June and July are always a dead time in the sports calendar. Three of the big four sports are dormant (or as close to it as they get), and the fourth is mired in the middle of its interminable season. If you’re more a sports fan than a baseball fan (and you don’t take solace in the WNBA or arena football), this stretch is always rough.
But this year, in this town, it’s particularly dreadful.
Most of the time, when you think of a sports curse, you think of a city—itself often crumbling or destitute—with a whole bunch of terrible, losing sports teams, doomed for eternity to watch mediocre players performing poorly. But things are different here. We can’t even be cursed properly.
The Nationals are comfortably perched in first place in their division (which, admittedly, is having a down year). The team is blessed with at least three top-tier marquee players (Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer) and has several other rising stars. They’re fun to watch, play in a clean, new, pleasant (if soulless) stadium, and seem like they could make some noise in the postseason.
And yet the franchise’s future is also covered with a persistent fug of doom: The bullpen is horrific this year, largely because the team ownership apparently declined to put down the cash a top-notch closer would require. And that same parsimony has made Harper’s departure seem almost inevitable, which makes rooting for him bittersweet and occasionally frustrating.
The Wizards feature an incandescent talent in John Wall, with Bradley Beal and Otto Porter being excellent young players maybe a tier down. The team overachieved last year, washed out of the playoffs maybe a little earlier than fans would’ve hoped … and yet its future is limited by two factors: First, it lacks roster flexibility, significant draft picks, or a general manager who would be able to make effective use of either. Second, even if it had those things, the dominance of the Golden State Warriors, and to a more tenuous extent the Cleveland Cavaliers, puts a firm ceiling on how much the Wizards could even hope for.
The Capitals feature one of the NHL’s all-time greats in Alex Ovechkin, and the team routinely puts a watchable, fun, winning regular season product on the ice. But there is a genuine feeling of stagnation around the team—a sense that this roster has given all it can and that it hasn’t made a difference, a sense that the head coach is doomed (and overmatched), and, finally, that the window of possibility is closed, if it was ever truly open. And that’s not even considering the issues that plague hockey in general—that one bad bounce and two bad calls can decide playoff games.
The football team may be the best off of the bunch, but it’s bogged down in another year of will-they-or-won’t-they contract negotiations with quarterback Kirk Cousins.
It feels impossible to stay as engaged as I used to be—and as I would like to be. Brent, who writes about the football team for his Burgundy Blog (and prefers not to use his last name), seems without such problems. He analyzes the bottom of the bottom of the bottom of the roster, watches morning press conferences announcing new titles in the personnel department, and frantically tweets about all of it.
It’s a level of engagement that seems totally distant to me right now, but Brent sees it as inevitable. “I still look, because honestly, I cannot look away,” he says. “If I care about how the game works, I have to care about the smallest details, because they matter. Often a very thin margin separates success from failure.”
In essence, Brent staves off potential ennui by becoming even more committed to following, analyzing, and talking about the team. “If I wasn’t going balls to the wall, I would probably quit outright,” he says.
As nearly every area team makes it more difficult to drum up that level of interest—and as not every fan has Brent’s near-pathological intensity—that sentiment is exactly what should have ownership and the leagues worried.