CHRISTMAS IN APRIL
Nationals, playoff games generate buzz for area’s sports fans
Move over, Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago: For one long, sun-splashed weekend, Washington — yes, Washington — is arguably the nation’s hottest sports town.
With three games at Nationals Park, two home playoff contests for the Capitals and the Wizards kicking off their return to the NBA postseason at home, the next few days are Christmas in April for District sports fans.
From talk radio to sports bars to the crews flipping the floor from hockey to basketball and back again this weekend, the buzz in Washington is Wizards, Capitals and Nationals, for a change, not Republicans and Democrats (doesn’t hurt that Congress is out of town for a couple of weeks).
The optimism is guarded — District sports fans have been here before, after all — but for a few days, anything is possible.
“All I want is a championship parade in Washington, D.C., from one of the four major sports teams,” said “Grant and Danny” show host Danny Rouhier, who makes his living talking sports on 106.7 FM. “I don’t care who it is.”
His show’s phone lines have been lit all week with diehard locals convinced this is Washington’s year. Still, Mr. Rouhier and partner Grant Paulsen admit they’ve also heard from plenty of longtime Wizards and Capitals fans who are more skeptical about jumping aboard the bandwagon because of the heartbreak over the years.
“The comment you’ll hear is that there hasn’t been a D.C. team to win a championship since 1991 with the Redskins,” Mr. Paulsen said. “Well, other than one Cup run for the Caps in 1997, no team has got to the conference finals since then.
“It’s not that we don’t win championships, which is true. As a city, we don’t get to the conference final. We don’t win in the playoffs or have good and successful things happen to any of our teams.”
But Mr. Rouhier said it’s hard to be negative when the Nationals are off to a strong start and the Wizards and Capitals enter the postseason with legitimate championship dreams.
“The long term of sustained interest comes with winning,” Mr. Rouhier said. “I’ll trade six months of interest for one day of someone being angry because someone got fired.”
Debbie Horne says she can sense that uniquely District-based cocktail of hope and angst in the emotions of the Capitals fans who have turned the Irish Channel, the bar she manages near the Verizon Center, into a hometown hockey hangout.
“You get the cheers, the tears when they lose,” Mrs. Horne said of the atmosphere during games. “You can just feel the energy.”
A New England native, she said she became a fan of the Capitals in part because of the fans who flock to her bar. Now she and her husband have season tickets.
“I can see a little bit more hope in the folks just because the way their season has been going,” Mrs. Horne said. “But I also think a lot of people are afraid because they’ve got the Presidents’ [Trophy] and their expectations are set so high, they’re wondering if it’s jinxed.”
It’s not just the guys on skates that have local sports nuts excited.
Behind John Wall and Bradley Beal, the Wizards are back in the playoffs, seeded No. 4 in the East and feeling confident about their ability to take on any of the three teams seeded above them.
The two young stars popped up recently in a new design, commissioned by the Wizards, for the iconic mural wall outside Ben’s Chili Bowl on U Street.
The artist behind the work, 43-yearold Robert Generette III, has been a fan of D.C. teams for almost 20 years. The southern Maryland native, a teacher and photographer, said he’s learned to move past hard losses. He designed the mural on his iPad and then a vinyl adhesive was pressed to the wall to make it seem like it was painted.
“I think it’s a good change and will be a little uplifting … it’s a good boost for the team, the fans and the community,” Mr. Generette said. “It’s something fresh and something new.”
Accommodating the Wizards and the Capitals in the same building this weekend is old hat for the Verizon Center crew. It takes about five hours to switch the venue from hockey to basketball.
Dave Touhey, the president of venues for Monumental Sports & Entertainment, said that the process by now is so efficient that it doesn’t matter if it’s the playoffs or not. He said that playoffs actually slow down the schedule because there are generally more off days in between.
But he said that excitement surrounding the playoffs has also made it down to the grounds crew.
“It filters down to everyone in the organization, from Alex Ovechkin and John Wall to the housekeeper and everybody in between,” Mr. Touhey said. “The difference between the postseason and the regular season is excitement, right?”
The Capitals begin postseason play Thursday at Verizon at 7 p.m. against the Toronto Maple Leafs, followed by Game 2 on Saturday, also at 7 p.m., before the series shifts to Toronto on Monday and Wednesday. The Wizards are expected to host either Saturday or Sunday against the Atlanta Hawks. The Nationals host the Philadelphia Phillies Friday (4:05 p.m.), Saturday (1:05 p.m.) and Sunday (1:35 p.m.).
SMORGASBORD: The Verizon Center and Nationals Park will both be buzzing this weekend. The Verizon Center hosts playoff contests for John Wall and the Wizards as well as Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals. Bryce Harper and the Nationals have a homestand against Philadelphia.
Behind Bradley Beal (3) and John Wall, the Washington Wizards are back in the playoffs this weekend as the No. 4 seed in the East against the Atlanta Hawks.