Waking up this morning, my first thought was “that must have been a dream.”
But it’s not. The Caps won the Stanley Cup. And Alex Ovechkin took the Cup on a wild night in Vegas after the game, if the pictures I’m seeing on Twitter are accurate. In fact, this is one of the rare days that social media is almost overrun with pictures of celebration and happiness. It's like a Christmas morning.
The Washington Post certainly made sure I knew it was no dream. World Wars have ended with headlines smaller than what the Post has today about the Caps winning.
Then there is this serenade that I just had to post, because it's my favorite of everything I've seen. I’d have liked to have been in Las Vegas to see the win. But now seeing this, I’d have settled for being with this group of fellow red-clad long-suffering fans and belted out at least one verse of Queen's “We Are The Champions.”
Particularly when it gets to the part about “of the WORLD.”
It’s after 1:30 AM, and I don’t want to go to bed. I don’t want what just happened tonight to end.
Tonight was more than hockey, more than winning a Stanley Cup. It’s the finish to a journey that has ended in disappointment at every bend in the road for such a long freaking time. Lucy has been forever pulling the football up as the Charlie Brown Capitals tried to kick it for over 40 years. Every year the season has ended with the Caps lying flat on their backs looking up at the sky.
Not tonight. ‘Ol’ Lucy was a little too slow pulling the football away this time, and Charlie Brown nailed it. Right through the uprights.
They did it. They absolutely freaking did it.
I cannot tell you how many times in my life I have gone to bed in utter disbelief that the Washington Capitals blew another game or another series, making me stay up for multiple overtimes deep into the night only to crush my sportsfan soul (anyone who saw Pat LaFontaine score that goal in the 4th overtime for the Islanders in 1987 knows what I'm talking about). So when there was less than a second to go and it was apparent the Caps would win, it got a little dusty in here.
Some of it was the realization that two-thirds of my life has gone by waiting for this (I started following them in my 20s. I’m now in my 60s). Some was for others who suffered as much or more than me with this team and didn’t get to see it. Guys like Glenn Brenner, George Michael or Jim Vance. Those guys howled at all the unexpected misses and losses every year and still came back the next season proclaiming this would be the year. They’re all gone now.
Some of it was the respect and happiness for Alex Ovechkin, who has done just about everything in his 13 years in Washington EXCEPT win a title. As much as I wanted to see this happen for Washington sports fans, I wanted to see this more for Ovechkin. When the game was over, players from Las Vegas embraced him as an elder statesman of their sport, much the same way teams lined up to shake the hand of Dale Earnhardt when he finally won the Daytona 500 after so many misses. They knew Ovi deserved it. And were happy for him.
Some of it was watching an interview with T.J. Oshie, talking about his father and his battle with Alzheimers. I lost my father-in-law to that terrible disease 12 years ago, and I can tell you from experience that you wonder every day if the day will be a good day or a bad day when it comes to remembering things. T.J. was in tears explaining how special it was to have his Dad there at the game, hoping the memory would be powerful enough to last the rest of his days.
“He doesn't remember a lot of stuff these days,” Oshie said, wiping away tears. “He remembers enough. But I tell you what. He's here tonight - I don't know where he's at - but this one will stick with him forever, you can guarantee that.”
The room got even dustier after that.
But the moment I’ve really been waiting to see is the Commissioner of the NHL – Gary Bettman – handing Lord Stanley’s trophy to Ovechkin, imagining he would hold it high, bursting with pride as he showcased it around the ice. He didn’t disappoint, adding a few primal screams and kissing the Cup before handing it off to the guy who has waited just about as long as he has, Nick Backstrom. It was Ovi’s time to shine, but also the time to face all of his critics and say “I finally got this. Now bite me.”
The chase has been so long I have many times said I just wanted to see them win a Cup before I died. Mike Harris, who is an editor at The Athletic, is the same age as I and he has also said the same expression many times. When the Cup was finally hoisted, I tweeted at him “does this mean starting tomorrow that we might, um, oh never mind.” Mike, ever the expert wordsmith, replied with the perfect answer.
“I hope not,” he typed back. “But if I do, I do with a smile.”
To some, today is a footnote in history. A day on the beaches of Normandy 74 years ago when an event codenamed Operation Overlord was launched, beginning what many say was the beginning of the end of World War II.
It will always be more than history to me, because in that first wave was a 21-year-old Private First Class from Henry County, VA by the name of Allen Homer Sink. He would survive that initial wave, participate in battle until it ended in August, then come home to marry and raise a family of four, including two daughters after the war ended.
He would also become my father-in-law until his death in 2006.
