Because City Paper doesn’t use the local NFL team’s name, and because I find the style-guide-approved “Pigskins” substitute pretty silly, I tend to try to find other ways to refer to the local professional football franchise, such as “the local professional football franchise.”
But that’s neither fair nor precise. The local Arena Football League team, newly christened the Washington Valor, is professional. But even before it showed up, there was another professional football team in town, wearing a version of the burgundy and gold… and actually winning playoff games.
The D.C. Divas went undefeated through the 2015 season and postseason, ultimately beating the Dallas Elite to claim the Women’s Football Alliance championship. The 2016 season hasn’t been quite as impressive, as the team has only won almost all its games as it heads into its second straight championship. Its only loss was to the Elite, in the season opener, and the teams play again for the championship on Saturday.
Veteran Divas’ QB Allyson Hamlin stepped up her performance in the postseason, completing 67 percent of her passes for 331 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions. Given that she’s 39, these are the sort of late-career heroics that would inspire long, nauseating sonnets by ESPN’s talking heads—if, y’know, it were being done by a Peyton Manning or a Brett Favre.
I’d like to excoriate the general sports-watching public for ignoring this impressive, sustained period of dominance from a local team. I’d like to point out that maybe when we panic about the endless curse on D.C. sports, we should pay more attention to things like this. I’d like to triumphantly hold up the Divas as a cure for the relentless self-loathing and misery for which local fans are so often known.
But I can’t really do any of that, because I’ve never seen them play myself. And I really have no explanation for why.
By all accounts, this should be right in my wheelhouse: I like smaller-scale sporting events, where I can enjoy the game without the relentless are-you-not-entertained!? flop sweat you get at the major league level. I have a daughter who is mildly interested in men’s pro sports but will always make time to watch if there’s a women’s game on. I like D.C. sports, and I like football, and I also like teams that win consistently and largely without drama, and it’s been tough to find that combination in this town for the last decade or so.
So why don’t I watch?
Part of it is the weird consensus reality of sports. The example I always fall back on are NFL preseason games, which we have all agreed are “meaningless” in contrast to regular season games, which we all know are “meaningful.” But it scales up to all sports. NFL football, MLB baseball, NBA basketball, NHL hockey, top-level college sports… these are “real sports.” Golf and tennis are “real” if the right people are playing. Horse racing is real three times a year, even though I imagine there is actually very little concrete difference between the horses in those three races and the thousands of other ponies that are run year-round. So there’s that.
Part of it, though, makes me think about Ghostbusters.
A primer, for those of you lucky enough not to live on social media: When a Ghostbusters remake was announced with women in the lead roles, a bunch of whiny, scared, insecure males started making loud, frightened shrieking noises, which continued through the entire production and into the opening weekend. I do not agree with those people, at all. I think they are pretty much the worst.
But I can’t help but notice: I follow the local NFL squad closely. I plan to attend at least a couple of Valor games as soon as the team hits town. I have never seen the Divas. And, when I’m being honest with myself, I am terrified that somehow, for some reason, I’m subconsciously acting on the same horrible, Ghostbusters-y idea that women’s football isn’t “real” football.
I don’t consciously think that way. I don’t want to think that way. But I really can’t shake the feeling that the main difference between the Divas and the Valor isn’t that one team plays indoors.
There’s only one thing I can do about it at this point. It’s not much, and I can—and plan to—try to do more next season. But the Divas’ last game this year is Saturday’s championship. It’s in Pittsburgh, too far for me to attend on short notice, but it is being streamed on ESPN3. So what I will do is simple: I’m going to watch it, and I’m going to root for the D.C. squad to win the championship. Because that’s what I’d do for a “real” football game, and that’s what this is.
Follow Matt Terl on Twitter @Matt_Terl.