Final Four: Bonnie & Tide, Jack & Brutus (Not Really)

“And tell me again about the man who went insane.”
-Shinedown, “Left Out”

It’s the most wonderful… I’m not going to finish that sentence, Christmas is pretty wonderful… time of the year. Shoot, I did it anyway.

As I noted in January, I’m a spoiled college football fan. I have connections to both Alabama and Ohio State. The former is where I went to grad school and the latter is where I fell in love with a community as a child. Fittingly, both schools are two-seeds on opposite sides of the NCAA Tournament bracket this season.

I cheer for six universities in college basketball. With the addition of Georgetown and St. Bonaventure making the tournament, I’m preparing myself for a very anxious weekend. At least both New Mexico and New Mexico State had pathetic and disappointing seasons, so I don’t have to stress over anything in the Land of Enchantment. Well, except for the state itself.

I love the stress. Perhaps I should start searching for other schools to cheer for in their respective dominance. Oregon track, USC water polo, Cornell debate, Webster chess…

Why can’t I just be happy? 

Hoya Saxa!

It was 38 years ago. My mother reached Georgetown Hospital, and shortly after I was born in the early hours of the morning. There I was, jaundice with a cone head and peeing all over the place—so I’m told. I’m a normal color, my head flattened out and I try to go get through the day with some decency now.

My father went to Georgetown, so did my sister and my two stepbrothers. I was born in D.C. and was too young to remember the school’s golden years, but I was alive, nonetheless, drooling at the television, processing the flickering lights and nothing more.

Now, decades later, I still cheer for the Hoyas. Patrick Ewing is at the helm trying to accomplish what he did as a player for the university in the ‘80s. Their run through the Big East Tournament was unprecedented, but even more moving. The great John Thompson, ex-Hoya coach and, more importantly, dominating and significant civil presence, passed away last year, and there appears to be some inspired play from the Hoyas of late. This season is dedicated to Big John, and a win in the NCAA Tournament would make it just that much sweeter.

Game Attire: Navy Hoyas’ long-sleeve shirt with Jack the Bulldog’s rough face on it and a white towel draped over my shoulder.

Prediction: Sweet 16

O-H-I-O!

We moved to Dublin, Ohio after leaving D.C. The small town outside of Columbus was a beautiful area, and the love for Ohio State everything stretched well past our borders. We fell in love with football, but the university is powerful in all athletics.

The basketball program has always been solid, but the last time they won the national championship was in 1960. Of course, the football team is in contention every year it seems for their respective title.

In 2007, the Buckeyes made the championship game, only to fall short. In 2012, they returned to the Final Four, but lost their semifinal game. This year may be different. The team reached the Big Ten championship game, and the conference was the best in the country. They won’t need much luck to get back to the Final Four, but I better not take any chances with tradition.

Game Attire: Dark gray Buckeyes’ long-sleeve shirt with buckeye leaves that dangerously resemble marijuana and a scarlet hat.

Prediction: Elite Eight

Go Bonnies!

The year I graduated from high school was a trying one to say the least. I was at the latter end of my teenage angst, and situations beyond my control led me to believe a fresh start was needed. I packed up and drove almost 2,000 miles east and settled in the small peaceful confines of a town in western New York.

St. Bonaventure had a beautiful campus and great people. I enjoyed my year spent at the university, I even made one of my best friends for life in that short time, and we’re still in contact today. However, timing is everything, and though I loved trekking through a foot of snow to get to class at times, the small-town feel and proximity to Buffalo and Toronto, I mind just wasn’t ready for college.

Though I left school early, that time spent at St. Bonaventure made me appreciate their basketball program and I will remain loyal. Watching the games in their small campus gym and how the community adored the Bonnies was special. The program has reached the Final Four once (1970). Bob Lanier led that great squad, and the team has had some good rosters since. This year is one of the better ones, and hopefully they can get past LSU and knock off Michigan, Ohio State’s sworn enemy, in the second round.

