Welcome to Four Down Territory! This is a space where I’ll write about four things in professional sports every Saturday. Whether it’s the four greatest moments or the four worst blunders or anything in between, the only rule is that I’ll discuss four things. In my very first installment, I’ll be outlining the finest calls provided to us by local D.C. commentators. Hope you enjoy!
“There’s the snap, hand to Riggins, good hole! He’s got the first down at the 40, he’s gone! 35, the 30, the 20, he’s gone! He’s gone! Touchdown, Washington Redskins! Holy cow, what a play. 42 yard touchdown run on fourth and a foot.” ~Frank Herzog
They used to say that the Washington Redskins were the only thing that unites this town amid all the bickering and political squabbling. Back when they were not owned by a penny-pinching bigoted misogynist, they consistently fielded teams that were Super Bowl contenders. The voice of those teams was Frank Herzog, who worked in the sports department at local radio station WTOP as well as calling the games. Herzog was a beloved play-by-play commentator who covered the games in an objective way yet still managed to make them exciting. His signature was exclaiming “Touchdown, Washington Redskins!”, and that’s when you knew we were on our way. This call was his finest yet. In Super Bowl XVII, Washington was down by 4, and the drive had stalled on the 43 yard line with fourth and a yard to go. These were the Washington Redskins. Their identity was the Hogs, the vaunted offensive line that made grown men dress like female pigs. They played power football, running through the teeth of the defense with John Riggins, the Diesel. At this moment, it was no different. Washington had run on fourth and one all year, and in the biggest moment of the season, they danced with the one that brought them. Herzog captured this drama perfectly, and his call helped to make Riggins’ touchdown run one of the most iconic moments in Super Bowl history. The classic call of “He’s gone! He’s gone!” with the sound of a diesel horn in the background will live forever, and it is the perfect soundtrack for a rugged, powerful run from John Riggins.
“Can Toronto stun the Wizards again like they did last year? 1.2 seconds remain, down by 3. Parker. NOOOOO!!!! It’s not possible! But he did it! It is not possible but he did it again! Anthony Parker, who went 3 of 15 from the field in this game, has hit a three-pointer to tie it at the buzzer!” ~Steve Buckhantz
When I first sat down to write this article, I wanted each moment to fulfill two requirements: I wanted the play to be a good one for the Washington team because of my well-documented homerism, and I wanted the call to come from a radio announcer. This call doesn’t meet either requirement. In this case, I felt it was necessary to showcase Steve Buckhantz. Recently inducted into the D.C. Sports Hall of Fame, Buck has been the television voice of Wizards basketball for 22 years. His signature lines include “Dagger!” and “No! It’s not possible!”, and these lines evoke deep emotions for the Washington faithful. In a move that angered myself and other Wizards fans, NBC Sports Washington decided not to pick up Buck’s third-year option, leaving his future as the Wizards’ play-by-play commentator in doubt. I can’t imagine anyone better than Steve Buckhantz to call the Wizards games. Born in Arlington, Virginia, he grew up rooting for the Bullets. He attended James Madison University, and nearly everything about him screams D.C. I want to share his finest call in this space so that others who read this column might know about Buck’s legend. This play occurred in a regular-season game, and it certainly went against the Wizards. Anthony Parker of Toronto connected on a game-tying three-pointer at the buzzer, sending the game into overtime. Buck’s distraught was palpable, yet he announced it in a way that was still exciting. In a low moment for the Wizards, he provided perfect commentary that encapsulated what all of us fans were feeling. In case you haven’t noticed, there are a lot of low moments for the Wizards. Steve Buckhantz has single-handedly carried us through such moments for the last 22 years, and I hope we can find a way to get him to 23 years and beyond.
Oh and by the way, the Wizards won the game. It’s all good.
