Redskins Fans, the Caps, and the Bandwagon
Caps forward Matt Bradley isn't an ardent football fan, but he turned into the Redskins' post-game show on Comcast SportsNet Sunday afternoon, and happened to see some of the live texts from viewers on the scroll. Like the ones that said "Let's Go Caps!" and "Put Ovechkin In!!"
"Put in Ovie!"
Those texters weren't alone; fans on that show, and on our blogs, and on Redskins message boards, and on talk radio, and in every other available medium have been explicitly comparing the Caps and the Redskins during these days of Burgundy Revolution. Several people have flat-out told me that they're transferring some of their sporting passion from FedEx Field to the Verizon Center. This, of course, is of no surprise to anyone.
"I mean, I'm the same way," Caps defenseman Brian Pothier said. "I followed the Patriots and the Red Sox forever, and I had a whole lot more fun when they won the Super Bowl and won the World Series than I did when they were terrible. I think in this town, they expect to win. They expect a good team, to put a good product on the field. It just seems like there's a high demand for a winning team, you know what I mean? When we're winning games and our team's doing well, the more the merrier. Come and have some fun. We're not gonna be like, 'Well, you guys weren't here four years ago when we were terrible,' because all of our team pretty much wasn't here four years ago. We have a new team, a fresh team, so we're just excited to win and excited to get the city buzzing."
(Yes, I came to a Caps media day and asked about the Redskins. It's part of our DNA here. Just this once, I promise. Probably. Other items coming soon.)
Fans littered my weekly chat with comments about this comparison; "I'd - love - to see the Caps start some sort of 'Better Red' campaign," one wrote. "Point out that the Caps are a more exciting, hard- hitting, high-scoring team than the Redskins are, that tickets are cheaper, that they have a coach who knows what he's doing, etc. Be blatant about the goal: 'converting' Redskins fans to Capitals fans. Heck, offer a merchandise trade-in, where people can turn in Redskins jerseys, caps, etc. for Caps rock-the-red t-shirts."
Among the Caps players I talked to, their feelings were just about unanimous: they wish the Redskins well, and yet they welcome new fans, even if it's fans who are merely chasing after success.
"You take it on the chin when you're losing, too, [and] they're the ones that go away, but I guess the more the merrier," free agent addition Mike Knuble said.
"For me, whatever it takes for someone to come and give our sport a chance is good with me, whether it's the Redskins not playing well [causing] people decide to tune in to us," Bradley said. "Football's the biggest thing in town, and it probably always will be, but with us being successful, we can maybe bring a couple more people to the game of hockey--not only to us, but to the game of hockey--that maybe wouldn't do that otherwise, then it's only good for us. Our big thing right now is we want to grow the game as much as we can. And to do that you've got to get to people who aren't hockey fans, right?"
This, too, was a theme among the Caps: that being in a market that hasn't always been obsessed with this sport gives them a special responsibility, especially when they're blessed with the best player in the league.
"It's a part of our job as hockey players to be ambassadors of the sport and to grow the sport, specifically in a market where hockey isn't as deeply rooted as what it is in Toronto or Montreal," Brooks Laich said. "And I was here four or five years ago when the building wasn't full, the people around town didn't have a specific favorite player. Now I think our organization's done a great job getting our players out into the community as people, giving an identify to the players and giving people something to be in touch with. And so absolutely we welcome new fans to the game."
Ah yes, four or five years ago. You remember what that was like, right? Knuble will offer a reminder, meant not to insult the diehards but rather to reflect the passions of D.C.'s casual fans.
"I mean, it was a morgue," he said. "And as a player you'd want to just try to fake your way through the game and try to get the win, just hope that you could motivate yourself and maybe you could go through the motions and still get the win. But the fact of the matter is things have changed here."
And like I mentioned, several players didn't see this as an either-or equation, nor did they describe these newcomers as bandwagoners.
"I mean, that's fine," Mike Green said, when I speculated that some people were Caps fans because of the recent success. "When we win and they watch us play and we end up winning the Stanley Cup, they're gonna become fans for life. I'm sure they don't leave the Redskins. I mean, I'm a fan of the Redskins, and it's hard to get excited if things don't go well for your sports team, but it's early in the season for them. I'm still behind them. I don't think any true fan would ever just bail on them."
Like Ted Leonsis. He said he's not bailing.
"It's a big tent," he said. "And we will embrace and love everyone. I'm a big Washington Redskins fan. I'm a big Nationals fan. And I do honestly believe that a rising tide raises all boats."
Bradley, too, said he wishes nothing but the best to the Redskins. He doesn't want this season to resemble any of the bad ones he's lived through, as a player or as a fan.
"I know what it's like to be on a losing team, and it sucks," he said. "It's always more exciting to watch a winning team than a losing team, right?"
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