Freshmen, consider yourself lucky that you weren’t around last year. In recent memory, following D.C. sports has been nothing short of self-flagellation. Despite being one of the only cities in the country to have a professional team in all four major sports, the District was a laughingstock on the national sports scene. The Redskins finished in the cellar of the NFC East. Gilbert Arenas and the Washington Wizards took the shoot around to a whole new level. The alleged best team in hockey, the Washington Capitals became the first top seed in NHL history to lose to a No. 8 seed after a taking a 3-1 series lead in the first round in the playoffs. The Nationals are, well, the Nationals. And the Hoyas lost in the first round of the NCAA playoffs to No. 14 Ohio. While the memory of last year still hangs over the Nation’s capital, a glimmer of hope is actually illuminating the city. Things won’t brighten immediately, but for the first time in a while, D.C. sports are looking up.
The Redskins are hoping that a Philadelphia cast-off can do what he failed to do in the City of Brotherly Love: win a Super Bowl. Despite the fact that Donovan McNabb is a Syracuse graduate, it’s hard not to root for him. In his past, he was booed, jeered, and the object of every Eagles fan’s scorn for the majority of his tenure in Philly—despite going 73-39 with one Super Bowl appearance in his 10 years with the Eagles. And with Mike Shanahan taking over the coaching reigns from the much-criticized Jim Zorn, the Skins have two fresh faces that one prays will erase the memory of the recent past. Football fans in the nation’s capital can hope that Shanahan can once again take an older, elite quarterback and win the Super Bowl, as he did 12 years ago with John Elway.
On the other side of town, a national phenomenon is going to be dancing his way into D.C. this season. John Wall, drafted first overall by the Wizards out of Kentucky, is bringing his electric playmaking ability, up-tempo-style, and YouTube-sensation dance move to the troubled Wizards franchise. When the Wizards learned they would be awarded Wall in the NBA lottery, the team sold thousands of tickets in mere hours. And he’s not the only magician in the organization. Georgetown grad Ted Leonsis is entering his first season as the team’s owner, and, if the way he turned the Capitals around is any indication, the Wizards will be contenders a couple of years down the road. After last year’s debacle and the toxic team atmosphere, Leonsis’ optimistic attitude and fun culture is just what the team needs.
In both 2008 and 2009, the Nationals finished with the worst record in the MLB, highlighting the organization’s lack of improvement and promise. The worst team in Major League Baseball every year has been awarded the number one draft pick in next year’s amateur draft. And their hopelessness also brought them the best pitching prospect in history, Stephen Strasburg, as well as the best high school hitting prospect ever, Bryce Harper. Strasburg has been electrifying in his major league infancy, but is currently ailing. Harper is two or three years away from the Big Show but his 500-foot home runs in junior college and high school have the Nationals thinking big. The presence of both is the most exciting thing that has happened to the Nationals organization since they moved to D.C.
Realistically, the Redskins, Wizards, and the Nationals are a couple of years away from making serious plays for championships. But they are nowhere near the incompetent bunch that beleaguered the city last year. So, as we ring in the new school year, the black cloud that hangs over the District’s sports scene has turned a lighter shade of gray.