If you have followed the antics of Alex Ovechkin, his teammates and the Stanley Cup since they all landed at Dulles Friday, you’d have to think this group is Dan Snyder’s worst nightmare.
I’m not saying everyone is now going to stop following pro football and embrace hockey. The fanbase for that franchise is deep and isn’t going anywhere immediately.
But that fanbase is old. It’s my generation that has a closet filled with Redskins jerseys and will follow them until they die. The younger generation that has just gotten out of college does not have that loyalty. They don’t seem to be going to live sporting events as evidenced by more and more empty seats around the country. The value for high-priced tickets to any team’s games, much less one that isn’t all that much fun to follow come playoff time, just doesn’t seem to be there.
Then these guys come along. Watching Ovi and company is like watching a bunch of modern-day Beatles remaking “A Hard Day’s Night.” Heck, as hard as these guys are going at it, they could call it “A Hard Day’s WEEK.”
They are becoming folk heroes in front of our very eyes. First, they win the Stanley Cup. Then they take the Cup all over Las Vegas like a group of guys who are maniacs on a mission. They make the movie “The Hangover” look tame, and I figured no one can go at that pace two days in a row. They’ll calm down when they get home, logic dictated.
But they haven’t. They were at Don Tito’s in Clarendon and partied the night away Friday night. At around 11 AM Saturday, they show up for the Nationals’ noon game with the Giants, with the expectation they would be there long enough for Ovi to throw out the first pitch, show off the Cup and be gone. Instead, they stayed the entire game, chugged beers like Prohibition was coming back Monday and broke into “We are the Champions” multiple times at the drop of a hat.
When the game was over, it wasn’t another hour or two later that Twitter was flooded with videos of Ovi, Oshie, Holtby and several others splashing around in a downtown fountain. They were laughing, falling down, drunk, doing pushups and just having the time of their life. They were exhibiting the pure joy of having fun. And everyone loved it.
These guys have come across as real people who are having real fun just like the rest of us would be doing if they had finally captured the one thing they had been chasing for decades. They are sharing their celebration with us. They don’t care if we watch because they know we are living vicariously through them with similar feelings of joy for the win Thursday night. They are making it about “us” instead of just them.
Which, of course, is going to cause them to gravitate closer and closer to being fans of The Washington Capitals.
I have always loved the Redskins. When I moved to Northern Virginia in 2000, I specifically chose Ashburn because it’s where the Redskins’ headquarters were located. I immediately became a season ticket holder and stayed one for a decade. But at some point, I got tired of the “winning in April.” I’d go to the games and feel gouged by food and beverage prices, sub-par customer service, litter all over the concourse and a general feeling that the team was getting every penny it could while spending as little as it could on fans. I stopped going to games.
I contrast that to how the Capitals handled this season. I will say that I have always felt like when I’ve been to Verizon Center, Cap One Arena or whatever they’re calling it each year that I have paid a premium price, but I got a premium experience. Ted Leonsis is not perfect by any means, but he certainly hasn’t been tone deaf.
When the team got deep into the playoffs and the watching parties became popular, he didn’t charge for people to attend them. When Game 7 looked like people might scalp tickets to the Mystics game before the watching party, he made both events free, and even ponied up for the extra hour of Metro. He did not try to squeeze one more drop of blood out of the turnip.
The cooperation between the Caps and the Washington Nationals has been extremely refreshing. Seeing Max Scherzer and Ryan Zimmerman in full hockey gear leading chants of “Let’s Go Caps” was wonderful. The picture Saturday morning of the Nationals and the Caps together in the Nats’ dressing room was even better.
It sent a message of “we're all in this together” as Washington sports fans.
Meanwhile, it’s been several days since Washington won its first major sports championship since 1992. Have we heard anything from the Redskins? Maybe taking out an ad and congratulating them? Or just a story saying Snyder called Leonsis and saying how fantastic it was for the Washington sports market?
The dynamics aren’t going to change overnight. But when I see large groups of people peering into the glass at Café Milano to see what our rock stars are up to, seeing Ovi on the ROOF of Café Milano showing everybody the Cup, seeing videos of Ovi doing keg stands and drinking out of the Cup and then seeing people on social media laughing about the Caps players acting like teenagers in a downtown fountain, I see a team winning people over. There used to be a sizable gap in popularity between the Redskins and the city’s other teams.
It’s now dwindling. And with a charismatic Russian Machine that supposedly never breaks doing more and more loveable things each day, it’s only going to get smaller. Heck, the only break these guys may take from partying is the parade on Tuesday.
It’s as if Ovi and company want to bring the Cup to every person in the region and convert them to being a hockey fan one by one. All while drinking enough to drown.
If Russian Machine don’t break, he just might.