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The Caps, the Cup, and Me

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How the Caps’ recent run to the Cup united a city and rewarded us for believing

2018 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Five Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

I’ve been trying for about a week to put into words my feelings about this Cup win. I’m still not certain that it’s something I can fully describe, at least not using words I know. But to say that the whole experience so far - from the win itself, to watching the team’s outburst of joy cascade into that of a city that has been starved of joy for so long - has been a breathtaking, surreal, once-in-a-lifetime experience is a pretty good start.

Sports are often frivolous and silly. They sometimes make us angry and often, especially around here, make us sad. They could be viewed as a waste of time and money, a source of corporate greed, a reason to prop up undeserving athletes on pedestals.

But sports can also bring a community together. It can serve as a welcome respite from the daily onslaught of only bad headlines and bad people. It can heal a city that has been broken many times by forces inside and out, or simply give it a reason to feel proud again.

DC has long been mocked as a somewhat second-tier sports city filled with bandwagon fans and poseurs - a reputation that is both fair and unfair. We are a city of fiercely proud locals interspersed with transient populations from other cities, all of whom have their own sports loyalties that are hard to break. There was a time when it was unfathomable that this city would ever truly come together and support, of all things, the local hockey team.

But there we all were throughout the playoff run, with viewing parties growing bigger and more raucous as the rounds ticked off and the fervor inside the arena rising with each vanquished opponent. There we all were over the weekend, joining our heroes in a celebration the likes of which the hockey world has never seen - and thanks to social media, even those of us unable to splash around in a Georgetown fountain or dance the night away in a local club could join in the revelry vicariously (and perhaps with less of a headache the next day).

And there we all were on Tuesday, a wave of red spreading up and down Constitution Avenue and washing over most of the Mall - a city coming together one more time for a fitting end to a surprising season.

I’ve watched these events unravel over the past week, and gradually let it sink in that this is real. That puck really did go in the net behind Marc-Andre Fleury. The clock really did finally start working again and tick down to zero with the Capitals in the lead. That really was Alex Ovechkin, a player we’ve watched grow up and evolve and fight off critics at every turn, hoisting the Stanley Cup over his head.

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It’s a special time for this area, for Caps fans and DC sports fans. It’s a special time for the players who earned every inch of that trophy. And it’s a special time for me and my family. Because ultimately, for me, that’s where the heart of my fandom lies - and for that I have my dad to thank.

My dad is one of those rare, elusive - and some might say quite mad - creatures who has been devoted to this team since their inaugural season. He attended the team’s very first preseason game back in 1974, bought season tickets that same night, and never looked back. Since then the sightlines have improved, the price tag has gone up, he’s gotten married, had a family, become a grandfather… and never once faded in his belief that something like this could happen, despite years and years of coming so close only to see it fall apart in some hideously cruel way.

He is all at once my hero for his unwavering loyalty, the source of my own bizarre optimism, and the villain who cast all of us on this path of fandom that, until last week, was nothing but thankless heartbreak. I’ve long cursed him (jokingly, of course) for burdening us with this completely thankless lot in life, spring after spring seeing another group of Caps with lots of potential falter, year after year vowing never to return to this stupid team. And every spring he takes a deep breath, shakes off the loss, and repeats the motto of all good, hearty Caps fans: “we’ll get ‘em next year”.

Next year is finally here.

I got to watch Game 5 with him, along with my stepmother, sisters, brother-in-law, niece and nephew, and a couple of close friends. Despite the draw of potentially celebrating a Stanley Cup victory with thousands in or around Capital One Arena, it was exactly the viewing party I wanted.

And it made it that much more special when the seconds mercifully counted down and the people I wanted to cry with and hug the most were within arm’s reach - that the man who made me the crazy, mostly optimistic nutcase that I am, who always believed, was right there next to me.