Southeast Sasha and His Costumed Fans
A year and a half ago, I came up with this list for D.C.'s top six athletes, based on three categories: recognition of name, recognition of face, and status as "favorite athlete No. 1" among local fans. The top three were Gilbert Arenas, Clinton Portis and Alex Ovechkin, about whom I wrote this: "His national fame is enough to overcome the Caps' tepid local following."
Yeah, well. A certain quartet of local radio hosts was just discussing this very issue, and they decided that Ovechkin has clearly surpassed Jason Campbell, Clinton Portis, Gilbert Arenas on the top of such a list. After an MVP award, an all-star love fest, and 12 months of crooked knees and straight pockets from the competition, it's hard to disagree.
You could measure the transition in all sorts of ways, but here's one more: when the new top dog unveiled his Crocodile Dundee-meets-Southeast-Jerome costume during an all-star break skills costume, how many middle-aged fans immediately figured the appropriate response was to start pricing Australian bucket hats and white sunglasses online?
"We have outfits for the whole family, my wife and daughter as well," noted Mark Callihan, the gentleman on the far left above. And never mind that his 13-year old daughter refused to wear the costume; this family's gesture means something.
Callihan and Larry Goulet, the gentleman on the right, started discussing the feasibility of wearing their Southeast Sasha get-ups before the all-star break ended. Sure, they're in their 40s, but they've already come to a Caps game dressed as Santa and Elf, so they're not exactly shy.
"I had a lot of explaining to do with the elf suit," Goulet recalled. "I'm an idiot, dude, I'll do whatever."
So they ordered the supplies online--Australian hats, Canadian AND Russian flags (which was Ovechkin's original plan, before Montreal proved a tough town to find the fabric of Mother Russia), and white Dolce & Gabbana rip-off shades.
"We tried to get them as close to what he wore as we could," Callihan told me. "I don't think his had rhinestones, though."
"Are my flags unfurled?" Goulet interjected.
The hats' arrival was delayed until this week, so the trio improvised with a trip to Dick's Sporting Goods to buy some fishing caps. No one seemed to notice the inaccuracy; they were asked to pose for a photo the moment they came through the door, and they got an approving smile from team president Dick Patrick. The Comcast SportsNet crew found them before the game, and 12-year-old Robert Callihan began flexing for the camera.
"We're gonna knock them Senators and knock them good, knock them dead!!!!" he screamed. "Ovie's my No. 1 man," he later told me.
"I feel good about it," Ovechkin said, when my temporary intern Redd asked him about his costumed fans.
"Well, I just have fun, you know?" Ovechkin also said, when a local TV crew asked him about the past two weeks. "So I think it's good for everybody to show who I am. I don't want to look like a clown, you know? I don't want to be ashamed or do something stupid, It's me; I just enjoy my life, enjoy my days, and I just show everybody who I am."
Eight-year old Mason Ishida wore his costume during Ovechkin's two goals on Saturday, then took it off when the team took one penalty after another down the stretch; his parents promised he'd keep it on for the duration on Sunday. Twelve-year old Kyle Mace dressed up because "I love Ovie, I think he's awesome, and when I saw that [costume] I cracked up."
I told him his sunglasses were too small; "It's winter, these were pretty much the only ones we could find," he said, which was an acceptable excuse.
Overall, at least seven fans came in this costume over the weekend, and undoubtedly more will follow.
"It's Ovie," said Mark Callihan, a 43-year old man trying to explain why he was wearing a fishing cap and shiny white sunglasses in public. "He's a character, and we want to celebrate that he goes out and represents the Caps so well, and that he really IS the face of the NHL."
"Well said," complimented a nearby fan.
"Would it be inappropriate to throw in a 'Crosby Sucks?' " Goulet asked.
(And thanks to Reader Tim for one of these images.)
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