I love all my local teams, but I feel a different sort of passion toward the Washington Capitals. I can be critical of every organization and school within driving distance at the drop of a hat. It’s not hard because I’m a logical person. As much as I love sports, I try to view them with some healthy perspective.
Except for the Caps. For me, “healthy perspective” and the Capitals do not go hand in hand. I watch the Capitals like you would watch an toddler play in an alligator pen. Every near-miss and soft goal allowed absolutely eats me up inside. I spend my entire day reassuring myself that nothing matters besides the playoffs. Needless to say, it’s been a rough season.
So, I decided to take a timeout and freeze my Capital fandom just a tad. Call me a bad fan, but a step back is what I needed. It’s a hockey version of a mental health day, except it should probably be a mental health regular season.
This wasn’t a conscious decision, but something that happened organically right after the season-opening seven game winning streak was snapped. Even during the winning streak, it’s clear something was amiss with this squad. I don’t think I was alone in having misgivings in October. The winning streak probably did more harm than good in terms of my affliction. When the team began the season winning ugly, the magnifying glass that hangs over the team grew with each 2-point night. Everyone, and I mean everyone, has been talking about the Capitals with an unfounded measure of authority for the past four seasons or so because the narratives have been so easy to define to the casual fan and packaged so neatly by the national media.
It’s odd to say so, but I think I preferred it when nobody cared what the Capitals did. It’s weird to see a Cap sweater every time I open up TSN, ESPN, Yahoo! or ProHockeyTalk. I get incredibly frustrated and vexed to hear people like Bill Simmons and his friend Joe House talk about Caps hockey. It’s not that others don’t have a right to talk about the team, but frankly it burns me out hearing so much fervent (and sometimes uninformed) debate on something I love so dearly. And this is not to say that a majority of those debaters aren’t at least partially right. I’m sure they are more than partially right on some issues. It doesn’t make it any less annoying to hear. Sure, there are a probably a dozen incredibly smart people and good writers covering the Capitals in both the professional and amateur media ranks. However, it was becoming impossible to separate them from the white noise. To me, it was all just a big mess of anxiety over an entity we are all invested in, yet have no control over.
This is where the first step back occurred for me. A year and a half ago I wrote about the Capital community on Twitter. To do so, I followed literally every Caps fan I could find. It was like being in Verizon Center during the game, only hearing every voice at the exact same volume. Those narratives I talked about? Repeated hundreds of times not each season but each game, by hundreds of fans. If another person referred to the powerplay as “too cute” I was going to throw my Capitals toaster at them. If one more tub of lard who couldn’t skate backwards questioned Ovechkin’s toughness or fitness, I was going to purchase a mail-order bride in their name.
So I unfollowed like a mother. I unfollowed them all. Anyone who had anything to do with the Capitals, including the team mascot Slapshot, got the axe. All he did was “@” me saying “Go Caps!!!!” anyway. After a few day’s of basking in silence, I slowly, one by one, added back the people who know their stuff. Mike Vogel. Jon Press. Katie Carrera. Ted Starkey. Neil Greenberg. Ed Frankovic. I’m not sure why I don’t take this approach to everything in life, but I simply chose to only listen to the smart people. And I began to feel better.
The next step back was tougher. I had to care a little bit less, which is like saying you’re going to cut back on red meat. Sure, I agree with it in principal, but in reality I got an id to feed here. Normally, I watch every frame of all 82 games a season. If I’m out for a game, I DVR it and watch it later even though I know the score and what the important events are going to be. To help me disconnect and get some mental harmony restored, I made a rule: if I record a game, I gotta watch it that night. Once the new day dawns, whatever horror show happened on the ice is strictly the past. I had some family travel around Thanksgiving that forced me to miss three games completely, and combined with this rule, I’ve started to become a person who can live happily with this Capitals team in his life during the regular season.
Travel mercifully allowed me to miss the 7-1 debacle against Toronto completely. Ditto for the OT win against Winnipeg two days later. I also didn’t see the straw that broke Bruce Boudreau’s back, a 5-1 drubbing against Buffalo last Saturday. While the three games I’ve missed this season have been mostly terrible, I don’t think my life would be any worse or I’d feel like an inferior hockey fan if they had all been great wins. I’m secure in my fanhood.
So I sit here after another loss, this time at home to Pittsburgh, pushing the losing streak to three in a row. Of course I watched the game tonight instead of my favorite T.V. show that desperately needs ratings to stay on the air (“Community”). If someone asks, I’ll gladly talk about what I expect out of Dale Hunter, and gleefully recount memories of printing out his picture from AOL to glue onto my binder in sixth grade. If a friend brings it up, I’ll happily trade insights on what Alexander Semin’s future might look with or without the team, and exactly why I named my dog “Sasha.” Heck, if I really have nothing else to do, I’ll even trade emails with fellow Caps scribblers about my theories on the theories about what is limiting Alex Ovechkin’s production (there is literally no room for new theories on this topic, so we must only talk about our theories on the existing theories). But what I won’t do is lose sleep. I won’t try and right the wrongs of the past using my Xbox. I won’t read every Caps article that comes up on my Google Reader. I won’t get mad at people I don’t know for having outlandish opinions about people they don’t know. I won’t stew over statistics and how bad they make the current roster look. I won’t care more than I need to.
At least, I’ll try to do all these “healthy” things. I fear that I’m hopelessly in love with a paramour who will leave me at the alter every spring.
Just admitting that makes me feel a little better.
Dave Gilmore lives in Baltimore and writes “The Win Column” for Baltimore Sports Report. He is currently working on a novel about college football. Find him on Twitter @dave_gilmore or visit his web site at davegilmorejr.com