Game Attire: Gray Bonnie’s T-Shirt and maybe something brown lying around the house to hold.

Prediction: Round of 32 

Roll Tide!

The Crimson Tide are my newest love. I started my higher education at St. Bonaventure and finished my graduate studies at Alabama. Perhaps another school will earn my loyalty if I pursue a doctorate. For now, Alabama is the freshest fandom.

I’ve never felt so welcomed in a university setting. The faculty was tremendous and I’m still in contact with some of my professors. No, I’m not a brown-noser; I’ve just been enchanted by southern charm. Though, the humidity isn’t my favorite.

Like Ohio State, Alabama is most known for their talent on the gridiron, claiming their 18th national championship this past season. The basketball program has a great chance to help Alabama become only the second school in history to hold both men’s basketball and football titles in the same year (Florida, 2007). Let’s not get ahead of ourselves quite yet; that’s some serious jinxing right there.

On an awful side note, those Gator teams beat the Buckeyes in both basketball and football to claim their titles. Ugh.

Game Attire: Crimson Alabama T-shirt with angry elephant head stating “Roll Tide!” and a khaki hat with Big Al and the “Bama” scroll.

Prediction: Final Four

Just My Luck

Three of these four schools are in the same region. The NCAA Tournament committee is obviously against me. They sit in their little board room, ties loosened, passing around pitchers of what we all hope is water, laughing at an embarrassing candid photo of me taped to the whiteboard. How rude. Ideally, like the College Football Playoff championship, I would want all four of my teams in the Final Four. The only possible final-two pairing can be Alabama and Ohio State. Interesting. See above, and also way above.

Or would I want this?

I wouldn’t win, again. Perhaps having the teams I support play each other early erases any false sense of hope. Friday, I start my journey, but Saturday will be an all-day fest. How early is too early to start drinking? If tip-off is past noon in one time zone, does that validate opening a morning beer?

Friday and Saturday, and with any luck Sunday and Monday, I will be on my sunken cushion of the couch, skipping any temptation to be active outside or healthy in general, and superstitiously watch each of my teams advance or fall. I’m hoping for pure joy, will settle for a blend of bliss and agony, and ultimately wish I’m not completely tormented.

Let’s not forget about the total importance of this year’s NCAA Tournament, however. It’s been two years since a champion was crowned in front of a raucous crowd in a sold-out stadium. Then something terrible happened, and now society is gradually returning to form.

When the referee tosses the ball up at mid-court at the start of the first tournament game this afternoon, a shining moment will take place. Something close to normal for all of us. We should all be happy, for we have madness.

Last Night, I Couldn’t Win

“One, two princes kneel before you.”
-Spin Doctors, “Two Princes

I’m a spoiled college football fan, and my two favorite schools, Alabama and Ohio State faced off in the National Championship Monday night. It was bound to happen. The Crimson Tide defeated the Buckeyes 52-24, giving unbiased fans an unfulfilled but predictable ending to a tumultuous year, and me some pretty impractical anxiety.

The what-ifs leading up to contest actually started at the beginning of the season. First, I was worried if there would even be a season, but when the first pigskin was kicked off the tee in the Southeastern Conference, there was hope. The Big 10 finally obliged to the fan and financial pressures and allowed games to be played, and the possibility of the Tide and Buckeyes meeting in January became real.

Of course, there were plenty of speed bumps and stop signs along the way. Cancellations, postponements and some sketchy conference rule changes stretched that hope and reality until the end of the regular season.

Though there were a scarce amount of fans dotting the aqua seats of Hard Rock Stadium for the College Football Playoff title match, the feel before kickoff was as if the camera was hiding a sell-out crowd. After the ball sailed through the air for a touchback, I forgot how anti-climactic kickoffs are. And then one play later, OSU running back Trey Sermon got injured, and that set the tone for the night.

O-H-I-O!

In 1988, we moved to Dublin, Ohio. Just outside Columbus, we were in the shadow of a mammoth horseshoe that was speckled with scarlet every Saturday in fall. With Georgetown and Southern Connecticut State roots, we had a college football void to fill. Ohio State University became that program.

