The Capitals were leading their best-of-seven playoff series three games to two. They had largely outplayed the Flyers in that fifth game, but things didn’t break right or bounce right and they lost anyway.
And everyone in D.C. seemed to know that the series might as well be over.
Not that the Caps—the best team in hockey this regular season—would rebound and knock out the scrappy-but-overmatched Flyers team, but that one way or another, two more losses and another ignominious playoff exit were coming, and doom doom doom doomy doom doom doom.
It wasn’t just random fans on Twitter melting down, or crazy-voiced callers on sports talk radio. The giant headline smack in the middle of the Washington Post’s Sports front, spanning a column and a game story, blared “Here they go again.” The column’s subhed talked about “playoff ghosts” while the gamer’s referenced “memories of 2010, ’15.”
Then the Caps came out in Game 6, played a tough game, overcame some questionable calls, maybe got a little bit lucky, and won. Series over, four games to two, and on to Pittsburgh and round 2.
The wheels stayed on. The dumpster remained unlit. The goats remained un-lassoed. And I found myself thinking that maybe it’s time to think about things a little differently.
It sounds ridiculous, coming from me. I’ve become as much of a doom merchant as anyone else in town, probably worse than most. There is no silver lining in which I cannot find a dark cloud. Every win is a fluke and every loss a demonstration of the inevitable crush of history.
But I wasn’t always this way. A decade ago, I used to argue in favor of positivity. I made shirts with “Positivity ‘05” written across the front in a freeware version of the Pigskins’ font. The idea at the time was, hey, let’s enjoy the games and assume that things will break right and maybe they will. And they did, briefly, through an improbable playoff run.
At some point, my mindset changed—drastically. It’d be easy to blame years of losing, or my own experience working for the NFL, or the persistently dreary luck of the local franchises, but I don’t think that’s it. I think that I, like so many other local fans, just found it easier to build this downtrodden identity, as if we looked at Boston’s decade-plus of sporting success and decided that it was entirely due to the fanbase’s fixation on their curse.
And it’s ridiculous. Right now, this very week, the best player in hockey is leading the Caps—who, again, were the best team in this year’s regular season—into the second round of the playoffs. The best player in baseball—with a chance to be one of the best players ever in baseball—has the Nationals off to a hot start while making signature plays even on his days off. The football team, fresh off yet another improbable playoff run, just improbably signed an All-Pro at one of their major positions of need and appears to have a competent human being preparing their approach to this week’s NFL Draft.
Sure, you could look at each of these things and find the negative—the Caps might choke again! The Lerners might not be willing to pay Bryce Harper what he deserves to stay here forever! The local NFL squad is just chasing big names like they’ve always done!
But, seriously, what’s the point of that? What do we gain? The easy answer is that anticipating the hurt lessens the impact when it arrives, but it seems pretty clear that that’s not the case.
Even poor Robert Griffin III is an exemplar of this. He was the Rookie of the Year in 2012 and Washington was the most exciting team to watch. Then it all fell apart, and now that he’s signed in Cleveland, local sports websites are posting derisive articles about how bad he looks in their offseason work. It’s nasty, and it’s spiteful, and for some reason it suddenly just seems like much less fun to me than remembering when he seemed great and hoping that he can approach those heights again somewhere else.
It definitely goes against my natural Eeyore mentality, but I’m going to try something different. I’m going to try to focus on the positives, believe the teams will play to their strengths, and just generally not be so damned dreary all the time.
Except about the Wizards. As long as Ernie Grunfeld is running the show there, they’re doomed.
Follow Matt Terl on Twitter @matt_terl.
Photo by Gary McCabe / Flickr C.C.