City Paper is not for tourists
For my column this week I traveled back to the darkest and funniest era in the history of the Washington Capitals: The Summer of ’82.
Given how everything’s coming up cherry blossoms for the Caps this season, it’s hard to imagine the franchise being in the near-death state it was back then.
But the team headed into the 1982 offseason having not made the playoffs for the eighth straight year — meaning the Capitals had yet to play a single postseason game in their history — at a time when 16 of 21 NHL teams qualified for the playoffs each season.
And then Abe Pollin sort of lost his mind.
The previous decade had been an amazing one for Pollin as a basketball owner, with his Bullets having made the NBA Finals an amazing four times.
But nobody was showing up to watch the Caps lose. So Pollin put his hockey team up for sale, and handed out all sorts of ultimatums to fans and local businesses and local government about tax breaks and season ticket sales, and threatened that if his demands weren’t met, this town would never see the Caps alive again.
It’s a sign of how much goodwill Pollin had built up around here from basketball that everybody didn’t just tell him to shut up and leave and take his hockey team with him.
But, instead, fans and the business community rallied around an organized effort called Save the Caps. Steve Mehlman, a superfan, was one of the organizers and leaders of that campaign.
My favorite tidbit: The Capitals were so pitiful at this point in their history that the DC chapter of the Special Olympics even earmarked donations from the Summer of ’82 to Caps tickets in hopes of changing Pollin’s mind.
Pollin, obviously, eventually cooled off, and the Caps didn’t leave.
And it worked out well for him: At the height of the Save the Caps effort, Pollin had put the franchise up for sale for just $7.5 million.
But he kept the squad until 1999, when he sold to Ted Leonsis for…$85 million.
Abe should send Mehlman a few quid…