Tuesday, April 19, 2005

D.C. - A Place to Cheer

If you would have said on April 19, 2000 that in five years the Washington Wizards would be a playoff team, the city of Washington, D.C. would have a major league baseball team again (and be in first place), the Washington Capitals and the rest of the NHL wouldn’t play a single game this season and the Washington Redskins would be coached by Hall of Famer Joe Gibbs, but be in worse shape than before he returned– I would’ve told you that you were crazy. But in fact, it’s all true.

The Montreal Expos have relocated and become the Washington Nationals – playing in old RFK Stadium in front of thousands of fans that have longed for the opportunity to watch and root for a team in D.C. They’re off to a great start, currently in first place in the National League East and playing with the enthusiasm of 25 guys that had never been given the chance. Most of the team played the last several years with the Montreal Expos were it was disgustingly common for 4,000 fans to show up to a game on any given night. On opening night the Nationals drew a sold-out crowd of more than 46,000 fans. I think it’s safe to say, that this team is here to stay.

The National Hockey League locked out the entire 2004-2005 season because of a players strike. Can you believe that? How can these players not play an entire season? Most of the European players from such countries as Switzerland, Russia, Sweden and the Czech Republic are all playing in professional leagues in these and many other countries. It’s terrible. One team in Russia, AZ Bars Kazan, has fourteen NHL players on its roster. These other leagues are paying good money to most of these players, most of whom are playing close to home. Several all-stars have said that they plan on playing their final few seasons in their home countries instead of returning to the NHL. What a mess.

Don’t look now, but the Washington Wizards are one of the most exciting teams in the NBA and are finally going back to the NBA Playoffs this season. Led by Coach Eddie Jordan and guards Gilbert Arenas & Larry Hughes, this Wizards team has been one of the biggest stories of the entire season. They are young, athletic and play very good defense while sharing the scoring load. With only a few games remaining in the season the ‘Wiz Kids’ look as if they might be able to catch the Chicago Bulls for the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs – if not they’ll be the fifth seed…not too bad for a team that hasn’t been to the playoffs since 1997.

The Washington Redskins, one of the most storied franchises in sports history have turned into a debacle. When Daniel Snyder bought the team there were high expectations because of his seemingly unlimited bankroll, but the team is close to hitting rock bottom. After a playoff appearance in the 1999 season followed by back-to-back 8-8 seasons Snyder lured Florida Gators Head Coach Steve Spurrier to coach the ‘Skins. But the team had two straight unsuccessful seasons going 12-20 under Spurrier and the college coach quit. The only man that could turn things around for the Redskins could be their Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs. Gibbs was 124-60 with a 16-5 playoff record in his 12 year stint at the helm from 1981 to 1992 – oh yeah, he also won 3 Super Bowls and took the team to a fourth. Unfortunately, Gibbs had no luck with the 2004 team going 6-10 and things don’t look to be getting any better. This off-season the team has lost several key players – Antonio Pierce, Laveranues Coles and Fred Smoot while several other players want to leave or have expressed their dissatisfaction with the team - LaVar Arrington and Rod Gardner being the most prominent. The near future doesn’t look too good for Washington, but Gibbs had to have known what he was getting himself into…a project.

In just five years, Washington sports have turned around, upside down and sideways – but in most cases, things are good. The excitement of the city for the Wizards and Nationals will hopefully rub-off on the Redskins and the emergence of Washington, D.C. sports will be considered what it truly is – quality.


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