Being a D.C. sports fan is a matter of playing constant defense. If the Washington region were a football team it would showcase strictly linebackers and cornerbacks out of necessity to combat the onslaught of transplanted sports fans who move here from all corners of the country, toting their hometown colors and spewing their hometown trash talk.
So what a euphorically foreign feeling it was to march into Pittsburgh last Saturday for the Winter Classic and march out with a win for D.C.s only major winning team, the Washington Capitals.
From the beginning of the trip to Pittsburgh, it seemed like destiny that those putrid Penguins, the Caps biggest rival, would fall in front of millions of Americans watching from Heinz Field and at home. After all, the Caps were due for a win on a national stage if not because of the their embarrassing loss to Montreal in the playoffs last year that ended the season, then because the HBO documentary series, Road to the NHL Winter Classic, painted Alex Ovechkin and company as the devil and Sidney Crosby and the Pens as angelic infallibles just manifesting their Hockey God-given destiny.
When three close friends and I parked our Jeep with Virginia tags to tailgate, there was no denying we were ready. Never mind the legion of Penguins supporters holding down the Porta Potty section, making a trip to the bathroom like running the gauntlet. Or the family of Crosby-doting fans that parked its van right next to us and piled out like a militia. One kid he couldnt have been older than 6 glared at us hatefully for the duration, as only children of Crosbys dark army are taught.
We werent fazed. For once in a long while, a D.C. sports team was going to win, because there was no way we would have travelled 250 miles to see a loss.
The atmosphere inside Heinz Field was unmatched. I once saw Ovechkin and Crosby score a hat trick each at Verizon Center in game two of a playoff series, and upon entering through the gates into the sea of red, black and oh-so-unintimidating periwinkle Penguin blue, I knew this would outdo that unbelievable six-goal night.
We had endured some absurd verbal abuse of the friendly and ignorantly unfriendly brand since we arrived in the Steel City. And we had dished some zingers out ourselves about the Caps dominance, knowing in the back of our minds that if we lost, we would instantly become liars. But once unsung forward Eric Fehr led the way to a Caps victory with two goals in the 3-1 win, there was no question we were in the right.
This is the moment every D.C. fan waits for: offense. No longer were we defending our fandom, but proudly unleashing the fury on haters who so often fill FedEx Field and the Phone Booth with bumblebee colored jerseys and terrible towels (can you think of a less intimidating prop?).
As we celebrated in the parking lot after the game, the Dark Army walked by in droves, some quiet, as it should have been, and some still talking trash, incomprehensibly.
Hey, Caps fans! Go home and take your excuse for a hockey team with you!
Thanks for being such gracious hosts! my friend Will responded.
Um, well, um, how many Stanley cups do you have?
None. How many games have you won today? my friend Lou chimed back.
We realized they could say nothing to take that win away from D.C. We were vindicated. And more importantly for D.C. sports fans, we no longer have to relegate our fandom to defense.