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Posted at 12:30 PM ET, 01/ 3/2011

Truly a Classic experience

By Kareem El-Alaily

On Nov. 3, 2008, FedEx Field was overrun by 25,000 Pittsburgh Steeler fans who came to cheer their team on to victory over the Redskins. It was one of the all-too-frequent lowlights of the Dan Snyder era. On Jan. 1, 2011, Washington exacted its revenge as 25,000+ Caps fans invaded Pittsburgh, took over hotels, bars and restaurants, serenaded the city with Caps-centric cheers, walked into Heinz Field and, for one night, crushed the soul of a city that believed it was entitled to a 7-0 romp. It was an amazing sight considering that a mere five years ago the Caps couldn’t even fill their own 18,177-seat barn on a nightly basis. Hockey in D.C. has undoubtedly come a long way.

Critics will say that those Steeler fans in 2008 weren’t gifted 18,000 seats like the NHL gave to the Caps. Fair enough. But I’ll counter by saying those 25,000 Steeler fans at FedEx didn’t travel 4+ hours to get to the game either. Those Steeler fans were from Fairfax, Rockville, Springfield and Waldorf, many of whom are bi-products of migrant Yinzer families and/or folks who jumped aboard the Bradshaw-Harris bandwagon of the 1970s and never fell off. Their numbers are no doubt impressive. But what the Caps fanbase did on Saturday was just as impressive. Those 25,000 Caps fans traveled from the DMV and shelled out some serious cash to spend New Years in overpriced hotels in a city that’s not exactly a hot spot of culture or entertainment. That’s dedication.

Some other thoughts on The Takeover of Pittsburgh:

  • I’ve been to heated rivalry games: Cowboys-Redskins, Virginia-Virginia Tech, Clemson-FSU, Oklahoma-Oklahoma State, SEC games, etc. This atmosphere at the Classic was truly unforgettable. Had the College Game Day crew set up shop before the game they would have been blown away by the atmosphere. (BCS Bowls take note…Caps fans travel better than a lot of Big 10 and Pac 10 schools! Our Takeover of Pittsburgh was what you expect from SEC schools during bowl season.)
  • I’ll give credit where it’s due: Pittsburgh truly loves its Penguins.  The love for the team cuts across age and socio-economic demographics and you can tell the team is truly ingrained into the fiber of the city. Everyone I spoke to – cab drivers, waitresses, randoms on the street – loved the Penguins and knew enough about hockey to have a conversation about it. Admittedly, DC isn’t there yet.
  • No one can ever tell me that Penguin fans don’t take the Caps-Pens rivalry seriously. Heinz Field was Meltdown City for the black-and-gold after the game. Apparently, what was supposed to be a coronation ceremony for Sidney Crosby turned out to be a dud of a night, and a few folks were none-too-pleased that their stadium was overrun by visiting fans. As cool as Penguin fans were before the game, the bitterness of losing was very apparent afterwards. Personally, I was punched in the chest and spat on because I disagreed with a fan who claimed Crosby would pummel Ovechkin if they squared off. One girl hip-checked my friend on the walk to the car. Apparently, this was more than a hockey game to many Pittsburgh fans.
  • One thing I didn’t like was the constant use of homophobic slurs used to describe Alex Ovechkin by the locals. Certain profanities are part of the everyday hockey lexicon; others flat out don’t belong, like the homophobic ones. I heard more of those slurs in the four hours I was at Heinz Field than I have at all the DC sports events I’ve been to in the past ten years. No matter the fanbase – Penguins, Caps, Rangers, Flyers, etc. - the stupidity needs to stop.
  • The Caps defensive play was a thing of beauty. They put the clamp on the Penguins and, in a role reversal, boxed out the middle and forced the Penguins to take perimeter shots with no second chances at rebounds. For the most part, the Caps were also merciless on the backcheck. Whoever these guys are playing in the red, white and blue I hope they stick around until June.
  • It was hard differentiating players in the upper deck, but I thought that John Carlson, Karl Alzner and Scott Hannan really stood out on the defensive side. And, at least from the nosebleeds, it sure looked to me like we played a trap in the third period. Boy, these Caps are transforming into a new team.
  • Tuesday’s game against Tampa is important as first place in the Southeast is on the line. It’s also a classic let-down game. . Not only are we coming off of an emotional roller-coaster of a week, but Tampa is also looking for revenge after a 6-0 butt-whipping from November. For those of you going Tuesday night, make sure you bring your “A” game and help get the team through any mental hurdles they might face.