The state of Ohio has always been perplexing, and I’m not speaking of the strange reliance politicians have with its population. No matter where you go, somehow you’re going to meet someone from the small Midwestern state, and chances are they will be OSU supporters. With over half a million living alumni already, the university’s enrollment ranked third in the 2019-20 academic year with 61,391 students—and I didn’t go to school there.

Still, Ohio is a community not just confined to each big or rural city, and one that welcomed my family. I grasped the culture at a very young age, and though short and broken, our new roots were planted, nonetheless. And adopted and experienced memories are engrained.

The impact of Sermon’s injury was eerily similar to Ted Ginn Jr.’s in the 2006 BCS National Championship against Florida. The Gators routed the Buckeyes 41-14. Ginn returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown (obviously kickoffs were much more climatic back then), but sprained his left foot during the celebration. He didn’t play the rest of the game. That changed the dynamic of the game greatly. Monday night, Sermon injured his shoulder and was taken to the hospital shortly after. The good news is that Sermon is doing well, the bad news is that his injury was seemingly not as significant as Ginn’s 2006 debacle.

Alabama was just too good this season, and it was proven early and often—most notably, by their three-headed monster: Mac Jones, Najee Harris and Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith.

Smith is the first wide receiver to win the Heisman since Desmond Howard did for Michigan in 1991. The quick and uncoverable wideout proved why he was worthy of the honor. In the first half alone he set a College Football Playoff record by snatching 12 catches for 215 yards and three touchdowns. He got injured early in the second half and did not return.

Smith also can be remembered for his game-winning catch in the 2017 National Championship as a freshman. The great thing about memories is that new ones can always be created.

Roll Tide!

Nearly three decades removed from Ohio, with my loyalty challenged via an acceptance letter, I decided to attend the University of Alabama. Oh, how I used to loath those crimson tops and white pants, but I soon became accustomed to the classic look and unmatchable passion of storied tradition. We visited Tuscaloosa when the Crimson Tide hosted the New Mexico State Aggies in September of 2019. My support was solidified when the crowd erupted and the band boomed after Alabama scored on their first offensive play of the game. We were also happy the Aggies beat the massive spread.

Though I earned my master’s degree via Alabama’s online platform, our visit to the state was special. Birmingham is an amazing city with important history, and Tuscaloosa is a beautiful gem among an eclectic landscape. People said “hello” on city streets instead of their face buried in a small screen; they waved, offered assistance and smiled.

On game day, the Communications department hosted my family at their tailgate. We gathered on the veranda that overlooked the quad and immersed ourselves in tradition and expected greatness. Southern hospitality on both sides of our shoulders, and below, the Million Dollar Band strutted toward the stadium in perfect formation and tone. They grasped the attention of all, and then students and fans followed the ensemble to the stadium, like the Pied Piper of Hamelin, except with a less-offensive and creepy paraphrase. It was extraordinary—also engrained. It wasn’t just fandom I generously paid for through tuition.     

On Monday, The program showed why they are storied, and Nick Saban added to his argument as the greatest college football coach to ever pace the sidelines. The decorated general has now won seven national titles, six at Alabama—the most by a coach in NCAA and university history. It wasn’t just Smith’s legendary performance, or Jones throwing for 464 yards and five touchdowns, or Harris rushing for 79 yards and two touchdowns—doubling his yards from scrimmage and accounting for another score receiving. No, the game didn’t come down to the dominance on the offense and defense, it was the first Alabama drive of the second half that was an interlude to the fat lady’s solo.

The Crimson Tide were up by 18 at halftime, a lead that could have easily vanished with OSU’s offensive firepower. For example, the Buckeyes went 75 yards on three plays in just 1:02 for their first drive of the second half, which ended in a touchdown. Alabama scored a measly 20-yard field goal after receiving the second-half kickoff. It was one of just three series that didn’t end with an Alabama star crossing the goal line, but it took 7:13 off the clock, and allowed for anxiety to trump the hope of a momentum shift. That drive was a great example of well-executed strategy—one that a fan comes to expect in Tuscaloosa.

