There hadn’t been a bigger night for scoreboard watching in Washington, D.C., since at least, well, the last election night.
All in a matter of minutes, the final buzzer sounded in Toronto with the Wizards up big over the Raptors in their first-round playoff game, Nicklas Backstrom of the Capitals put in a skate-off wrister at Nassau Coliseum to beat the Islanders and even up their Stanley Cup series, and Yunel Escobar homered in extra innings as the Nationals topped the St. Louis Cardinals at home.
This was fun and rare stuff for a fan base that researchers have determined is one of America’s most beaten-down. The Wizards, née Bullets, made the NBA Finals four times in the 1970s and by the end of the decade they had a theme song hailing their consistently winning ways—”Bullets fever, it happens to me every year!” bellowed Nils Lofgren.
But that fever broke early on in the subsequent four non-title-sniffing decades, and you don’t have to be Jimmy Carter to recognize the malaise that has long surrounded the franchise among the locals. The still Stanley Cup-less Capitals have a history of OT playoff games with the Islanders, but it’s only heartbreaking (Pat Lafontaine’s 1987 winner came from about the exact same spot on the ice as Backstrom’s). Seeing Nationals closer Drew Storen blow a lead against the St. Louis Cardinals in the 9th inning rekindled every fan’s soul-crushingest memory. ’Round midnight last night, all those negative memories were back-burnered.
A fellow geezer and friend emailed me shortly after the hometown trifecta to say how drained and wonderful it all felt. We went back and forth about hearing everybody on M Street in Georgetown singing “Bullets Fever” from their cars after playoff wins back in the day. That didn’t seem as long ago as it usually does.
Photo by Getty