 

By Kareem El-Alaily  | January 3, 2011; 12:30 PM ET
Categories:  Capitals, Kareem El-Alaily  | Tags:  Capitals, Kareem El-Alaily  
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Comments

100% agreed on the homophobia.

Pens fans must think they're pretty clever throwing around slurs like that. I also don't understand why some locals tried to pick a fight with me concerning Ovechkin's tramp stamps.

Whatever, great win by our Caps. The sea of yellow (empty seats) revealing itself as fehr scored his second was pretty beautiful.

Posted by: GFisher1 | January 3, 2011 2:19 PM | Report abuse

Ah yes, Pittsburgh doesnt have any culture/entertainment. How about dozens of museums (African American Culture, Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History), the Pittsburgh Opera,the Pittsburgh Playhouse, a couple of houses designed my Frank Lloyd Wright just to name just a FEW of the attractions. Oh, and they have the 6 time Champion Steelers, the 3 time Champion Pens and the 5 time World Series Champion Pirates for entertainment. (ok, the Pirates are horrible, but they have the absolute best park in the league. Just ask ESPN.) But I guess since you're just a blogger you didnt (and will never) to any research before writing this swill. Oh, and here is a news flash for you: ALL FANS ARE BITTER WHEN THERE TEAM LOSES!! Im sure all of you remember the beatings your team has taken by the hands of the Pens, especially in the playoffs. Maybe youre too young to remember the game 7 loses in the 90's/2000's, but what about 2009 (6-2 beating in game 7?) Im sure you still remember that right? Im sure you were bitter..or not, since you seem to be a fair weathered fan.

Posted by: BMSOZZY | January 3, 2011 3:54 PM | Report abuse

The amazing thing for me was seeing two Pens fans fight after one tried to run over the other in their SUV. There was a Pens fan in our section who actually was booed everytime he got our by other Pens fans. Like most places there are some fans who embarass the others.

Posted by: icehammer97 | January 3, 2011 6:03 PM | Report abuse

@BMSOZZY
1. You can rattle off all the museums and opera houses the city of Pittsburgh has but, as your research would surely tell you, that doesn't differentiate Pittsburgh from most large American cities. Sorry to burst your bubble, but Pittsburgh is not a destination town for tourists or people looking to spend New Years Eve.

2. I would disagree that fans are "bitter" whenever their teams lose regular season games, as even the good teams lose 15-20 times a year. I think a better explanation for your claim is that you're trying to sugarcoat what happened Saturday night. Penguin fans were clearly bitter that they lost a high-profile game to a rival on the big stage. Penguins fans wouldn't be as upset had they lost to the Blues or Bruins on a regular Tuesday night.

3. So I'm a fair-weather fan? That's kind of amusing...thanks for playing!

Kareem

Posted by: topshelf_22304 | January 4, 2011 12:21 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for sharing, Kareem. And sorry you had to experience that nastiness.

Posted by: stwasm | January 4, 2011 12:44 PM | Report abuse

Guess the Pitts fans wanted to compete with Philly for who could be the worst sports fans in PA. Still think Philly fans have a good lock on that though. Pitts fans may be spitting on people, but at least they're not throwing up on little girls.

Posted by: futbolclif | January 6, 2011 1:05 PM | Report abuse

There are so many Steeler fans in the DC area I'm surprised we don't see 25K Pittsburgh shirts every Fed Ex game. That was, without doubt, the vast majority of the fan-takeover issue that Skins-Steelers Monday night. The same most assuredly does not apply in this case. Pittsburgh is quite a bit ahead of DC as a hockey town. The Pens have been around only six seasons longer than the Caps; but that is six seasons, plus hockey in general starts getting bigger immediately north of the Mason-Dixon line. (Plus the Flyers teams of the '70s probably galvanized Pittsburgh fandom - state neighbors, entering the league the same year - well before they did ours.) You know that almost all of those Caps fans at the WC came from Down Here. Steelers fans are notorious for their omnipresence; yes, they travel well, but this is also largely because of the economic diaspora from what was a depressed city, that has landed 'burghers all over the country, in numbers. (Plus the Cowboys-Yankees-style bandwagon jumpers you always get when your colors get associated with winning.) But the Caps may be rivaling them before long. That was an impressive show.

Finally, I see no reason why Pittsburghers wouldn't take this rivalry seriously; the playoffs have been compensation for consistent regular-season drubbings by the Caps, of which this is the latest in a long line.

Posted by: poorskins | January 7, 2011 3:01 PM | Report abuse

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