Washington, D.C., professional sports went through its version of the Dark Ages from 1999 through 2004. The District had been devoid of a baseball team since 1971, and more recently, all the beltway teams struggled to even break .500 as the playoffs became a memory of years past.
Professional sports in the nation’s capital was at its peak in the late 1980s into the early 1990s as Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs led a team that won two Super Bowls. The Capitals and Wizards have cracked the playoffs several times over the last decade culminating with the Capitals appearing in the 1998 Stanley Cup Finals.
But since 1998, D.C. sports teams have not been kind to the eyes.
However, over the last year and a half, one of the country’s most disappointing sports cities has revived itself, slowly lifting itself off the canvas.
The rally began with D.C.’s most popular sports teams, the Redskins, bringing back a familiar face. Gibbs, who first coached the Skins from 1981 to 1992, returned to the sidelines for the team. Redskins owner Dan Snyder had failed by bringing in famed college coach Steve Spurrier, who had finished the 2003 season with a two-year record of 12-20.
Gibbs re-energized the team and the city even though the 2004-2005 campaign did not go as planned; the Redskins finished 6-10. The Redskins, who play at the super-modern FedEx-Field, are one of the most colorful franchises in sports. Home games include the Redskins marching band and their infamous theme song “Hail to the Redskins.”
Who could forget the team’s off-color mascots, the always well-dressed Hogettes?
Those hoping to catch the Skins should try to find a friend with an extra ticket or must be willing to pay top dollar to secure a seat.
“Everything is sold out on TicketMaster,” said junior Jon Jaffe, who is trying to obtain tickets for the Redskins vs. Oakland Raiders on Nov. 20. “I have been trying to get tickets for a couple of weeks and the cheapest tickets were $220. I have never tried to get tickets for a game before, but this a major pain.”
A slightly easier sport to watch in-person involves the NBA’s new “it” team. The city’s biggest surprise last spring was the Wizards, who reached the second round of the NBA playoffs. The team had its first winning season since 1997-1998 and reached the playoffs for the first time since 1997. During that 1997 playoff run they were still known as the politically incorrect Bullets (the former name connoted crime in a crime-plagued city).
The Wiz won 45 games this season and defeated the Chicago Bulls in the first round of the playoffs. In round two, they were overpowered by the Miami Heat. The squad was led by Antawn Jamison, Larry Hughes and Gilbert Arenas.
“In the beginning of the season they had no expectations, they couldn’t give the tickets away,” junior Cole Rubin said. “I was able to get tickets right behind the Miami Heat bench in the season’s home opener for like 10 bucks over face value. By the end of the year and the playoffs, games were sold out. You couldn’t even get a ticket.”
The Wizards’ struggle in the late 90s rolled over into the 21st century. Not even “His Airness,” Michael Jordan, could help the depleted franchise.
But Eddie Jordan and a cast of ACC purebreds have re-invigorated the city with an up-tempo style of basketball.
“They play a fast-paced game and really make athletic plays,” said Rubin.
While the Capitals season never got off the ground in 2004-2005 due to the NHL lockout, it may have been a blessing in disguise. In the team’s last complete season they finished tied for the least amount of victories in the Eastern Conference with just 23.
Since being swept in the 1998 Stanley Cup Finals by the Detroit Red Wings, the team has consistently gotten worse. Before the trading deadline the team unloaded its best players, including stars Jaromir Jagr and Peter Bondra.
Whenever hockey returns to the District, a young inexperienced team will skate in the MCI Center, a building not known for being a hockey fans’ sanctuary.
“I’d rather stay at home and watch it on TV,” junior Lee Licata said. “Between how bad the team is and how bad the arena is, I’d rather watch curling. There is less action on the ice at games in the MCI Center than there is in an intense curling match.”
For the first time in 34 years, Robert F. Kennedy stadium hosted a Major League Baseball game this spring. It was a dream few could even fathom several years ago.
When MLB Commissioner Bud Selig approved moving the Montreal Expos to Washington, most of the city was overjoyed that the nation’s capital would have the country’s pastime once again.
The Nats don’t yet have an owner but are expected to be sold before the end of the calendar year. A new stadium is said to be on its way by 2008 – set to be built in the Anacostia section of Southeast Washington.
RFK is similar to Busch Field and Veterans Stadium – it’s round and old. The stadium has struggled to pull itself out of the 1970s.
“It feels awkward and temporary,” said senior Irene Fitzgerald, who has a 20-game ticket package and is a die-hard Red Sox fan. “It’s pretty good for a stadium not built for baseball, but in our seats we can’t see the ball in right field because of the over-hang. It has weird orange seats and the pizza is definitely better in Fenway.”
In a city dominated by college basketball, the re-birth of professional sports still has work to do. But for old fans and newcomers to the District’s sports scene, one has a lot to look forward to – if you can find a seat.