The Ending We Anticipated

It was a year of disruption and uncertainty, one that is still lingering even after we tossed our 2020 calendars out of our homes and into a fire as if they were cursed. Though there were plenty of arguments of why OSU shouldn’t have been in the playoff, or the field needs to be expanded, or a G5 school should be given an opportunity to compete, they really didn’t matter. Alabama was going to win this championship whether you liked it or not.

Maybe we needed this, though. It could be argued that it was oddly satisfying to have a little normalcy right now. Nothing is more normal than Alabama competing for a national championship. And OSU, for that matter.        

I was hoping for this day, but didn’t know what to expect. Even though it could be claimed that I couldn’t lose, I actually couldn’t win. Either way, there would be a sense of disappointment. Maybe that’s the pessimistic narrative the pandemic created. Or maybe it’s just the delusional reasoning of an obsessed fan.

Or maybe we all needed this win. Roll Tide! And, still, Go Bucks!

Rethinking Reirden

“It’s the same ol’, same ol’ situation.”
-Motley Crue, “Same Old Situation”

The Washington Capitals haven’t won a playoff series since the 2018 Stanley Cup Final, and it is time for their third coach since then.

Head coach Todd Reirden was fired Sunday after his second consecutive season being ousted from the playoffs by a lower seed. After inheriting a Stanley Cup roster, he went 5-10 in playoff games—including this year’s variant round robin—with no series wins.

Though Reirden posted a .642 regular-season win percentage and earned two division crowns, this still wasn’t a rash decision by Captials GM Brain MacLellan because plenty of other NHL coaches had quick tenures for lesser forms of disappointment. As a recent example, Gerrard Gallant coached the Vegas Golden Knights to said 2018 Stanley Cup Final during the franchise’s inaugural season, and also made the playoffs his second year to prove 2018 wasn’t a fluke. He was fired in January 2020 after his playoff-bound Knights suffered a four-game losing streak. What’s he doing now, anyway?

Also, Capitals fans have earned the right to be impatient. From 1983-1996, the Capitals never missed the playoffs, but only once made the conference finals in 1990. It wasn’t until 1998 the franchise returned to the Eastern Conference Finals and eventually reached the Stanley Cup Final only to be swept by the Detroit Red Wings.

After a rebuild and landing a once-in-a-lifetime talent, more of the same followed:

From 2008-2017, the Capitals only missed the playoffs once, earning two Presidents’ Trophies, but again failed to advance beyond the second round. Of the coaches during that span, Bruce Boudreau won two playoff series in four years, Dale Hunter one in his relief stint at the helm, and Barry Trotz seven in four seasons—four of which came when he led the franchise to their first and only Stanley Cup title.

Speaking of Trotz, he has gone on to win three playoff series as head coach of the New York Islanders—the same Islanders that forced the Capitals right out of the bubble last Thursday night. What about the key players who have moved on from that 2018 team? During the 2020 playoffs, Jay Beagle advanced to the second round with the Vancouver Canucks, Andre Burakovsky and Philipp Grubauer advanced with a dominant Colorado Avalanche team, Matt Niskanen advanced with the top-seeded Philadelphia Flyers, and Chandler Stephenson advanced with the Knights–who seem to be heading in the opposite direction of the Capitals since their 2018 championship bout.

Everyone listed has one commonality: more playoff series wins than Reirden.

Capitals fans are left with confusing and empty familiarity once more. The easy reaction is to vet for excuses of why they yet again left the playoffs early. There were botched breakaways and shots fired wide of open nets, Nicklas Backstrom missed most of the series against the Islanders, John Carlson wasn’t completely healthy, Lars Eller wasn’t in a hockey-state-of-mind, Ilya Samsonov’s injury left Braden Holtby without a solid backup solution in net or perhaps the team was just tired of living in a quarantined bubble with friendly foes off-ice. They’re better than that, though, and fans are aware of the fact.

