On Monday, as we were leaving the Nationals’ home opener, my brother commented that it was incredibly strange for him to be at a game where he truly didn’t care about the outcome. As a life-long, hardcore sports fan, he has specific, ingrained, heartfelt loyalties — as anyone who has ever watched the Red Sox with him knows first-hand. He saw the Nationals-Phillies game as nothing more than an opportunity to play hooky from work, have a beer & hotdog outside, and yeah… watch some baseball.
I thought this was interesting because until recently, I felt completely the opposite — I’ve never had an iota of team loyalty in any sport. I grew up in a sporty family, go to a lot of games, and have always enjoyed live sporting events, but I’ve never followed a particular team or sport with any regularity, never mind passion.
And then, along came the Capitals.
Now, I’ve been a hockey fan all my life — I’ve just never followed any particular team. We had season tickets first to the Broome County Dusters, and later, the Binghamton Whalers, and my dad always told stories of how he was “embarrassed” (read: secretly pleased) that his tiny little daughters would bang on the glass and yell “fight! fight! fight!” the minute anyone’s gloves came off. Though I spent most of my 20s with too little money to go to games, hockey was still my answer whenever I was asked about my favorite sport.
I moved to Washington the year the Capitals last went to the Stanley Cup finals; my first game in DC was, in fact, during the playoffs that season. I continued to go to a handful of games every winter as the team went from that high point down to circling the drain. I never particularly cared, though. If I went to a game and at least some good hockey was played I was happy — even if it was the opposition playing well.
Then, last year, I bought into a season ticket group run by a guy in my office. I only had a half-dozen games, but they were in the lower bowl, center ice. I picked up the tickets on a whim, and ended up having a closeup view of the most amazing turnaround ever in the NHL, as Bruce Boudreau, the Caps mid-season replacement coach, picked them up, dusted them off, and made them Southeast Division champions. I was starting to get hooked — not just on hockey, but on the Caps.
I bought into more season tickets this year — this time with my brother. Midway through this season, when a loss to the Flyers almost made me cry, I realized that I could no longer say that I just cared about watching hockey. I was in the tank for the Caps, completely.
It’s a hard thing, being someone who has liked a sport a lot longer than the actual team. I’m terrible at trash-talk, I can’t recite important moments I have witnessed, I can’t remember any player’s stats to save my life… I’m basically the hockey equivalent of those “long-time listener, first-time caller” types on the radio — enthusiastic, but a little annoying. And to be honest, I am not completely sure I actually like being this invested. It’s unbelievably stressful.
But the playoffs start tonight, so I’m donning my red and jumping into the fray. Let’s go Caps!