Caps fans, Pittsburgh, New Year's Eve
PITTSBURGH -- I'm writing this after 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve. I just walked about 3 miles back to my hotel, and en route I saw the same scene repeated over and over, a scene that I had seen all night amidst the tiny dresses and crooked stumbling and stupid hats and public vomiting.
Caps fans walked down the street. Penguins fans jeered, made cracks about Stanley Cup deficits and Ovechkin chokes, about history and heartache, some that were off-color and some that were G-rated. And the Caps fans responded with wry grins, or with curse words of their own, or, frequently, with "C-A-P-S, Caps Caps Caps!" Loudly. Repetitively. Until it became like a song stuck in your head, something that cycled around your skull, even though it was just four letters and three tuneless words.
Various reports have suggested that 20,000 or 30,000 people came from D.C. to Pittsburgh on this weekend. They filled hotel rooms and bars. You saw them everywhere you went in the city's downtown. At one of the semi-official gathering spots -- a massive, accordion-and-Hops-fueled bar called Hofbrauhaus -- the security guards were saying they'd never seen visiting fans take over the place like that, for any sport.
The Caps fans stood on tables, singing goofy songs and chanting about the hockey team. They wore red winter hats and red jackets and red shoes and red pants and red jerseys. They fist-bumped random people. They bought car bombs for bloggers who occasionally write about the team. They joined the natives for a "Philly Sucks" chant. They were proud of what they were doing. It was quite a scene.
Now, what does this all mean? It's not that D.C. residents think grown men imported from West Bend, Wisc. and Calgary and Krasnoyarsk, Siberia are the best that Washington, D.C. has to offer the world. It's not that they really, actually believe their city's hockey players are more noble or humble deserving of praise than the professional players employed in Philadelphia or New York or Pittsburgh. It's not that they care that much about a business owned by Ted Leonsis, or a business plan executed by George McPhee.
But it's about pride, and it's about community. It's about a huge army of people in Pivonka sweaters and Clark sweaters and Kolzig sweaters and, yes, Ovechkin sweaters seeing each other on the street, and honking horns or slapping hands, and getting a small surge of solidarity, and feeling good about the place they live, or the place they grew up, or the place they were born. Not to invite WaPo discipline or anything, but if you're a working journalist and yet fond of your city, you might even feel some of this yourself.
People used to say that the only thing that could unite Washingtonians was the Redskins. And sure, when you follow the team on the road, you see a great deal of this stuff, but it's different somehow. I don't want to say a bad word about that team, but whatever you think of their recent history, there's something decidedly musty and almost desperate about the whole operation.
These Caps, though, feel vital. They feel fresh. They still feel new and shiny and pretty, something to brag to your friends about, something to reverse the never-ending stream of fan invasions into D.C., something to fling at the people who think Washington is the Smithsonian and Metro and bureaucrats.
Sure, the Caps fans largely look the same. They're white. They're mostly in their 20s and 30s and 40s. Facial hair is evident. There are no shortage of hipsters. They have disposable income. It's not like a cross-section of the D.C. area suddenly showed up in Western Pa. And it probably speaks more to me because so many of them look just like my friends.
But it's a community all the same, and it's a community of people happy to export D.C. to another community for a wacky weekend. I have mixed feelings about the whole sports fandom thing, but to see the strangers -- united by red jerseys and similar zip codes -- in a full-on, city-wide, New Year's Eve embrace... well, it makes sports fandom seem a little less irrational.
Someone chants "C-A-P-S," and involuntarily, you think, "Oh yeah, that's about me. That's part of my city. That's where I live. That's kinda cool." And I'm not sure what the other side of that argument would be.
Posted by: EricS2 | January 1, 2011 3:05 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: Chest_Rockwell | January 1, 2011 3:37 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: StabbeDabbe | January 1, 2011 4:22 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: wfyurasko | January 1, 2011 9:21 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: dralison | January 1, 2011 9:25 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: HM328 | January 1, 2011 11:15 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: poguesmahone | January 1, 2011 11:23 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: poguesmahone | January 1, 2011 11:26 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: poguesmahone | January 1, 2011 11:31 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: chmick50 | January 1, 2011 11:36 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: Ootek | January 1, 2011 11:38 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: jen-s | January 1, 2011 11:59 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: gs12 | January 1, 2011 2:46 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: as85 | January 1, 2011 4:08 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: forssell | January 1, 2011 4:31 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: LizDAvonLady | January 1, 2011 5:07 PM | Report abuse