By: Max Wolpoff
Summers in the American capital are known for two things: humidity, and more humidity.
The hottest months have a way of making Washingtonians go a little stir-crazy. Sports radio alternates going way too deep on the Redskins and bashing the Nationals. The heat is often enough to destroy a car’s air-conditioning system, while WJFK 106.7 The Fan enters its fourth straight hour breaking down the depth chart of a team months removed from playing a reasonably meaningful football game.
The summer of 2018 was supposed to be ho hum. The Capitals were supposedly past their championship window, the Nationals stumbled out of the gates, the arena football team kept losing and losing, and the WNBA’s Mystics had STILL not made the Finals in their franchise history. The Orioles in nearby Baltimore were starting their historical slide to baseball obscurity and the Wizards were not interesting enough to talk about after their first-round elimination from the NBA Playoffs.
Professional football dominates Washington sports. No exceptions about it. Once the ‘Skins got quarterback Alex Smith in a trade, in January, the hype focused around them. If you live in a market where a team being in the offseason means being out of the headlines, this may be hard to grasp.
It is here close to every summer that fans come to read draft columns and get excited for the mystery box of the NFL, NBA, and NHL entry drafts. It is one of few times D.C sports fans feel permitted to think optimistically about their favorite team’s prospects at a championship season.
On May 7, a Monday night, something changed. Some mystical force finally allowed the Alex Ovechkin-led Capitals to not only get past the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but to do so against their perennial boogeyman: the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Thus began the Summer of D.C. For a glorious 128 days, the triumphs and exploits of D.C sports could finally be celebrated — as long as we exclude the baseball teams.
Fans packed Capital One Arena for every game from game five of the Eastern Conference Finals to the ultimate triumph in game five of the Finals. Of those eight games, half featured actual hockey played in D.C. The other four were packed-house watch parties, where those who could not get in had to stand outside on 7th Street Northwest to watch without audio.
Yes, thousands of people sat on asphalt and sidewalks to merely be among a community of fans while watching a team many were conditioned to believe would falter in May finally play June hockey again. The watch party inside was free to get in, but the arena easily made that money back on merchandise and concessions sales. It helps when people did not have to spend thousands of dollars on tickets that they now have thousands to spend on $40 T-shirts, $35 hats, and $15 programs.
So many people, myself included, showed up for the championship parade down Constitution Avenue that it drew comparisons to a presidential inauguration from many in the crowd.
Capitals players paraded the Stanley Cup around the city, showing off “cup-stands” and Queen’s “We Are the Champions” at just about every celebration. Player Instagram stories became must-see reality television in the wake of the championship win. Braden Holtby lead the team singing “All the Small Things” by Blink-182 on the transport bus. Jakub Vrana barely remembered the entire parade. T.J Oshie bought a t-shirt off a fan’s back commemorating rookie defenseman Christian Djoos for the Swede to wear during the parade.
So much for being a “minor-league sports town” as Michael Wilbon called Washington in the wake of the Pittsburgh series.
Fifty-one days after the Caps, the Washington Valor won Arena Bowl 31. A team that went 2-10 in a four-team league made the playoffs, won their first round series on aggregate score as if it was Champions League soccer, and then squeaked past the Baltimore Brigade to win the District’s second title of the summer. At this point, any big news was a welcome distraction from another Orioles loss.
Even as the Nats slipped out of contention and the O’s fell deeper into the worst parts of baseball history, fans found solace in drinking in a championship feeling not seen in the capital city since 1992.
The Mystics ended up a few wins short of making it three titles for the scorching months. However, they made the WNBA Finals for the first time in the team’s 21-year history. The Breanna Stewart-led Seattle Storm were too much to handle.
They were the last WNBA franchise, expect for the expansion team in Las Vegas that started play this year, to not make the last round. A team that had the likes of Alana Beard, the Miller sisters, Monique Currie, and Crystal Langhorne on its historical roster had never made it to the last series of the season.
For over 3,000 hours, the sports headlines around the congested Capital Beltway were a welcome relief from the constant buzz around the White House. Even if for a fleeting summer, to borrow a phrase from Capitals radio voice John Walton, it was OK to believe.