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It may seem odd to root unabashedly for two struggling local pro sports franchises given that the Mystics, Capitals, and Nationals have all brought home championships in the past two years. But Walter Wiggins is an optimist. For nearly 50 years, the D.C. native has attended almost every home game for the Wizards and the local NFL team, even as both have been mired in mediocrity. The Wizards currently sit 13th in the Eastern Conference and Dan Snyder‘s football team recently finished a 3-13 season.
Wiggins, a 67-year-old superfan, never leaves Capital One Arena or FedExField feeling deterred. Instead, he loyally returns, as enthusiastic as the previous time, with a purpose in mind. He wants to motivate the players and get other fans excited.
In doing so, Wiggins has caught the attention of everyone from Michael Jordan to Kirk Cousins. Win or lose, Washingtonians can always count on spotting Wiggins dancing and pumping his arms towards the ceiling in his seat behind the basket or goal post. Around the arena and the stadium, the season ticket holder is known affectionately as the “Pump It Up Man.”
“I’m a die hard, die hard fan for the Wizards and the Redskins,” Wiggins says. “Nothing will make me change. I’ve been used to them losing [and] winning so it doesn’t make no difference to me.”
Wiggins’ admiration for D.C. sports is so ingrained in him that it is hard to separate the man from the fan. The Prince George’s County resident owes his love of sports to his late parents, Walter Sr. and Virginia. Since childhood, he and his parents watched as the Senators transformed into the Nationals and the Bullets became the Wizards. He says there was something about watching a game live that mesmerized him.
Wiggins saw himself reflected in players like Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, who attended a historically black college like he did. In time, going to basketball games became a part of his routine. Not too long after graduating from Morgan State University with a degree in physical education, Wiggins celebrated the Bullets beating the Seattle Supersonics at the 1978 NBA Finals. That affection for D.C.’s basketball team soon spread to its football team.
It was during this time that Wiggins debuted his signature dance. “I’ve been doing that move since the 1970s,” Wiggins says. “I’ve always been consistent. My father was a good dancer. That’s how I learned all this hollering and whooping. I got it from my father … He’d just get up and dance.”
He can recall when Darrell Green, a Hall of Fame cornerback for the Washington football team, shook his hand and pumped it up or the time he partied at the same venue as ex-Wizards Juwan Howard and Chris Webber. Wiggins even told the late D.C. NFL player Sean Taylor to pump it up.
“I talked to him a week before he died,” Wiggins says. “Matter fact, they had a game just before he died and I told him, ‘Sean, you gotta get fired up!’ And he told me, ‘You gotta get fired up!”
He not only gets players excited, but he also delights young fans in between plays who mirror his moves hoping to get noticed by the cameras.
Pumping it up is not just meant for a three pointer or a touchdown. Its infectiousness lies in the versatility Wiggins brings to it. It can be a nudge of encouragement, an expression of joy, a call to action for fellow fanatics, or merely a signal that the “Pump It Up Man” is in the house.
“I try to get the teams to win by raising the roof and getting them fired up,” Wiggins says. “That’s why I do all that stuff. It’s pretty effective.”
At a recent Wizards game against the Orlando Magic (which the home team would go on to lose, 122-101), Wiggins sat in his usual seat behind the basket in a red shirt. He typically attends games for both the NBA and NFL by himself. His wife of 27 years, Rainnette Henson Wiggins, is a Dallas Cowboys fan.
“When the Redskins plays the Cowboys on Thanksgiving, we separate,” Wiggins says of his wife, whose cousin is actress and fellow Washingtonian Taraji P. Henson. “We go to my mother-in-law’s house and she goes in the living room and I go upstairs [to] watch.”
Outside the arena, Wiggins likes to catch the latest action or horror films and spend time with his family. Although his older sister, Clarrisa, does not share his love of sports, Wiggins’ nephews are set to inherit his sports memorabilia when the time comes.
“I’ve got so many jerseys I can’t even name them all,” Wiggins says. “I’ve got Clinton Portis, Santana Moss, Darrell Green, so many of ‘em, Sean Taylor, everybody.”
Through his fandom, Wiggins has found a way to connect with his beloved city. His consistent attendance and enduring devotion links D.C.’s basketball and football glory days of the past to its present. Regardless of the scoreboard, players and fans can rely on Wiggins to keep their spirits up.