With the Capitals winning the Stanley Cup and immediately becoming the boozy, cheery, good-natured face of D.C. sports happiness, 2018 was always going to be a pretty good year for owner Ted Leonsis. Now his local Arena Football League team, the Washington Valor, will be playing for the championship in ArenaBowl XXXI this weekend. If the Valor wins, Leonsis would become the first owner to win two professional D.C. sports championship titles in the same year.
But the excitement is somewhat muted by the fact that even if the Valor don’t win, Leonsis would become the first owner of multiple professional D.C. sports teams to win two championship titles in the same year since the District was formed in 1790, because he also owns the Valor’s opponent, the Baltimore Brigade.
What’s more, the current incarnation of the AFL includes just four teams, which means that there are only six possible championship game matchups, only one of which would include no Leonsis-owned teams. Even judging only by simple math and not taking roster talent and strength of opponents into consideration, this is not even in the same stratosphere for Leonsis as if his Wizards somehow stumbled into the NBA Finals. (The Baltimore Sun referred to the Valor and the Brigade as “regional rivals” in a headline, which sounds great until you realize that the entire league exists within the tidy six-hour drive from D.C. to Albany.)
The Valor’s accomplishment is even further dampened by their less-than-inspiring 2-10 regular season record. When there are only four teams, even a .166 winning percentage is enough to eke into the playoffs.
I was fired up for the arrival of an AFL team in D.C. (and I have the receipts to prove it), but I have failed to turn that advance enthusiasm into any sort of real-life attention. In discussing this column, my editor mentioned that he had been to a couple of Valor games and had a good time even though the game itself seems kind of meaningless. Which is accurate to my previous AFL experiences—but it turns out that a meaningless game isn’t quite enough to drag me downtown when there are so many other ways to have a good time elsewhere.
And it’s not like you can just flip the game on TV the way you might on an NFL Sunday. About half the games are televised on CBS Sports Network, a channel that I presume exists somewhere in my vestigial cable package, and the rest are streamed on the AFL Watch page on Facebook or the (Leonsis-owned) Monumental Sports Network. (Full disclosure: I signed up for MSN to try to watch the Valor, and then managed to waste a hundred or so bucks in unwatched months of subscription after I unknowingly botched the Kafkaesque cancellation process.)
All of that, though, is me being the dreary voice of the old, maybe-cursed, definitely soul-crushing D.C. sports. In this groovy new post-Stanley Cup era, that kind of doom-and-gloom is as out of fashion as the word “groovy”.
Enter Monty Hobbs, 42, a (self-described) “kick-ass digital marketer who lives in D.C.” Hobbs is one of the Valor’s “Founding Fans”—that is, a season ticket holder during the inaugural 2017 season. He’s attended every Valor home game, plus a couple of games in Baltimore, and will be heading up to Royal Farms Arena this weekend for the championship tilt.
He comes across as an enthusiastic-but-totally-reasonable fan, excited to attend the championship but without any pretensions about “What It All Means” or how it compares to, say, the city’s other big 2018 sports championship.
“There is no comparison as far as importance to the city,” he says in an email. “Much of D.C. doesn’t even realize there is an arena football team.”
Hobbs started attending AFL games when he lived in North Carolina, and transferred that enthusiasm to the Valor. His reasons for enjoying the AFL mirror my editor’s comments (and my own since-thwarted expectations from that earlier column): “The game is a perfect summer spectator sport for someone like me,” Hobbs says. “It is action-packed, affordable, and air conditioned when it is oppressively humid and hot outside. I don’t want to pay top dollar to get a sunburn at a Nats game.”
That pragmatic approach extends to comparisons with other sports as well. Hobbs describes himself as a big hockey fan, but overall prefers live Valor games because, while both sports are better live, it’s easier and cheaper to get good seats for the Valor.
A Valor championship would, Hobbs says, “be great for the players and season ticket holders, but outside of us, few will be aware of it. It will be a big, bold happy asterisk to the 4-10 season.”
This is a totally rational, healthy-sounding approach to rooting for a sports team. I have no idea why I have so much trouble adopting it myself.