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Caps Get Recognized Around Town

(By John McDonnell - TWP)

Yesterday I was drafted into writing this "New Ice Age" story about the Caps, which contained mostly things you already knew, which is fine because it wasn't written for you, it was written for the people who exclusively read A1 of the Washington Post, possibly including the president of the country. Anyhow, there were some parts I didn't get to include in the story, including the latest list of players describing how things have changed in D.C.

Donald Brashear spoke to me about this at great length.

"When I was with other teams--Montreal or Philadelphia--you'd come in here and there wouldn't be anybody. You knew in the back of your mind there was a 100 percent chance you would win the game. Guys wouldn't really prepare that hard, you'd just come in here and play. In the stands, there was nobody, so you knew it'd be a boring game.

"And you'd have your own fans in the stands. When you were here with Montreal, most of the fans would have Montreal Canadiens jerseys. Same with Philadelphia, Vancouver.

"I'd walk around downtown and nobody would recognize me. I could go out to the pubs and sit at the bar and they wouldn't even recognize me. Even the bartenders. Usually the bartender knows, because they're standing in front of a television showing the game. But nobody would recognize me."

I didn't know this, but Brashear lives in downtown D.C. and would sometimes frequent bars around the Verizon Center for a post-game beer. Living in D.C., he's a massive minority; the only other local superstar I know of who lives downtown is Ben Olsen. A few lesser-known Caps once lived downtown, but they've left the team. The Redskins mostly live in Northern Virginia. So do the Wizards. I don't know the Nats well enough to say definitively, but I'm told they largely live in Arlington and Alexandria.

But Brashear is downtown, and he says the whole recognition thing has changed dramatically, including, he said, with black D.C.'ers who have gotten into the Caps.

"Now every time I go in the room I'm signing jerseys, there are tons of fans. I'm sitting on the bench in the third period, I'll look around, all I see are Caps jerseys. They know the players, they like the players, they recognize the players."

I asked how often he gets recognized; "every day," he said. "I started to stop going in public places. We were in a pub [Tuesday night] for a TV thing, and it was madness. It was like we were gods. And we just lost the game. My first year here I thought nobody knew about hockey and nobody was ever going to go to the rink to watch us play.

"Players are going to want to come and play here now," he concluded. "That's how it happens. Hockey is just going to grow more and more in this area."

Of course, this is all within the context of things still being Redskins first. "No questions asked," agreed Chris Cooley, a major Caps booster who was at Tuesday's game. He went with Brashear, Ovechkin and Backstrom to that MMA show last weekend; "I think the guys are awesome, but it's wild, you go there, all the guys do their interviews, then I get in the ring and the whole place erupts in COOOOOOLEY chants," Cooley said. "Maybe it's just because I have a recognizable name, I don't know."

Cooley, too, has seen a recent change; "If we wanted to come to a Caps game [in the past], it would be a guarantee we'd sit on the glass," he said. "Now we have to call a week in advance to get tickets. You hear people talking about them, I see their highlights on ESPN. It's exciting. They're a cool group of guys, a good group of guys to cheer for."

Anyhow, more recognition tales. It even extends to the grinders.

"I was in a Whole Foods [Tuesday] and some guy told me 'Good luck in the game,' " John Erskine said. "No idea who the guy was."

Erskine echoed Brashear's comments about the changes inside the rink.

"When I first came here there'd be 9,000 people here and the crowd would be dead," he said. "Now it's just done a total 180. It's crazy."

Matt Bradley talked about the noise, saying "honestly, when they get rocking here, I haven't been in a louder rink." And he, too, has been recognized more.

"I joked, my dad was visiting [last week] and I got recognized at Chipotle," Bradley said. "I said, 'Dad, you're lucky, that's the first time that's ever happened.' Obviously the Caps are getting a little bit more recognition, especially star guys like Greenie and Ovie, those guys are a little bit more recognizable around town I think. But everything goes hand in hand with winning and doing well. As long as we can keep winning and doing well, I think things should be good around here."

And Bruce Boudreau also talked about the recognition thing, though his face is obviously on the news more than, say, Erskine's.

"Individually, I guess I'm more noticeable than I was last year, where you were sort of anonymous," he said. "Now I guess more people know me. I don't know if that's good or bad. [It's] wherever I go. If I go to a mall, I might get recognized by one person, but that's one more than I would have been recognized by last year."

I asked whether he thought this was possible when he arrived; "I didn't know what to expect," he said. "When you grow up in Toronto it's always like that. Hershey was like that. Even Manchester was like that. So I just expected everybody to want to see hockey."

(By John McDonnell - TWP)

By Dan Steinberg  |  February 26, 2009; 12:23 PM ET
Categories:  Caps , Redskins  
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Next: Leonsis Discusses the Changes in D.C.


To paraphrase a song from the time of the First World War, "How're You Gonna Keep Him Down On the Bog After He's Seen Page One?"

Posted by: greggwiggins | February 26, 2009 12:32 PM | Report abuse

I have been a Caps fan for my entire life. I keep waiting to wake up and find that people in town couldn't name 5 players if you asked. It's not that I want it that way, it's just that it's been that way for most of my life. This is like being in bizarro world. Even when the Caps were a lock to make the playoffs every season in the 90s, the casual DC sports fan never got that excited. Now they all have the sweater.

Posted by: Chest_Rockwell | February 26, 2009 12:46 PM | Report abuse

TEB slaves for like forever as the beat reporter and you score the front page? Well played, Steinz, well played...