“I hope I can steal a little summoning from you, Dave. Three balls, two strikes, the pitch. Swing and a long drive! Deep left field! Going, going, it’s gone! Goodbye! Game over! It’s a walk-off, game-winning, season-saving home run for Jayson Werth! And the Nationals have won the game! Two to one! Unbelievable!” ~Charlie Slowes
I can’t lie. I watch this clip multiple times most days. I always think to myself, “Oh, it’ll just take 30 seconds of my day, how productive would I have been in that amount of time?” After I watch the video, I replay it. Too many times. Objectively, it’s pretty pathetic that a walk-off home run in the NLDS is the best moment in the history of the Nationals. But, when that moment is paired with Charlie Slowes on the radio, it lives on forever. This was in the bottom of the 9th inning in Game 4 of the NLDS between the Nationals and the St. Louis Cardinals. A Cardinals win would end Washington’s season, and a Nationals win would set up the decisive Game 5 in D.C. The entire game had been a pitcher’s duel, with the two teams combining for just five hits. Jayson Werth was the first batter to the plate, and he dueled Cardinals reliever Lance Lynn for twelve pitches. In an at-bat that lasted over five minutes, Slowes was enthusiastic yet still measured. On the thirteenth pitch, there was no way Slowes could remain composed. Werth crushed a no-doubt home run ball to left field, and the second it left his bat, Slowes’ volume and excitement went through the roof. Every other part of the call was straight emotion, and Slowes found the perfect words for Werth’s walk-off. The second I finish writing this article, I’ll probably watch the video again. Charlie Slowes just makes me happy. Ain’t baseball great?
“And a quick sigh, and ahead up ice. Letang on a right wing for Crosby. And a poke check away and now the counter. Here come the Caps. Kuznetsov, gets loose! Yevgeny coming down the middle, and a shot, and it comes in over, he scores! He scores! Evgeny Kuznetsov wins it for Washington! It’s off to the third round! The demons have been exorcised! Good morning, good afternoon, and good night Pittsburgh! We’re going to Tampa Bay! The Capitals have done it!” ~John Walton
Anyone who knows me, and I’m sure even some who don’t, know that the Washington Capitals are my favorite sports team. I began this article by writing that football used to unite this town, but these days, it’s the Capitals who bring everyone together. The Rock The Red Era started in 2007, when the Capitals returned to the playoffs behind Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. For the next decade, Washington experienced tremendous regular-season success, winning more games than any other team in the NHL. Every regular-season success was inevitably followed with heartbreak in the playoffs. Blowing a 3-1 lead against 8th-seeded Montreal in a series where I lost my sports innocence to Jaroslav Halak. Losing series to the Rangers in three out of four years, where we had a 2-0 lead one year and a 3-1 lead another year. Winning back-to-back President’s Trophies to have our hearts broken by Pittsburgh each time. These painful memories were all broadcast by Capitals radio man John Walton, who brought emotion in our highest moments and stoicism in our lowest. He is undeniably the voice of the Capitals, loved by the town as much as the players. In 2018, following another division title, the Capitals again drew the Penguins in the second round. After a hard-fought five games including two late game-winners for Washington, the Capitals found themselves up 3-2 in the series heading into Game 6. Predictably, it went into overtime, as the Cardiac Caps never failed in bringing suspense. Tom Kuhnhackl nearly won the game for Pittsburgh, hitting the post in overtime. But, this year was the year for the Caps. This was our time. Evgeny Kuznetsov was granted a breakaway after Kris Letang was playing out of position, and he put it home to advance the Caps for the first time in 20 years. Walton’s call immortalized the moment. The sheer joy in his voice represented the hope of a region’s fans. This was no time to be objective. He let us know exactly how he was feeling in this call, as the Capitals had erased a decade of frustration in just one moment. I could probably come up with a top 20 list of Walton’s calls throughout the 2018 playoff run, but this one stands out. It was a magical time for the Capitals and the entire DMV, and Walton provided the soundtrack.
Today, I still watch Capitals games by muting the TV and tuning in to Caps Radio 24/7.