Pat Sajak Loves the Caps
The Stanley Cup playoffs require a wide-ranging level of civic commitment. For Mike Green, that commitment was on display this morning, in the form of an early-morning mohawk. Dozens of fans will be receiving similar 'hawks tomorrow. For Pat Sajak, that commitment might involve a red-eye flight back East from a "Wheel of Fortune" taping next Friday, to make sure he can get to Verizon Center in time for Game 5.
"If the Caps don't sweep," Sajak noted. "I'm pretty well at their mercy."
Yeah, that's right, Sajak has become a hard-core Caps fan, a front-row season ticket holder for the past two seasons who attends 30 games a year and was "Rocking the Red" throughout last week's spasm of Caps passion. He grew up a Blackhawks fan in the Stan Mikita/Bobby Hull Era, adopted the Kings when he lived in SoCal during the Gretzky Era, and then moved to this area nearly a decade ago and slowly warmed to the Caps. At first he went to their games "because that was the team that was in the area, and I'm hockey fan," but as the Ovechkin Era dawned (and Sajak's son became a teenager) the attachment grew.
"I lived through Gretzky, and all those great Blackhawk players, but I've never seen anything like this guy," Sajak said. "I've seen skilled players, but I've never seen anybody with that level of skill who is that willing to be physical and mix things up. He's a combination of everything you like about hockey: he's faster than anyone I've seen, he's quicker than anyone I've seen, he's got a longer reach than anyone I've seen. I said when Ted signed him for 13 years, 'Hockey just may work here.' I'm actually planning my life around these playoffs."
(And before the most recent surge of Ovechkin excitement? "This, unfortunately, didn't seem to be much of a hockey town," he said. "You had your diehard groups, and other than that, it was mostly what I like to call 'partial sellouts.' ")
Sajak still follows the Kings, which meant for a time this year he was throwing his support behind the league's two worst teams. Obviously, that's now changed. Sajak hasn't started wearing jerseys or bellowing at the officials or breaking out the face paint--"I figure my occupation draws enough attention without pounding on the glass or painting my face," he said--but he did wear a red USO jacket all last week, and he mentioned the Caps when he guest-hosted 'Live with Regis and Kelly' this week.
(So is he the team's most famous fan? "Gee I hope not," he said. "I'd hate to think I'm the most famous anything.")
His back, of course, is facing the crowd most of the time, but he signs autographs and poses for photos and all that. Players throughout the NHL have approached Sajak at various arenas and given a welcoming tap on the glass, but it hasn't yet happened with the Caps--"maybe I'm not big in Russia," he ventured--but his front-row perch still has its advantages.
"It's a rugged game man, [players] take some hits that just kill you, but the best part is you get to see people new to the glass put their beers right there on the glass, and you just wait for them to get a lapful," he said. "I've seen many Caps' faces actually pressed against my glass. I kind of wave, and hope that nothing's broken....I've not had [Ovechkin] jump directly into our glass when he scores a goal, but I'm hoping that happens in the playoffs. I'd love to see his face mashed up against our glass."
As for these playoffs, Sajak is cautiously optimistic, saying the Caps can compete with anyone in the NHL, that "you really do have the sense that you're seeing something real special" and that "there's no substitute for a full building with everyone going nuts." Which makes one's thoughts naturally turn toward the glut of mohawks that will be in evidence tomorrow night.
"I don't plan to participate, if that's what you're asking," Sajak said. "I mean, I like the team a lot, but I do have my limits."
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