In The BeginningAs a childhood fan of the 1960s New York Mets, I became intimately acquainted with sports futility. Then, after seven years of laughable efforts, something amazing happened. The 1969 Miracle Mets erased a 9 ½ game lead by the Cubs, swept Hank Aaron’s Braves in the playoffs, and stunned the heavily favored Orioles to win the World Series.
Having seen the Mets through to a successful outcome, my family moved to suburban Maryland. In 1974, I adopted the new hometown team – the fledgling Washington Capitals of the NHL.
My father and I attended our first hockey game in February, 1975. That's the faded ticket stub at right - $8.50 seats along the goal line in the third row from the glass. During warm-ups, an errant slapshot found the forehead of a woman sitting five seats down the row from us, knocking her unconscious. Perhaps I should have taken that as a sign, and avoided a lot of future heartbreak.
Regardless, we stayed for the match between the Capitals and K.C. Scouts. Stan Gilbertson's beautiful individual effort gave the Caps the lead, then Mike Marson doubled it. (That's Marson at left, celebrating his power play goal.)
And I was almost close enough to celebrate with Ace Bailey, after he roofed a goal under the crossbar in the 2nd period. The Capitals won,
3-0 – the first shutout in team history, one of only eight wins they would register that inaugural season – and I was hooked.
Capital PunishmentThe Caps are one of the great star-crossed teams in sports history. Even before the playoff collapses, consider this: the team set a record for losses (67!) in a season.
And they missed the playoffs on the final night twice (Twice!) in consecutive seasons – 1980 and 1981.
Even when they clinched their first playoff berth, was it at home to the revelry of the long-suffering fans? No, it was at midnight Eastern Time in Calgary (Calgary!), with me and about four other people listening to the radio broadcast.
Me, Ber-nie and Maroook!Even so, some of my fondest memories growing up were spent high above the rink at the Capital Centre.
It was P.A. man Marv Brooks: "Ladies and Gentlemen, the Washingtaaaaaaan Capitals!"
It was the strains of Pat Benatar, belting out Hit Me With Your Best Shot during warmups.
It was the crowd chanting "Ber-nie" for a Bernie Wolfe save, and "Maroook" for a Dennis Maruk score.
It was my friend Matt standing and exhorting the Caps to "Make Them Pay!!" And my friend Robert exhorting Matt to "Sit down. I can't see the game."
When the victories did come – the first win over the Bruins (my ticket at left), the first win over the Canadiens (my ticket at right), the first playoff wins – I can still remember the tingle.
The More Things Change...That was a long time ago, and I haven’t lived near D.C. since 1984. The players, coaches, owner, home arena, uniform and logos have all changed.
Yet, for reasons I don’t fully comprehend, the team remains near to my heart. Perhaps it’s because I remember the joy of that downtrodden Mets team winning it all.
When the Miracle Capitals finally capture that elusive Stanley Cup, it’ll be sweetest for those of us who were there from the beginning. I just hope I live long enough to see it.
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