His nickname for some reason was “Hank” and when I asked him how he got it, he said some guy in the Army said he “looked like a Hank.” From the time I first met him, he was a salt-of-the-earth man who was never afraid of anything. He was a carpenter by trade, and he’d stand up on the tallest roofs, grab bumblebees with his bare hands when they tried to persuade him to move elsewhere, and never be bothered by anything.
His hands were tough and leathery, but he was a softie. He spoiled his children, complained when my mother-in-law would gripe about something involving one of his alleged misdeeds, and always thought he was fooling everybody when he snuck around the back of the house and lit a cigarette, a habit everyone opposed but he could never part himself from.
He could talk your ear off for hours at a time, and I always suggested he become a greeter at Wal-Mart when he retired because then he could talk all day to strangers and none of them would – like his wife and daughters often did – tell him to be quiet for a few moments. Yet for all his love of talking, there was one subject he just wouldn’t discuss.
Years from now, all anyone will remember is the Capitals – if they win one more game – won the Stanley Cup. They’ll remember Devante Smith-Pelly, Tom Wilson, T.J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Alex Ovechkin among others. They’ll remember the city absolutely losing its mind, turning city streets in D.C. into Times Square on New Year’s Eve.
But they may not remember just what a crazy emotional roller coaster ride these playoffs have been. I’ve never seen a team be declared dead so often, then get up off the mat and charge the hill one more time.
I will admit that back in March I had a feeling the Caps would win the Stanley Cup (I also had the same feeling that the Nationals will be up and down all year and then win the World Series in the fall). Such thoughts are best kept to yourself, because if true you’ll curse the team, and if false, you’ve set yourself up for a deserved round of mocking.
My reasoning was simple: no one expected the Caps to win. After really good teams the last two years (and really big disappointments in the playoffs) this team was not supposed to be as good. They’d be lucky, some experts said, to even get to the second round and then lose like they always do. They weren’t even extending coach Barry Trotz’s contract because there was no confidence he’d get past the second round. Again.
It would be so Cap-ish, I thought, if this was the year they won it all.
So in round one, just to give my prediction the middle finger, they do the unthinkable. Lose game 1 in overtime. At home. Then follow it up by losing game 2. In overtime. At home. “Just get it over and lose the next two so we can be done with all this” was a popular sentiment. I was already planning my yearly trip to sporting goods stores to buy their Caps merchandise marked 50 percent off now that the season was over, only this would mark my earlier excursion ever.
But they won game 3 in double overtime and won 4 straight to win the series. I don’t care how big a fan you are, nobody saw that coming. Even with that flair for the dramatic, however, it wasn't like a booster shot of optimism for long-time observers. It just qualified the Caps, many thought, for their annual beating by the Pittsburgh Penguins.
After 4 games, it was tied 2-2. The Penguins weren’t their normal selves either, so there was hope. But decades of crushing playoff losses, usually in multiple overtimes, dictated each team would win at home and set up another nerve-testing Game 7 that the Caps would undoubtedly lose. Because that’s what they do.
The Caps won their home game. Then the Penguins kept their end of the deal by tying the game at the end of regulation. “Here it comes,” I thought, but instead Kuznetsov scored 5 minutes into the first overtime, and an old man was doing Kuzy’s bird dance throughout my house seconds later.
Every spring, when Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors make it to the finals and he hits all sorts of ridiculous shots, it becomes Groundhog Day for Virginia Tech fans.
As in the day when people ask “why didn’t Virginia Tech give Curry a scholarship when his Dad was a legend there?”
Over and over again.
If you don’t know the story, allow me to tell it one more time. Steph, while in high school, was a bit undersized versus how he is now. He grew up like the child of anyone whose Dad was a big Virginia Tech fan, and Dell Curry brought his family back to the campus often to see Virginia Tech football and basketball games. Not surprisingly, Steph grew up around a lot of orange and maroon. Also not surprising: he grew up with a basketball in his hands, and started to become quite good in high school.
As the recruiting process was starting his junior year, Steph came to Blacksburg for a workout. Legend has it that the Hokies’ two senior guards and two best defensive players on the team – Zabian Dowdell and Jamon Gordon – easily defended him to the point that Steph couldn’t even get his shot off. Head coach Seth Greenberg, the story goes, decided upon seeing this that he might not be an ACC-caliber player, which was the same opinion as all the other ACC schools because none offered Steph a scholarship.
But Steph was part of a family that was Hokie royalty. So again, as the story goes, Greenberg invited Steph to walk on, with the promise of a four-year scholarship after red-shirting that walk-on year. Greenberg has said at the time he had no available scholarships to give due to some early commitments that were made that season. Given that, it sounded like a very fair situation for a player many deemed an “iffy” prospect at the time.
I have been seeing this recurring post on social media saying that Arby's got its name from the initials for roast beef (R.B.'s), and people responding "oh, that makes so much sense." Have probably seen it three times a day on Facebook and Twitter the past week.
