Beyond that ignominy as “The Swamp,” Washington generally has a milquetoast reputation for leading the nation in obscure categories:
- Ugly brutalist government buildings;
- A “Mayor for Life” who got re-elected after, well…
- Leaders who sleep in their own offices;
- Controversies named “-gate” (Boston comes in second on that front—sorry, Mr. President);
- Lupine-named broadcasters;
- Roads named “Glebe”; and
- Transit cars on fire.
On that last front, I’m still waiting for Silicon Valley to develop my idea for a hot new app: “Is the Metro on Fire?” In this town, it could make billions.
Beyond those quirks, Washington seems pretty boring. The city’s social calendar centers around something called the “Nerd Prom,” a contradiction in terms if one ever existed, because nerds don’t go to the prom. (Or—ahem—so I’ve been told.)
When one Kardashian showed up in Washington last week, it became REALLY BIG NEWS. Los Angeles has so many Kardashians, they have a spare on hand at LAX to greet arriving tourists. (I think her name is Krusty Kardashian.)
In addition to being boring, Washington has a well-deserved reputation for sports futility. In the nation’s capital, we generally take solace in the fact that, while our sports teams stink, we’re better than Jacksonville, which—as Tony Kornheiser infamously alleged in 2005—literally stinks.
But on Thursday night, that history of futility vanished in an instant. Both inside and outside the arena that serves as the Caps’ home, fans watched a broadcast of the game from Vegas and cheered their hearts out. We had to win this one. After all, the Vegas Golden Knights come from that hockey hotbed of the Mojave Desert. And they’ve had an illustrious history over the past 35 weeks. If we couldn’t beat these guys, who could we beat?
While the Capitals have a core group of loyal, diehard fans, other hockey novices started following the team during its playoff run. Those folks needed some explanations to follow the action. No, the puck isn’t really a blue dot whirling around on your television set. No, all the talk of icing has nothing to do with any cake.
The fans outside the arena were so eager to celebrate, they did so prematurely, roaring with applause as they thought time had expired, even as the Capitals had to endure a last-second face-off while clinging to a one goal lead.
But in the end, it didn’t matter. All of Washington—regardless of where they came from originally, what they believe politically, or how long they had (or had not) followed the Capitals—had a team they could cheer on and root for. Throughout Washington on Thursday night, the city celebrated—car horns honking, random strangers embracing, passersby greeting each other on the streets—with pure joy.