Posted by: jhorstma | February 26, 2009 12:56 PM | Report abuse

As a longtime Caps fan, I knew things had changed in Washington for the Caps after the game against Florida earlier this month. I got off the Metro at Grosvenor after the game and a group of attractive young women, dressed up to go clubbing, were waiting for a train to go downtown. Seeing a bunch of people in Caps jerseys get off on the other side, she asked, "Did they win?" When I said yes and gave her the score, she pumped her fist and shouted "Yes!" For years, if I've been coming home late from work and saw people coming home from a Caps game, I would usually ask them about the game. But never have I had anyone ask me how the Caps did, and be genuinely excited about it when they heard about a win. It's kind of stunning, but also fun.

Posted by: TheFingerman | February 26, 2009 1:05 PM | Report abuse

After the game in November in which the Capitals beat les Canadiens 3 to 0 I had a Metro platform conversation with a man in a Habs sweater who was, it turned out, down from Quebec for the game. First he complimented the play of the team that had just beat his, but then he told me that he travels to a lot of NHL games and he didn't think he'd ever been inside a louder building or seen more enthusiastic fans at a game in the U.S.

Posted by: greggwiggins | February 26, 2009 1:28 PM | Report abuse

When I attended school in DC I wish I went to more Caps games. I'm lucky enough to visit a few times a year now.

- BettorFan

Posted by: BettorFan | February 26, 2009 2:03 PM | Report abuse

Ha, jhorstma, Tarik has a hockeytown story of his own in the can. I think he'd rather interview players than fans, which is what my story required. He's still the boss.

Posted by: DanSteinberg1 | February 26, 2009 2:05 PM | Report abuse

It's about time the boys get the recognition they deserve both on and off the ice!

Posted by: mikesgirl1 | February 26, 2009 2:24 PM | Report abuse

Congrats on the front page story

Posted by: JDP_ | February 26, 2009 2:56 PM | Report abuse

I think the caps just came around at the perfect time. everyone in this city will always love the skins, but who else is there to root for? the caps are exciting, they're approachable, and charismatic. they're the perfect team to root for and the fan base in DC is just craving a team that isn't terrible. and the caps even seem to be built to last, which is better than any other area team can say. As a long time caps fan, I hope it lasts. I hope the fans who have so much fun now will find a lasting love for hockey and our fans can remain some of the best in the NHL, in good times and in bad.

Posted by: dkitsou | February 26, 2009 3:27 PM | Report abuse

"To paraphrase a song from the time of the First World War, "How're You Gonna Keep Him Down On the Bog After He's Seen Page One?"

Posted by: greggwiggins | February 26, 2009 12:32 PM "

"How're you gonna keep her down on the farm after she's seen Karl Hungus." -The Dude

(Congrats on the A-1 treatment, Dan...though I made sure to click on the story anyways, just so your numbers reflect the fact that I, you know, read the article.)

Posted by: EdTheRed | February 26, 2009 3:55 PM | Report abuse

This is great, and I hope it continues to mount. Kudos to all the hard cores who've been there all along. This team is very exciting and young. Too bad guys like Bondra went unnoticed/unrecognized in town by most, but this team is making up for it. The only bummer is, it's now hard to get tickets! I never thought I'd say that about a Caps game.

Posted by: brad40 | February 26, 2009 4:04 PM | Report abuse

Hey Dan, After speaking with you immediately after the 4-2 loss, I felt that I missed a key point about "band wagon" fans. Over the last 30 years, there was a dearth of hockey fans to talk about the Caps with. Hard core fans with season tickets got older and faded away while businesses bought season tix and gave them away to the NY, Philly & Pittsburgh transplants.

Now I can bring up a Caps game with numerous people so I get to talk about what I enjoy and people don'y say "Alex who?"

It really is about sharing a good thing, I mean, who's going to unleash the fury, the Guys running the Caps fan Club with their boring white-bread banners on the rink ends? They are dedicated but don't manage to keep the opposing fans out of the building or even in their seats when the visitors have their moments of glory.

Are we all simply tired of getting pushed around (fan-wise) in our own buiding?

Keep it up Dan and all to all the band wagon fans,
"Welcome Aboard!"


Posted by: IzzySez | February 26, 2009 5:04 PM | Report abuse

I have been waiting for this all my life. I was there for the first win against the Blackhawks in 1974 and held season tickets throughout the glory days of the 80s. People forget that the Cap Centre saw some consistently good crowds for a long time. But I have never been to anything as electric as the Verizon Center is right now. Game 1 against the Flyers was by far the loudest sporting event I have ever attended with Game 7 a close 2nd. That includes any Redskins game at RFK, and I've seen many. (A Led Zeppelin and a couple of Ted Nugent shows eclipse them in decibles however). I'm loving the fact that so many people are into the game right now because if you consistently go to hockey games you can't help but get hooked. It is by far the best sporting event in person. And the more people that get hooked, the more people I can talk hockey with and that is a good thing.

Posted by: ouvan59 | February 26, 2009 5:12 PM | Report abuse

If I see the Caps around, you can bet Im asking for $5 so I can go get a can of beer...haha

Posted by: SA-Town | February 27, 2009 5:49 AM | Report abuse

The watershed mark was set during last seasons playoffs with Philadelphia. Being a season ticket holder for the last 10 years I've seen it all, here and other arenas. I expected a 1,000 Flyer fans. I'm being generous here with this count ...... maybe a 100 of thier fans in the Verizon Center. Now we need to win a couple Stanley Cups and you have a hockey town. Thanks Ted.

Posted by: noreaster1 | February 27, 2009 8:58 AM | Report abuse

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