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Jennifer Fleming still vividly remembers that rainy Wednesday Feb. 2 morning in 1983, when she and her younger sister, Emily, boarded a Metro train in Vienna with their father and several other friends to head downtown for a victory parade. It was three days after Washington’s rousing 27-17 victory over the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl XVII.
A fifth grader living in Northern Virginia, she would turn ten 13 days later. But on that morning, she and more than a half-million others from D.C. and all around the beltway showed up to pay homage to Washington’s first NFL championship team since 1942.
“I will always remember everyone on that train wearing burgundy and gold and singing ‘Hail to the Redskins’ the whole trip,” she says. “It was just crazy.”
And now, 35 years later, Washington Capitals craziness has reigned all around the Washington area ever since the team’s equally riveting 4-3 victory over the Las Vegas Golden Knights last Thursday night in Nevada. That road triumph produced the franchise’s first Stanley Cup title since it joined the National Hockey League in 1974.
From the celebration on the streets around the Capital One Arena that night to thousands more fans returning to downtown Washington for the town’s first sports victory parade since the local professional football team prevailed in the 1992 Super Bowl, it’s been a goosebump-inducing ride over the last few days for the Capitals and their long-suffering fans.
It’s a good thing the current occupant of the White House is in Singapore right now, the better to avoid any comparison between the size of his inaugural parade to that of the Capitals, or any other Washington franchise, for that matter.And as the father who took young Jennifer and Emily to that Super Bowl celebration in 1983, I’m hesitant to make any judgement calls on best ever or biggest myself.
I will admit, however, that it’s hard to imagine that any victory parade in our town’s history, including this week’s Capitals coronation, could match the sheer joy I also recall that day 35 years ago. In fact, I’d call 1983 a dead heat with another memorable victory parade I also witnessed following Washington’s dismantling of the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXII on Jan. 31, 1988.
In 1983, more than 500,000 literally crushed together along Constitution Avenue to welcome home the champions. It wasn’t so much a parade as it was a small convoy—two Metro buses loaded with players, coaches, and team executives with a police escort—making its way the 12 blocks from the District Building to Third Street, NW.
“The parade’s start was delayed by surging crowds that blocked the route, frantically trying to glimpse the two Metro buses carrying the town’s triumphant football team,” read the account in the next day’s editions of The Washington Post. “Fans jumped up and down, climbed trees and shimmied up traffic lights, while police acknowledged they could not control the tumultuous celebration.
“They squealed like hogs and whooped like Indians. They jumped up together in the middle of Constitution Avenue and slapped hands. They stole kisses from the Redskinettes. And despite the cold rain, they said it was all worth it.”
In other words, crazy.
Before the parade, the team’s head coach, Joe Gibbs, looked out over a sea of umbrellas as he addressed the crowd in front of the District Building. “No other fans in the world would come out on a day like this except in Washington, D.C.,” Gibbs said. “Each one of you has a smallpiece of this trophy today.”
Five years later, there was more of the same. This time the rain held off on a raw, cold, dry morning, and police estimated more than 600,000 turned out for the parade along he exact same route as the 1983 event.
“Within a few exceptions, the crowd was powerfully good-natured, cheering at speeches they could not hear, waving to players (again in Metro buses) they could not see.” The Post reported. “They wore every manner of Redskins paraphernalia. There were painted faces, Indian headdresses and even folks in gorilla and chicken suits.”
In other words, more craziness.
Even the late, great Post sports columnist, Shirley Povich, was mesmerized by what he saw that day. And he had a little bit of historical perspective, because he had also witnessed the victory parade when the 1924 Washington Senators won the World Series against the New York Giants.
“Old folks will remember the parade up Pennsylvania Avenue that was so big and so exciting,” Povich, then an octogenarian himself, wrote in 1988. “And there is a memory, too, of the exultant crew riding the Cherrydale, Va. Hook and Ladder Company float and flaunting the banner ‘Let Cherrydale Burn.’”
And now, thanks to the Washington Capitals, once again the nation’s capital is going crazy after all these years.