From their overused non-bubble living rooms, supporters watched the team fail to construct and capitalize on enough even-strength chances. They were outshot by the Islanders 110-95 in four losses. This problem goes back to last season’s early exit against the Carolina Hurricanes, however. In their four losses in that series, the Capitals were out-shot 147-111. Another noticeable element to their underachievement was the lack of inspiration and urgency. They appeared dilapidated with misplaced passion, but that also isn’t an excuse because all teams were in the same situation entering the qualifiers and round robin. They looked decrepit if exaggerated.

The window is closing faster this time because the stars are aging, and not only do they need solid blue line depth, the lines need to get younger on the offensive side of the puck. Jakub Vrána, the team’s heralded youth, had zero points and a -6 rating in the series, and since his goal in Game 5 of the 2018 Final, he has recorded no points and has a -8 rating in 15 playoff games. The average age for the Capitals front line skaters is 29.4, and as the Flyers, Hurricanes and Islanders continue to get stronger, the Capitals may be fighting for a wild card spot next season rather than another division title if changes aren’t made.

It starts with the captain and coach, and fans know Alexander Ovechkin doesn’t lack drive or intensity or leadership, but it was apparent he lacked adaptation, direction and support from the bench during the 2020 playoffs–and the front office made the right choice in firing Reirden.

Whether it’s a subtle rebuild, rediscovery or reinvention, the Capitals need to start acting like they care again. With one year left on Ovechkin’s contract and more uncertainty looming, Fans would rather have a second cup with a shortened-season asterisk than the team’s only title being an anomaly.

Epic Hockey Games

“You’re as cold as ice, you’re willing to sacrifice our love.”
-Foreigner, “Cold As Ice”

It was a marathon on ice. The Columbus Blue Jackets and Tampa Bay Lightning battled for nearly three games to earn one win. The Lightning’s Brayden Point ripped a wrister over the right shoulder of Blue Jackets goalie Joonas Korpisalo in the fifth overtime to give the Lightning a 3-2 victory in the first game of the series—and also the first game of the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

What a moment for the NHL; what a moment for the fans; what a moment for society.

Tuesday’s match at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto was the fourth longest NHL playoff game in history, clocking in at 150:27 of ice time. It was exhausting to watch the players; they skated with heavy legs, their backs bending more during each sudden death session, their sight either reaching the ice or ceiling during the few moments they were relieved to catch their breath. Yet, they played and fans watched—at home—pondering if they would have to call into work today—at least residents of Raleigh and Boston have excuses at the moment. The Carolina Hurricanes and Boston Bruins were slated to play on the same sheet of ice after Columbus and Tampa Bay, but their game was postponed until this morning (ongoing at the time of this post).

The puck dropped at 3:09 p.m. ET. Grayish-blue covers stretched over each section of seats, bright banner graphics filled dark spaces opposite the cameras and crowd noise was filtered in to simulate the aura of playoff hockey. By 9:22 p.m. ET, at the 10:27 mark in the fifth extra period, the fact there were no fans present was forgotten. The Lightning celebrated with a burst of energy from the bench and the Blue Jackets suffered through bittersweet devastation, the skaters leaning helplessly at the waist and letting their momentum slowly coast their worn bodies to the locker room.

It was a fairly normal game to start. Pierre-Luc Dubois gave the Blue Jackets an early first period lead on the power play, but Point evened the score four minutes later. Oliver Bjorkstrand heaved a shot from the boards late in the second that squeezed past perennial Vezina finalist Andrei Vasilevskiy in what should have been a routine save. The Lightning trailed 2-1 at intermission, and a recollection of 2019 was looming.

