Lofgren’s updated tune needs some more words and Wizards playoff wins if it’s gonna have any chance of replacing the original in the hearts and minds of fans, but I’m in his wheelhouse on this one. I’ve spent my whole life in the DC area and as a kid found the franchise now known as the Wizards a joy to root for. The then-Bullets made the NBA Finals an astounding four times in the 1970s and won more than twice as many playoff series in that one decade alone as the franchise has won in all the decades since (11 to 5, you can look it up). I remember yelling along with fellow underage drunks to “Bullets Fever” on the car radio while we rode back and forth on M Street in Georgetown after wins during the 1978 postseason, and hearing it blasting from everybody else’s car in what was the epicenter of DC’s nightlife back then.
Lofgren, best known for his work with Neil Young’s Crazy Horse and Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, also grew up in the DC area. (His big break came as a teenager when he met Young during a 1969 run headlining at the Cellar Door, a music club on M Street.) Lofgren told me long ago he was an obsessive hoops fan his whole life, and wrote “Bullets Fever” in his basement one night in 1978 after watching the Washington Bullets squeeze out a close win against the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the NBA playoffs. He recorded the song at a nearby studio the next day, playing all the instruments himself, and personally delivered tapes of the song, without his name on them, to radio stations because he was embarrassed to let other rockers in the DC area know he’d written an ode to a sports team.
And the team kept winning, and Lofgren kept adding verses to the song and delivering those tapes, and by the time the Bullets had captured the first and still only championship in the franchise’s history, the song pretty much owned the city. Lofgren, prodded to come out of hiding by Bullets owner Abe Pollin to raise money for charity, eventually released a 45 rpm single of “Bullets Fever” with his name on it.
“I don’t know that I like being known as a guy who writes sports jingles, because I don’t,” Lofgren once told me. “But for all the ‘serious’ songs I’ve written in all the years I’ve been doing this, ‘Bullets Fever’ is the only ‘hit’ that I ever had, the only song that I got to hear myself sing on AM radio while driving in the car, and that was a wonderful experience for me.”
Kevin Grevey, a Kentucky legend and shooting guard on the Bullets’ title team, told me years ago that the only keepsakes he had from that special season were “a ring, a T-shirt, a couple of sore knees...and a cassette of ‘Bullets Fever.’”
The team changed its name from Bullets to Wizards in 1997, and doesn’t mean near as much to me now as it did during the ‘70s. But my elementary-school-aged kids have caught playoff fever this season, and it’s been contagious in the household. We watched Friday’s Wizards-Celtics game at a friend’s house—by far the biggest win the franchise has had in their lives—and on the ride home right after we’d screamed at John Wall’s Hail Mary, we stopped to get gas at a station on Wisconsin Avenue NW just above Georgetown. I told them about how much damn fun I had as a kid after big playoff wins, riding these streets shrieking “Bullets Fever” with friends and fellow fans. They asked me to go to do it again, but I said no, because it was late and because, well, I don’t think anybody goes out in Georgetown anymore.
Lofgren posted his new song the next day. If the Wizards win tonight, the franchise’s first Game 7 win since the 1970s, me and the kids are gonna drive down M Street and sing.