WASHINGTON — For years Washington sports was defined by crushing losses, by embarrassing failure, by total irrelevance.
Local fans had that trifecta down. And it was miserable. All anyone wanted was a winner. As this decade comes to a close, championships by the Capitals, Nationals and Mystics have erased that morbid identity. But even without the recent titles, compared to the 1990s and 2000s there were plenty of wonderful moments over the past 10 years.
So on this Thanksgiving Day, when we gather around the table to gorge ourselves, watch football and, oh yeah, acknowledge what we’re thankful for, let’s take a second to think about what a remarkable decade of sports this has been for Washingtonians.
This isn’t Boston. But it’s a hell of a lot better than the alternative. The Stanley Cup and the World Series gave fans a chance to erase years of bad memories. Suddenly the Capitals’ 2010 first-round playoff loss to the Canadiens just seemed like part of a journey that inevitably led to a happy ending.
The Nationals banging their head against the N.L. Division Series wall again and again takes on a similar tone when you can watch Howie Kendrick blast a game-winning grand slam over and over against the Dodgers and see the on-field celebration in Houston after Game 7 of the World Series. Joy gives even the roughest times purpose.
Think about the last decade. The Nationals didn’t exist for half of it. The Capitals (Jaromir Jagr) and Wizards (Michael Jordan) brought in older stars who built their legacies elsewhere and failed. The Redskins did the same (Deion Sanders, Bruce Smith) and not even Joe Gibbs could do much more than get them to the playoffs twice. The glory days were long gone. Only D.C. United did anything notable with a 2004 MLS Cup, their fourth and most recent.
The past 10 years, the championships matter most. No question. But think of all the wonderful moments otherwise. Stephen Strasburg’s 14-strikeout debut on June 8, 2010. You’ll never forget the fans in the upper deck losing their minds. His performance that night was only the beginning and there were so many bumps in the road in the ensuing years. But Strasburg’s first game gave meaning to all those terrible seasons from 2006 to 2009 that fans had struggled through.
The Nationals and Capitals had their share of heartbreak in the playoffs. But who could forget no-hitters by Max Scherzer and Jordan Zimmermann. Or the night Scherzer struck out 20 batters against the Tigers? Or winning two Cy Young Awards? Jayson Werth walking off the Cardinals in Game 4 of the 2012 NLDS. Bryce Harper making his debut and giving Washington seven thrilling years, including a 2015 Most Valuable Player season. The 2012 Nationals won their first of four N.L. East titles in six years. And all of that came before the World Series victory.
The Capitals began the decade with maybe their most crushing playoff loss in seven games to Montreal in 2010. But they won the President Trophy three times in eight years even before the Cup season. Fans watched Alex Ovechkin score his 400th, 500thand 600thcareer goals with four more 50-goal seasons added to his total. Braden Holtby won a Vezina Trophy. They played in two Winter Classics, one at Nationals Park and the other in 2011 when 25,000-plus Capitals fans made the drive up to Heinz Field in Pittsburgh for a memorable win over the Penguins.
Remember Joel Ward and Mike Knuble on the rush in overtime of Game 7 against Boston in 2012 (a pretty good year for D.C. sports)? Ward scored and the Capitals sent the defending Cup champs home in a series where every game was decided by one goal. Only the Penguins (940) have more standings points this decade than the Capitals (933) and Washington might catch their rival by the end of December.
This year's Mystics had their third winning season in a row, but took it to a new level with WNBA MVP Elene Delle Donne and a cast of fun characters who enjoyed playing together and posted one of the best seasons in league history. They won their first title in front of a rowdy crowd at the Entertainment and Sports Arena in Congress Heights.
The Redskins and Wizards are depressing now, no doubt. But those teams had their moments, too. You can’t describe this decade of Washington sports without the indelible images of the 2012 Redskins. Robert Griffin III was a phenomenon that rookie season much the way Lamar Jackson is now for the Ravens.
The 75-yard run against the Vikings, the touchdown pass against the Saints, the epic performance on Thanksgiving Day against the Cowboys, the NFC East clincher on the final day of the season against Dallas when Hail to The Redskins rang out across the stadium and FedEx Field felt, for a brief minute, like the old days at RFK.
If it ended badly, well, better to have loved and lost, right? And D.C. just LOVED RG3 that fall. Later, Kirk Cousins screamed “You like that!” after an epic comeback win over Tampa Bay in 2015 and the Redskins won a second NFC East title in four years with a Dec. 26 road win against the Eagles. Things haven’t always been so bad.
For years we wondered what it would be like in this basketball town if the Wizards were actually good. John Wall gave the District a legitimate star and Bradley Beal quickly developed into one himself. An NBA afterthought finally made the playoffs four times in five years.
No, they never won 50 games in a season. Some things will never change. But the Wizards won playoff series in 2014, 2015 and 2017 and reached Game 7 of the second round in 2017 against the Celtics.
Paul Pierce telling ESPN “I called game!” after beating the Hawks in the 2015 playoffs with a buzzer-beater. Wall standing on the scorers’ table after a game-winning shot in Game 6 against Boston to keep the season alive and yelling “This is my city!!!” over and over. A team doesn’t have to win a title to give you goosebumps.
So while the Redskins and Wizards head into the next decade in rebuilds and the Nationals celebrate and the Capitals contend again while hoping to regain the Cup, look back on what the last 10 years brought Washington sports and be thankful. No one knows if the next 10 will have as much to offer.
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