It’s been 26 years since Washington last celebrated a championship.
Twenty-six long years.
Washington has four major sports teams yet none has won a championship since January 26, 1992 when the Redskins won Super Bowl XXVI. That’s an entire generation of fans that have never known a championship, that have never gotten to experience what we got to experience on Thursday.
I’m in that generation.
I fell in love with sports when I was three years old. My parents took me to a Capitals-Winnipeg Jets (the old Jets) game at the Capital Centre in Landover. I remember the chill in the air, the crack of the puck on the sticks and, most of all, the celebration whenever the Caps would score. It was incredible. I’ve been hooked ever since.
Back then, I didn’t know about playoffs and championships. The Caps played a game, they won or lost, you were happy or sad, and you moved on. When the Redskins won the Super Bowl, I knew there was a game being played, but I didn’t know what it meant. I spent most of the game playing with other kids while our parents watched. I didn’t know that was the football team I would grow up cheering for and I certainly didn’t know that would be the only experience I would have with a championship team.
Until now, that is.
Since that last Super Bowl, Washington fans have had to endure bad seasons, coaching changes, management changes, and heartbreak with the Caps, Redskins, Nationals and Wizards.
Through it all, you always heard the phrase “Same old Caps,” but it didn’t feel that way to me. Each year was different. Each year carried a new team with new hopes and potential. When each season seemed to end prematurely, it wasn’t just the same old Caps, it was a new heartbreak each and every time.
Have you ever tried to explain your fandom and emotions to someone who doesn’t like sports? It has to be one of the most infuriating feelings in the world.
“Why are you so upset? It’s just a game.”
“It doesn’t really matter.”
“There’s always next year.”
No, stop. You don’t get it.
It’s more than just a game. That’s why we see pictures of troops overseas with gear of their favorite sports team and watching games together. That’s why we see incredible stories of people like Amanda Wilson who continues to cheer on the Caps while getting treated for cancer.
For me, when I got married in 2013 and my wife wanted a June wedding, I made sure it was in the last weekend of June just in case the Caps made it to the Final. When my wife and I found out we were having a baby, she told me by laying out a Caps onesie for me to find. I made sure he had a jersey when he was born. I have a picture of him draped in it sitting on my desk at work.
It's more than just a game. And yes, sports can cause lots of heartache, but we accept those bad times because we knew that at some point, it would all be worth it.
On Thursday, it all became worth it.
All the years of heartbreak, forgotten. The struggles against the Pittsburgh Penguins? Forgotten. Jaroslav Halak? Forgotten.
None of that matters now because finally, finally the Capitals have brought a championship back to Washington.
This is a championship for all of Washington, but it is particularly special for Capitals fans. The Caps had to earn their place in Washington where the Redskins and Wizards are institutions. There were a lot of lean years for the Caps, years that made you wonder if this day would ever come.
But with Alex Ovechkin came interest, acceptance, validation and now a championship.
As someone who has been a diehard sports fan for all my life, to hear that this is not a real sports city, a "minor league" sports town as some have referred to it, I bristle.
You know what's not minor league? The devastation we all felt through the years after all the postseason heartbreak. You know what's not minor league? The absolute joy we all felt when Ovechkin finally hoisted the Cup.
You can't look at the streets of the city of Washington, filled with red, and say this is not a sports town. You can't look at Capital One Arena packed to the gills even when the Caps were on the road and say this is not a sports town.
My son has never known a Capitals team that has lost to the Penguins. He has never known a Stanley Cup champion other than the Caps. And that makes me smile. There's nothing minor league about that.
No, I personally didn't win anything. I wasn't on the ice, I didn't play.
But you know what? That jersey the Caps were wearing? It says "Washington" on it. This win was for all of us.
Washington is a city of champions once again. Enjoy it fans because you never know how long it will take to bring another championship home.