Chris Wallace, D.C. Sports Fan
The transplant fan is perhaps the most frequently discussed D.C. sports archetype. You know the story: die-hard supporter is drawn toward the District's wealth of jobs, but uses sports to stay connected to his industrial roots. He goes to the District's venues, and roots for the guys from the wrong team. He and his friends bring their quaint little Midwestern traditions with them, and their undying loyalties, and their silent mocking of their new community, standing ever so slightly off to the side. I won't mention any specific cities here, nor the three rivers that define them.
But another sort of transplant story also exists by the thousands, and yet is rarely discussed. That's the fan who comes here with certain loyalties, but gradually watches them seep downstream into the Potomac and drift away. Without realizing it, you stay here for a decade, or two, or three. You become a Washingtonian, first by default and then by choice, and maybe even watch your kids grow up here, not knowing anything but Redskins and Wizards and Caps. And so, after 31 years, you become a genuine D.C. sports fan, with an autographed Gilbert Arenas jersey in your basement and stories of rocking the bleachers at RFK.
To that last category belongs Chris Wallace, the host of Fox News Sunday and as broad-based a D.C. sports fan as you'd care to meet. He came here in '79, a fan of the Red Sox, Knicks and Patriots. But he went to the 1983 NFC Championship game at RFK, befriended Peter Angelos and Daniel Snyder, Mark Lerner and Susan O'Malley, raised his kids as D.C. fans, and wound up doing segments with not only Barack Obama and John McCain, but also Cal Ripken, Alex Ovechkin and Gilbert Arenas--"indulging my inner sportswriter fantasy," he called it.
And so, does his national audience realize that he's stacking his show with D.C. sports heroes?
"I think they've figured it out," Wallace told me this week.
Fair and balanced?
"Politics you can be fair and balanced," he said with a laugh. "When it comes to the teams you root for, it's unfair, and wildly passionate."
He's friends with Ted Leonsis, too, and is squarely on the Caps bandwagon. Leonsis has been on his program before, though not to talk hockey.
"But if the Capitals were to win the Stanley Cup, he'd definitely have to make a return appearance, and have the Cup in studio," Wallace promised.
Anyhow, earlier this week Wallace and I chatted about his conversion into the D.C. fold, the nature of the Washington sports fan and the current buzz around a certain No. 8.
Did you ever think you would switch loyalties, and start paying attention to the D.C. teams?
I had moved around enough. After college I lived in Boston, then I lived in Chicago, then I lived in New York. I'm a huge sports fan, and during the course of those years some of the local teams stuck--like the Red Sox and the Patriots--and some didn't. I assumed when I came to Washington, particularly because I had young kids, that I would be following the Washington teams and taking them to games here.
It's interesting that you mention the Orioles as a Washington team, Do you still think of them that way?
Yeah, but obviously when you have a team that's 10 minutes away as opposed to an hour and 15 minutes on a Friday night with rush-hour traffic, your loyalties, I wouldn't say they evaporate, but they shift. So now I love the Nationals too.
And you go to Caps games too?
I have over the years, and Ted's been nice enough to invite me to the box. I think in the course of this season, I don't mean to be a front-runner, but frankly the team is just really entertaining to watch now. And sometime last year, I really have come to see Ovechkin the same way that I used to see Michael Jordan, which is not to compare him yet to Jordan. But the one thing I think they share, as a fan, you always have the sense that every time they take the court or the ice you may see something you've never seen before.
I happened to be at the game against Montreal in the owner's box this year when Ovechkin intercepted the puck and passed it to himself and went down, got hooked sliding on his belly and backhanded it into the net, which I think was the second-greatest goal he ever scored.
Did you go to any of the playoff games?
Not yet. I am such a good friend of Ted's that I don't want to pester him and ask for seats, although my restraint is really being tested.
Obviously we've been writing about this incessantly, but have you noticed this shift in the town, with people getting into this team?
Listen, I think people are hungry. I consider myself now, having lived here 30 years, a full-fledged Washington sports fan. We're hungry for a winner. There have been so many frustrating teams and losing teams, that the idea that you could get behind a team and follow a run in the playoffs is very exciting.
I went to a game in early April, and one thing that excited me and fascinated me was the sense of excitement at the Verizon Center before the game....It had the same sense of excitement and buzz and electricity around the arena that you used to see around the United Center with the Bulls. It was really a sense that this is an extremely special time, enjoy it while you can.
Obviously the sort of media elite and the political folks like to go to Nationals games and do the whole baseball thing, but does that cross over to the Caps and the Verizon Center?
I think the Verizon Center and the Capitals are a happening thing right now. As I said, we're hungry for a winner, and just as important for an exciting winner, a team that's fun to watch. The Nationals are great fun, too. There's nothing that beats--sometimes I'm not sure about mid-August--but a June or July baseball game. I went to one game where I was on the Kiss Cam. I'm telling you, I have done dozens of Fox News Sundays that didn't get as big a reaction here in Washington as appearing for 10 seconds on the Kiss Cam.
Was it one of those, you know, passionate kisses?
I wanted to go completely into adolescent fantasy, and my wife said, 'No way, buster.'
So you're friends with these owners, and obviously, locally, some of them are the targets of frustration for fans. And yet you;re also a fan. Is that ever weird?
Sure. Look, it's a little bit like when Robby Alomar spit in the umpire's face. If I had lived in any other city, I would have been outraged, but he was my second baseman, so I gave him a pass. If a guy owns one of my teams, he can do no wrong. Am I aware of what he's done right or wrong, yeah, but they're still the owner of my team.
And I don't want to give the Wizards short shrift, either. I did a profile of Gilbert Arenas a couple years ago: a very sweet, entertaining guy who was talking about writing TV commercials. That's one of the few pieces of memorabilia I've got: he gave me an autographed jersey that's in our workout room in our basement. When he was playing well, it used to be kind of an impetus to exercise harder, but since he hasn't played for two years it doesn't quite serve the same purpose.
I'm sure you've heard this, but people say all the time that D.C. is a bad sports town, not just because of all the losses lately but also because of the fans, with so many transplants and people who, I guess, root for other teams. Do you agree?
Well, yes and no. I understand what people are saying, and I think there have been sports that we don't support. I mean, with the Redskins, I think we're a fabulous sports town, through thick and through thin, and recently there's been a lot more thin. There just is a tremendous base of support for the Redskins. All you have to do is look around on those rare occasions when you're out driving between 1 and 4 on a Sunday afternoon and it's like Death Valley to realize the extent to which people are committed.
And the excitement around this run by the Caps has been great, but I can't say that with any of the other teams, it's a tremendously loyal base. We tend to be frontrunners. I plead guilty to that. I still root for them, but when you see how empty it gets for some of the teams when they're not doing well, how quickly they are to boo, I don't think we're the most loyal sports fans in the world
And do you have a best D.C. sports memory?
Yeah, I think so. I think my best D.C. sports memory was the 1983 NFC Champsionhip game at RFK. I was at that game with my then-seven-year old son, we were in the stands that were vibrating up and down, watching Dexter Manley break through the line and lay out Danny White. It's like your first girlfriend: your first Super Bowl championship of a team you;re really rooting for, you never forget.
May 1, 2009; 11:14 AM ET
Categories: Caps , Know Your Fans , Media , Nats , Orioles , Redskins , Wizards
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