Maybe one day, I also can be a Caps fan
I want a Weagle tattoo.
That’s not exactly true. Really what I want is to want a Weagle tattoo.
Even before the Capitals brought home the Stanley Cup Thursday, I decided I wanted to be part of the mania — or rather, I wanted to want to be part of the mania.
I wanted to want to stand in a crowd of strangers and hug them and kiss them and scream together as though our children just got accepted to the best college, free of charge.
I wanted to want to fill my closet with red shirts that I would just have to slip on to signal to a passing stranger, wearing the same scarlet beacon, that we are not alone. We are never alone, because we are Capitals fans in a city that is vibrating with fandom.
I wanted to want to climb a streetlight with excitement and then, despite my arrest and my lack of a shower, immediately join my fellow fans again and know they would understand. In my unbathed stench, they would smell loyalty. They would fist bump my ripe dedication.
I wanted to want to fill my Twitter account with 100 — make that 1,000 — #ALLCAPS #ALLCAPS #ALLCAPS, and by doing so, cover my page with the hockey team’s proud winged logo.
But there was a problem. I had only recently learned what a Weagle was.
If you are among those asking, “A what?” then you and I stand in the same unfortunate place — outside what has become one of the most exciting, unifying events to strike the Washington area in a long time. The Capitals’ wins sent fans from Vegas to D.C. into a dizzying display of
joy. There were tears and shouts and drunken displays of affection. The color red filled local streets, and passing cars did that triple-honk thing that you and I heard as “beep, beep, beep,” but true fans knew meant “Let’s go, Caps!”
True fans know a lot that you and I — the non-fans — are just learning. They know that the team’s eagle-like logo is not just a bird, but much more than that. It is a Weagle. And the most devoted don’t just wear the Weagle on shirts and caps that can be taken off at a whim when the team loses. Their love is not conditional. They slap Weagle bumper stickers on their cars and get the Weagle shaved into their hair. They get Weagle tattoos. Sonia Kendall, a 52-year-old telecommunications specialist for the Coast Guard, has three tattoos on her arms dedicated to the Capitals, and her latest features the Weagle peeking out from what is designed to look like torn skin.
“I am feeling overjoyed!” she said Friday. “I can’t stop the tears, but they are happy tears. This team so deserved this. They play their hearts out. The fans deserved this with all the support they gave the team. The city of D.C. needed it.”
The team’s performance has gained it a whole new group of fans, pulling in the previously apathetic and the occasional followers. Kendall is not among those casual newcomers.
Her Twitter name is “WEAGLE girl” and she runs a private Facebook group for fans that is not easy to join. After an earlier win by the team, she received about 100 requests. She approved three, based on whether their profiles showed a history of allegiance to the team. Kendall doesn’t dabble in her devotion. Her Maryland home is filled with Caps-themed gear, including light-switch covers, bobbleheads, hockey sticks, a bedspread and a shower curtain. In her living room, on the same wall as a sign that says, “Happy Wife — Happy Life” is one that reads, “Reserved Parking, Capitals Fans Only.”
“I’m very easy to buy for. Everything is Caps-related,” Kendall said. “I don’t think I will ever not follow the Caps.”
I have long been jealous of people who possess that type of connection to a team — and I have tried to be one of them. When I was in high school, Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith played for the Dallas Cowboys and I felt pride in the team, even emotionally invested in how they did. But then I went to college and lost interest. The Spurs, when David Robinson played, also had me shouting — for a season. When I lived in New York, I attended a Yankees game and thought the team would be easy to love. If I’m supposed to feel the highs of their wins and the lows of their losses, I should at least pick a team where happiness is promised more than misery. But within one game I knew that was not my team.
Psychologists who have studied sports fans have written about two types. There are those who use the word “we” when talking about a team, as though they, too, are playing on the field or ice. And then there are fans who root for a team but after a loss can distance themselves enough to say, “They lost.” These are the co-workers you don't have to walk gently around the day after their team gets bumped from a championship.
The latter attitude seems healthier to me, but then again, I was never one to wear my school colors on those designated days. I never followed a specific clique. Whenever I’ve seen celebrities, I haven’t had to stifle the urge to squeal. Maybe some of us just weren’t born to be fans — or maybe it’s more like finding a soul mate, and when it’s right, it will just click.
I confessed to Kendall that I was among the unlucky ones when I visited her home a day before the Stanley Cup win to talk about what makes a fan. It’s everything, she said: the wins, the losses. It’s players who are kind when you meet them. It’s the camaraderie in the stands.
“It’s 20,000 people in the arena all standing up to cheer when a small black circular object goes into the opponent’s net,” she said. “It’s 20,000 people cringing together when it goes into our net. It pulls you in. It bonds people.”
She also said something that should give hope to anyone just now feeling energized by the Caps: She and her husband, Greg, who also served in the Coast Guard, weren’t always fans. She grew up in Upstate New York watching minorleague hockey with her family. He grew up in Southern California, surfing and playing baseball.
Then they moved here, and she started watching the Capitals. About seven years ago, she took her husband to a game — and that was it. He was hooked.
Now, they are the couple that, even when the team is losing and the stands start emptying, stay seated until the buzzer sounds. They are the couple that has a framed photo on their dining room wall of them surrounded by the team’s players — an opportunity they won through an auction bid.
They are the couple that even before they watched the winning goal from Langways sports bar, standing in a crowd that included the former Capitals player who inspired the establishment’s name, had already made victory plans. Kendall had already picked the design for the Stanley Cup tattoo she plans to add to the others on her arms and she spoke excitedly about the celebratory parade that will, once again, bring the region together. The couple’s son, who is in the Coast Guard, will want to come home for that, she said.
The 25-year-old did not grow up watching hockey or playing sports but has recently become a fan.
And so, there is still hope for me. I’m pretty sure I’ll never get a Weagle tattoo. But for now, when I hear three honks, I will smile and think, “Let’s Go, Caps!” And who knows — maybe one day, I will be the one honking.
“I can’t stop the tears, but they are happy tears. This team so deserved this.” Sonia Kendall, on the Capitals’ Stanley Cup win
Sonia Kendall, 52, is a die-hard Capitals fan. She has three tattoos in honor of the team and has already picked the spot where she will get a Stanley Cup tattoo to celebrate the team’s championship.