It's a nice story, but it's not true. It's close to the truth, but the name has nothing to do with roast beef. Instead, the chain was started by Forrest & Leroy Raffel, so they named it after the initials for "Raffel Brothers", (R.B.'s) not roast beef.
And if you wanted to know what roast beef has to do with a ten gallon cowboy hat (which is the shape of the Arby's sign), turns out they originally wanted to name it "Big Tex." The name, however, was taken so they went with Arby's while still keeping the sign shape they designed for "Big Tex."
So in your next game of anything involving trivia...
It is a peaceful, quiet, rainy Sunday morning. The Nationals and Caps both had big wins last night.
And I don’t know how to act.
As a life-long Washington sports fan, I was told at a young age that area teams would give you a few bright spots, but by and large, in the end they will break your heart. Aside from an NBA championship when I was in college and 3 Super Bowls, that advice has proven true.
But yesterday’s games have me on the edge of the unthinkable: The title drought may not only end soon with the Caps, there may be another one by year end. The mere act of thinking this is like going into a crowded room in a Harry Potter movie and yelling “Voldemort.” Several times, in fact.
With the Caps, it all starts and ends with Alex Ovechkin. He is so hungry to get a ring that he gives every ounce of energy and passion he has on every play, and it has infected the rest of the team. What was once a club that could unexplainably be all-world one night and passive resistive the next has caught fire. All four lines are going at it in overdrive, and they now only need two more wins and we’re all hoisting the Stanley Cup.
This is where I don’t know how to act. You can’t help but notice the weaknesses in Las Vegas’ game through the first three contests. If a cross-checking penalty on Ryan Reaves is properly called, the Caps are probably up 3-0 and on the verge of a sweep Monday night at home. We would have people climbing street lights in downtown DC until Thursday. It would be bedlam (and still might but just at a later date).
Today, Virginia Tech announced the exact times of its first four football games. And I until I looked at them, I never quite realized how much I don’t like the Hokies’ 2018 schedule.
If you will look to your left in the first column, there’s a block that says “On Deck” where I type in all the schedules of the area teams and sports I’m interested in: The Redskins, Nationals, Caps, Wizards, NASCAR, Virginia Tech football, Virginia Tech basketball, and the football schedules of the three main Ashburn schools including Stone Bridge, Broad Run and Briar Woods. That column shows you by day what’s coming up in the next few days, or if you want to see a specific team, or the entire month, you can just go to the menu and click on “Calendar.”
It’s an entirely self-serving exercise that allows me to check the site every morning, see what’s on the schedule, and know whether it’s going to be a good sports TV day/night, or whether it’s a good day for yard work, grocery shopping or running errands. The calendar program allows me to import items in mass, which I do for the bigger ones that are from 82 to 162 games. But since they include ads and a bunch of other junk I don’t necessarily want, I hand key in the smaller ones like football and college basketball schedules.
It was while doing this that I realized Virginia Tech’s schedule starts out fine, with a nationally televised Labor Day game against Florida State. But then the next three are potential “trap” games, and could set a direction for not only the season, but Justin Fuente’s coaching tenure at Virginia Tech.
If the Washington Capitals somehow end up winning a Stanley Cup this year, they will look back on one play that occurred on Wednesday night, May 30, 2018, and say "that's the one that did it."
This area has seen some iconic plays over the years: John Riggins running 70-Chip for the winning touchdown and the Washington Redskins’ first Super Bowl win; Jayson Werth hitting a walkoff, game winning home run in Game 4 of the National League Division Series in 2012, maybe Darrell Green’s punt return for a touchdown in 1988 in the playoffs against the Chicago Bears.
But if you’re carving out the Mount Rushmore of DC iconic plays, it may be time to move a mountain and add Braden Holtby’s save of a point-blank, wide open net shot by Alex Tuch that was the difference in the Capitals’ 3-2 win Wednesday night. It was also the Caps first win in a Stanley Cup Finals series in the history of mankind.
As you can see in the video, there’s just no way Tuch could have missed scoring a goal. He hit it firmly and low, but Holtby stretched out with his stick as far as he could, and somehow fate saw to it that puck and wood collided.
The challenge now is if you’re going to have a play that is this iconic, it has to have a name. Announcers called it “The Save” for the rest of the game, but that’s kind of boring and predictable. I instead prefer the “Immaculate Extension” because (A) I’m still not sure how he was able to extend himself that far to his right and (B) His play provoked tens of thousands of people in the Virginia-DC-Maryland to call out the name of the Almighty after he stopped the puck. All at once.
Whatever you call it, it was the greatest save I’ve seen in the history of the franchise. And it may be the difference maker this year in deciding who takes home Lord Stanley’s Cup.