Maybe one day, I also can be a Caps fan

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - THERESA VAR­GAS theresa.var­gas@wash­post.com

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

Theresa Var­gas

THERESA VAR­GAS/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

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.

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