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Local sports television and radio host Grant Paulsen has been covering D.C. sports in some capacity for the last 15 years—20 years if you count his experiences as a precocious kid reporter—and he can’t remember ever having this much fun on the job. Not when quarterback Robert Griffin IIIwas carrying the football team to the playoffs in 2012. Not even when the Washington Nationals were playing in the MLB playoffs in recent years.
The events unfolding in the championship-starved city is not only an exciting and unexpected experience for D.C. sports fans, but also for some of the long-time journalists who have covered the teams. With the Washington Capitals up 3-1 in the best-of-seven Stanley Cup Final against the Vegas Golden Knights, Washington could have its first championship in one of the big four professional sports leagues since 1992 as early as Thursday night. And many of the city’s sports media members are working overtime and enjoying the collective rush that hasn’t been felt in decades.
“It’s a gift in so many ways,” Paulsen says. “Because people care more about what you’re saying. People want to hear more of you talking. People like what you are saying. It’s all positive. Everyone’s really happy and there’s a romantic feel to it. There really is. … People cannot get enough of the coverage and when you’re providing some of that coverage, it’s a thrill.”
Ben Volin, the senior NFL writer for the Boston Globe understands that feeling. Since joining the newspaper in 2013, he has covered five of the Patriots’ seven straight AFC Championship Game appearances and two Super Bowl victories.
The Montgomery County native, who grew up cheering for D.C. teams, has also covered losing teams before. Prior to the Globe, Volin wrote about the struggling Miami Dolphins for the Palm Beach Post. Their season would end far before the Patriots had finished playing. Covering Super Bowl contenders must be so much harder, Volin’s friends would tell him.
“My reply is that a playoff run is way easier to cover,” he says. “The alternative of who’s getting hired, who’s going to be the head coach or general manager, which quarterback is the team going to draft, that stuff is way harder than covering a playoff run. …Generally [playoffs are] a happy time, the fans are into it, they’re reading you more and the stakes are bigger. It’s a treat at the end to cover a playoff team.”
Washington Post sports columnist Thomas Boswell understands the highs and lows of sports in Washington as well as any media member in the city. When Boswell was growing up in D.C., Washington professional sports went several decades without a championship team. The Bullets would end the drought by winning the NBA Finals in 1978.
He has seen numerous playoff heartbreaks, particularly with the Capitals, and over time got tired of writing the same old narrative.
“No matter how objective you are or how distanced you are—and you want to be, while still passionate about the sport itself—there is a tendency to not want to see the same story repeat so much,” he says. “I looked at the poor Caps, poor suffering Capitals and it made no sense kicking them while they’re down. … That story has gotten so old. It’s just been a joy to be able to write about something different.”
When the Capitals knocked the two-time defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins out of the playoffs in the second round last month, the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette’s Penguins beat reporter Jason Mackey could finally take a breath and relax. For weeks he was traveling back and forth between cities, operating on short sleep and missed being able to spend more time with his wife and 4-year-old son.
But once the playoffs were over, he found himself longing for the day-to-day grind he experienced while covering the Penguins’ 2017 Stanley Cup run.
“It is a ton more work, but it’s fun work,” Mackey says. “I loved everything about it. I found it extremely exciting, rewarding. Your personal time goes completely out the window but it’s all pretty good problems to have. I loved how much the fans are engaged. If you like writing about things people are interested in there’s no better time than a Stanley Cup Final run. It was the most rewarding work that I’ve done in this field.”
June is typically a “pretty chill” time in the sports calendar in D.C., WJLA sports anchor Erin Hawksworthsays. But with the Capitals still playing and the MLB All-Star Game and the local golf and tennis tournaments around the corner, Hawksworth is putting in more hours on air and getting less sleep than any time since she arrived in D.C. three years ago. But she doesn’t mind—this is the reason she got into the business.
“Personally, as a reporter, I want to be around the big moments,” she says. “They may not get back to this level in my career. I want to be around the team as much as I can. It’s very special to me. … We still have a lot of work ahead of us. You never know what could be happening, but we know there’s still work to do. A lot of it is adrenaline. I only got five hours of sleep, but this is something we’re going to remember for the rest of our lives.”
In 1998, the last time the Capitals made the Stanley Cup Final, Paulsen was a sports-obsessed 10-year-old watching the games in his bedroom at his home in King George County, Virginia. The local football team had won the Super Bowl six years prior. Paulsen had no idea he would wait 20 years to see another major D.C. sports team vie for a title.
The fleeting nature of sports, and what it means for people like him, is not lost on Paulsen, a mid-day host for sports radio station 106.7 The Fan. He knows not to take any of the playoff victories for granted.
“When you are on the air and you are lucky enough to be on in times of winning, you are going to be viewed from a more favorable light,” he says. “You become synonymous with good times. When you look back at great legendary broadcasters, many of them were at the top of their games when the teams were winning. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. … I’m very lucky to be doing this right here and right now.”
Photo by Keith Allison on Flickr, used under the Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0 license.