Friday, March 28, 2008

A Year in 'tism

A year ago this very day, we launched this blog with a modest post with a modest goal: bring a little optimism to the sometimes bleak-seeming DC sports landscape. Mission accomplished? Who knows, but let’s look at some of the positive developments from the last year:

Wizards overcome dastardly evil injuries to still make playoffs and give battle to NBA golden boy and victim of Finals-sweep LaBron James before finally succumbing to the injustices of knee sprains, etc.

The Nationals shock every baseball expert alive, and possibly some dead, by not losing 162 games. We are introduced to The Master, Manny Acta, whose relentless positivity leads to fewer than even 90 losses. It also leads to criminally few votes for Manny as Manger of the Year, Decade, Century, and Existence. He’ll get those yet. Especially the Existence one.

The Redskins overcome more than a couple brutal losses, one very brutal murder, and a couple of coaching botches to run the table towards the end of the season to make the playoffs. They put up a courageous fight against Seattle and their massively clich├ęd 12th man in the wild card round.

The Capitals fail to fold after a 6-14 start as we are introduced to perhaps an apprentice Master in Coach Bruce Boudreau. Hence, while last year we celebrated minor victories like Matt Bradley’s fourth goal, this season we find encouragement in every victory that pushes the team towards the post-season. And regardless of what happens, the NHL knows that, at last, this team is finished re-building and is ready to make a serious run at the Cup, whether it’s this year or next.

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While the accomplishments of our local teams and the ultimate satisfaction that everlasting faith in the established braintrusts and contented superstars has provided in the past 365 have been a driving thrust of our dot-blogspot, there is a more unifying underlying force at work here. We coined the term ‘tism: a chopped up slang term meant not just to create some sort of meme that maybe one day would be said to us by a stranger, but also a philosophy regarding strong, lasting pride and faith in a unified stance behind the teams. Many have decried the state of Washington sports teams, not just their on-field performance, but their overall struggle to gain a foothold in the national sports picture, especially with the wealth and prestige (and unreasonable cost of living) that living in this first-rate metropolis provides.

When you have a city that is known mainly for gathering outlying potential government employees, military personnel and lobbyists from all over the country, it will seem to be impossible to harness a local roots-up sports landscape, when the people that make up much of the city spent their formative years in West Virginia enjoying a team as loathsome as the Penguins. Thus, at pretty much every Washington-area sports game, the representation for the other squad is intense, regardless of the opponent. Never witnessed a die-hard Milwaukee Bucks fan? Come to the Verizon Center, where fans of this hapless team still manage to hoist signs, don jerseys, and, as Bobtimist overheard at Clyde’s before a Bucks-Wizards game, not even know the name of the team the Bucks are playing against, despite buying tickets for the game, attending that team’s stadium, etc. Games against teams from Philadelphia, New York, Pittsburgh, or media darling-types (Cowboys, Raiders, Lakers) are often a fifty-fifty toss up as to who actually possesses a crowd advantage. The Wizards recently hosted a Lithuanian team in a preseason game, and the strangely uniformed team from Eastern Europe drew a crowd that was doubly vocal and raucous than any of the attending Washingtonians.

But it hasn’t just been the transplanted nature of the city that has hampered these teams and the potential fanbases that have lied dormant for all but one burgundy and gold juggernaut. Previous transgressions of mismanaging owners, managers, and coaches, and often, just plain bad luck have made for years of ineptitude and indifference, with only gasps of mediocrity that kept long-time supporters mumbling nonsense like “we are cursed” to themselves when not keeping their fingers clenched together in a crossed position. However, recent years have shown a shift from old-guard team owners to a new generation of locally-raised revenue hounds who see a potential in this large, moneyed area for sports legacies.

Abe Pollin’s legacy has always been tough to gauge, as he ran his teams like lovable mom-and-pop operations, who during the 70’s-heyday-era of the Bullets, were able to make noise as the processes of competitive balance earned them championship-level building blocks. Unfortunately, Pollin’s business model couldn’t properly apply to the expanding nature of the sports world and thus, his teams had taken to suffering. Old hands remained constantly involved in operations despite an obvious lack of ability, and once the problems of poor drafts and poorer trades beset themselves, the Bullets/Wizards frankly, sucked. They even took to a stunt Michael Jordan hiring that included a disastrous comeback attempt in a desperate plea for relevance.

Pollin’s Capitals suffered through some awful formative years before David Poile fashioned a team of consistent competitiveness and constant collapses. New owner Ted Leonsis and General Manager George McPhee inherited that legacy of solid play until a series of forward-thinking free agent and trade moves went bust, leaving the team without its once venerable fanbase, save a few very vocal, frustrated online mavericks.

Washington baseball had either meant travelling up to Baltimore to watch their problematic team, or regaling in the World Series that ended up in Minnesota. To remedy this, and the league’s barren Canadian market, owners of the Expos handed the region it’s old withering, poorly operated baseball write-off. But once the euphoria of district baseball wore off, more ugly sports was to be seen, as the newly-dubbed Nationals had to weed out the awful contracts, barren minor league system and general lack of infrastructure that belied a team operated by 31 other baseball owners in tandem just three years ago.

These outlying sporting problems often affected the team that is cited as the only one that matters in the area. Thus, when the Redskins experienced their mild brushes with success, followed by their multi-million dollar final nudges towards a championship, and the crushing demises that followed after, these potently numbered fans would turn their attentions towards negativity and indifference. Thus, tism.

It takes more than just a pair of visionary minds to see that the machinations of these four franchises were heading in a positive direction after being historically weak and recently wretched. We ultimately saw that after the Wizards turned their operations over to a basketball-minded, talent-culling understander like Ernie Grunfeld, the team would be in great shape, even if they suffered some very traumatic season endings. We understood how improbable having a talent as world-defying as Alex Ovechkin’s was to the Capitals, and we knew that with this, once-in-a-lifetime piece of the puzzle in place (in addition to some other great draft picks), the Caps would return to relevance. We ultimately knew the organic growth of the Nationals through shrewd late-season dealings, unbelievable amateur drafts, a jewel of a new ballpark, and a brilliant manager would provide a contender for years to come. We understood the ultimate goals of the Redskins in their quest to quench the championship-starved, 90-something-thousand+ season ticket holders, and we saw a group of players that defied the recent fly-by-night tradition of the skins and remained “core.” We needed to let the people know these things, and that is why we possess, and bestowed this Kool-Aide ingesting, blindly-homeristic faith philosophy deemed ‘tism to you all.

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Now for a quick look back at some of our favorite postings:

The oft-referenced anatomy of a knee-sprain post.

The first of several Manny Acta Optimists of the Week: the since-left-for-personal-reasons Mitchell Page

Last year's prophetic DCO Wizards playoff preview

A peek into Brendan and Etan Thomas's passionate off-season date

The first meeting with the Master

Finding the good in a 15-1 Nats loss

Manny's Happy Place

That time we filled in for the bog before the post editors put the kibosh on it

The Nats-not-losing-100-games celebration

The Peter King important stat counter

Predicting a Redskins Superbowl, twice

The Ronnie

Ovie's new contract

Our mocked (yet eerily fruitioning) NHL post season awards predictions

The Ted Leonsis-approved Nats-Caps parallel victoriousness post

1 comment:

Pryme said...

I know I'm a happier sports fan for having you guys around. Keep it up!