Night Terrors and Day Drinking: The Self Inflicted Trauma of Being a DC Sports Fan Part 7
The Wizards in short order had gone from perineal playoff team to laughing stock quicker than anyone imagined possible. The big three were still together but there was hardly a team around them, and nothing causes dissention in locker rooms faster than failing to live up to expectations. In an effort to recapture the magic of previous season GM Ernie Grunfield traded three players and the fifth overall pick to the Minnesota Timber Wolves for Randy Foye and Mike Miller. It was an act of desperation and worked as well as an act of desperation should. With the team crumbling and tumbling down the standings and the weight of expectations crushing any team unity that might remain Javaris Crittenton and Gilbert Arenas got into an argument over a card game. Arenas essentially stole $1,100.00 of Crittenton’s money and refused to give it back. The problem was Gilbert Arenas fancied himself a prankster but didn’t quite know how pranks worked and so he thought he and Crittenton were having a rib and Crittenton felt his money had been stolen. Arenas and Crittenton argued for the entire flight home from a December 19 loss to the Phoenix Suns. Before parting on that evening Arenas threatened Crittenton by saying he plays with guns and that he’d see him at practice.
That practice took place on December 21, the same day as the swinging gate play. When Gilbert Arenas arrived to practice he set up four guns in front of his locker and when Crittenton arrived he offered for him to choose one. Crittenton informed Arenas he didn’t need one of his guns and produced his own loaded gun and pointed it at Arenas. Caron Butler managed to talk Crittenton down but the damage had been done and the fun and laughter of the Gilbert Arenas era came to a screeching halt. There is a small amount of things that can be worse than guns in the locker room but think about all the sadness and misery of being a DC sports fan and then think about that incident. None of Dan Snyder’s bumbling interference or the combined heartbreak of the Capitals and Nationals continually getting close but never overcoming playoff series can be worse than guns in the locker room. That being said the 2009-2010 Washington Capitals were about to experience their worst and most embarrassing playoff loss to put a real cap on what has to be described as the worst couple seasons in DC sports fandom.
The 2007-2008 Caps run to a division championship was unexpected and while their early playoff exit was disappointing it seemed to be an indicator of good things to come, and then the next season they made it one round further and lost to the eventual Stanley Cup Champions. And as the Capitals mowed through the regular season in route to the best record in the sport and their first ever President’s Trophy you had to feel that these playoffs were going to be different. It can’t be overstated how good this team was. Alexander Ovechkin was the best player on the planet and the Capitals were so deep on offense their fourth line was better than many team’s first line. They scored 318 goals that season. Second place scored 272. They were nearly 50 goals or an extra Alexander Ovechkin better than the next best scoring team. Certainly they couldn’t be stopped in the playoffs by an eighth seed and a back-up goaltender.
The Capitals lost the first game of the series 3-2 in overtime. Then they laid the lumber to the Canadians and caused them to switch between Jaroslav Halak and Carey Price. It didn’t matter who was in goal. The Capitals won 6-5, 5-1, 6-3. The powerhouse offense of the regular season had come to play, and then Jaroslav Halak found another gear. He got the starting nod in the last three games of the series. The Capitals only had to win one, but a team that hadn’t scored less than five goals in their last three games scored three for the rest of the series. They couldn’t get a puck past Halak to save their lives and the most potent offense of the NHL was sent packing in the first round.
His was the true beginning of playoff disappointment for Washington DC. The Capitals flashy play had enraptured the city and early exits from the previous two playoffs had not damped spirits this was different. This was a team meant for greatness. They were unquestionably the best team in the NHL during the regular season with the most high powered offense and the greatest goal scorer of a generation and they were finished by an eighth seed and a back-up goalie that they had down 3-1. They had the series won and the rug was pulled out from under them.
The 2010 Washington Nationals were back to being a mediocre team and just regular bad instead of 100 losses and abysmally awful. Mike Shanahan was in his first season as Redskins head coach and the Albert Haynesworth debacle was about to get an even more embarrassing second chapter. The Capitals were once again a powerhouse but headed for an early playoff exit. And the Wizards had just drafted their franchise savior in John Wall. For at least three franchises things were looking good. The Wizards and Nationals were on the upswing and the Capitals were holding steady at what they were. There was still hope they might breakthrough at some point but the way playoff victory was snatched away by Halak had left a sour taste in a lot of mouths. It was the first real playoff gut shot. Gilbert Arenas’ missed free throws was a stinging jab that could be shook off. This was a lethal hook to the body that bruised ribs and sent DC sports fans to the canvas, but it wasn’t a knockout blow. You could still say, “That’s how the playoffs go. It was just a hot goalie. It’s happened to other teams before too.”
Mike Shanahan’s tenure in Washington was going to start with a feud. Albert Haynesworth was no going to listen, he wasn’t going to play the 3-4, and he wasn’t going to get in shape. Shanahan devised a fitness test that Haynesworth had to pass in order to play, and reporter after non-athletic reporter took the test and passed. Eventually Haynesworth passed the test and was able to play, but he wasn’t going to. What he was going to do was lay on the field as Mike Vick and the Eagles dominated, decimated, and destroyed the Washington Redskins. I think Jim Vance summed up Haynesworth’s time in Washington perfectly when he said, “Jesus Christ, that’s disgusting. Let’s move on.”