Yesterday after the Nationals’ Opening Day win, I went to Twitter to read everyone’s takes on the game, and saw one from a friend named Jen. She’s a huge Nats fans and has raised her kids to know a slider from a curve since they were old enough to walk. Her kids were celebrating the Opening Day win, and as we all did when we were little, they were projecting the future based on this one game. In their minds, the Nats looked so good, they were going to go 162-0.
Being the realist (my daughter would say “killjoy”) I am, I pointed out that the first year they will ever be able to remember things as they grow older will be around 2012. Starting with that year, winning in general and winning on Opening Day became the norm for the Nats. Only once during the span of then to now has the team lost a game to start the season (those pesky Mets won 3-1 in 2015) and the days of 100-loss seasons were long gone. Every year since, the Nats were supposed to win the division, and many years they did.
Part of me thought “these kids are really lucky” because they’ve known nothing but winners, seen no-hitters, and have only faced disappointment when the team went to the playoffs. The other more cynical side thought “they have no idea that sometime in the future, being a fan is probably going to be tough.”
That’s because in my 50-plus years of following sports, I’ve found your favorite teams have more years when they disappoint versus winning it all. All seasons have happy endings, but they are not necessarily your happy ending, as someone has to win and someone has to lose. Odds are, if you talk to most fans outside of New England these days, it’s their team that seems to have to lose.
It’s as if some higher authority doles out the winning so that everyone has a window of happiness. I grew up in Norfolk, where in the days before cable television (and cell phones, computers, the internet, etc.) the area received the games of either Baltimore or Washington. My Dad liked the Baltimore teams, so as nature designed in the not so complicated father-son dynamic, I rebelled and pulled for Washington. It wasn’t a wise choice, as the Colts and the Orioles seemed to win all the time, while the Redskins, Senators and Bullets got me comfortable at a young age with pulling for a team that would underperform.
But my senior year at Virginia Tech in 1978, one of those windows opened. The Bullets won the NBA title. Three years later, with the Redskins 0-5 and about to boot new coach Joe Gibbs, the team caught fire and went to the Super Bowl in 82, 83, 87 and 91. It was incredible. It was fun. I thought it would last forever. Then I was driving to work in spring of 1993 and heard on the radio Gibbs was retiring. I knew it was over.
It was for the Redskins, but just as dramatically, another window opened for Virginia Tech football (and even my life). It was 1995, the team had started 0-2 and was playing Miami. The previous week, I sat out in the rain and watched a low point of Hokie football as they lost 16-0 to Cincinnati. We were facing another beatdown, but I was actually thrilled. My wife and I had been trying to adopt for quite a while, and we were told that Friday all the details were done, and our new daughter would be coming to live with us that Monday. Let’s go watch the Hokies get beat one last time as childless parents, I said.
The Hokies surprised everyone by winning in the final minute, then won 10 straight, shocked the world and beat Texas in the Super Bowl. They went to the Orange Bowl the next season. That success convinced a Newport News quarterback named Michael Vick to come to Blacksburg and in 1999, they went undefeated and got to play for a National Championship in New Orleans.
That window lasted for about 9 years before gradually closing, but it was great while it lasted. Now I’m old enough to appreciate those windows opening and closing, and do my best to enjoy when it’s open while I can.
Jen’s kids are in the middle of a window that’s been open for the Nationals since 2012. They have no idea how long it will stay open; none of us do. But when the broadcast starts like it did yesterday worrying about where Bryce Harper is going to be next year and the Washington Post (rightfully) writes stories about where will Mike Rizzo be after his contract expires in a year, I just sigh. While those things might happen in the future, the window is open right now. Enjoy every moment while you can, because tomorrow isn't guaranteed. Or in the case of Your Washington Redskins, those moments may have to sustain you for a few decades. Or more.
So Jen, tell the kids I’m with them. Yesterday was just the beginning.
Carpe Diem. 162-0 it is, Nats.