Last year, Tampa Bay was the favorite to win the Stanley Cup, and the city, players and staff believed they were due. The franchise won their first and only championship in 2004, but had made the Eastern Conference finals four times since 2011. They reached the Stanley Cup final just once, losing to the Chicago Blackhawks in 2015. It had been long enough; it was time—until the John Tortorella-led Blue Jackets swept their dreams right out of the playoffs in what was considered one of the bigger upsets in playoff history. Tortorella coached Tampa Bay to the title in 2004.

The rivalry is there and it’s fresh, but the Lightning were on the brink of letting it be one-sided last night. They desperately needed this win for morale. A little luck helped the cause 23 seconds into the third period. Ryan McDonagh fired a shot on net and Yanni Gourde’s resilience in the crease caused the puck to trickle under Korpisalo’s torso and touch off his leg, barely crossing the goal line.

Then it got less normal.

Korpisalo ended the evening with an NHL record 85 saves, at least one short of what he hoped, and some skaters on both teams eclipsed 60 minutes of ice time. With 17 seconds remaining in the fourth overtime, when normal people probably would have been hospitalized from exertion, Liam Foudy and Mikhail Sergachev raced each other in full sprint for an icing call. It was seemingly a meaningless play, but it showed something vital in regard to social attitude.

Despite the fatigue, the immense pressure these athletes put on their bodies last night for their glory and our entertainment, they gave it their all until the end, and the adrenaline may be from the pure joy of playing again. Relevant sport is back as much as it’s allowed, and society, no matter if they follow sports or not, should be gracious for what that means. It’s progression; it’s getting back to normal; it’s showing we’re all relevant.

It just took an incredibly rare feat to prove that.

Game 2 of the series is Thursday at 3 p.m. ET. Clear your schedule, but there’s a chance it’s clear already.

Getting Back

“It was lost long ago but it’s all coming back to me.”
-Celine Dion, “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now”

This weekend meant something for the sports world. This weekend meant something for society as a whole.

We were supposed to be watching the final round of the PGA Championship, the NASCAR point totals were supposed to be higher and this was supposed to be the final match weekend of the German Bundesliga. It doesn’t matter what was supposed to happen anymore; it matters that the sports world has taken a step toward hope, and season sacrifices were vital to accomplishing a sense of optimism.

Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Matthew Wolff played a round of golf yesterday. Good for them; many cities have become more lenient on restrictions that targeted courses and country clubs. The difference is that this foursome (not the inappropriate kind; you’ve been spending too much free time on the computer) was televised live. Okay, the other difference is that they’re professionals and city players are amateurs, and no one would watch a group of four aging drunkards hacking up divots and struggling to maneuver a golf cart at sub-10 mph speeds.

Live sports. Wow. Stopping golf was interesting to begin with. Their season pause seemed more like an example to set or the association following suit because others jumped off a bridge. Frankly, if they had let the players play without any fans, it would probably be one of the more safer spots in the world. The only equipment you would use would be your own, there are acres upon acres of open outdoor space and the players would only be with three other people on any given hole: their opponent and their respective caddies—and you can easily walk six feet apart on a golf course.

That’s beside the point; even Johnson and McIlroy’s victory was overshadowed by progression. We got to witness something live. Seminole Golf Club in Juno Beach, Florida hosted the TaylorMade Driving Relief tournament, and the event generated $5.5 million for charity, as well as plenty of viewers tuning into something refreshing. No more reruns, no more over-analyzed documentaries as we discussed last week and no more anxiously waiting with uncertainty.

Two states up the east coast, Kevin Harvick won the Real Heroes 400 in Darlington, South Carolina. He circled around the pit, screeching his tires and leaving his mark to celebrate his victory, but there were no sunburnt and raucous fans to absorb the celebration. For people who don’t follow NASCAR, Darlington Raceway has a capacity of 47,000. Racing is immensely popular—and even more so in Europe.

Soccer is also more popular in Europe, but it goes well beyond the continent’s borders. It’s the world’s sport, and the Bundesliga gave society a boost this weekend. Eight matches were played in front of empty stadium seats, concluding with the league-leading and UEFA powerhouse Bayern Munich finding form in a 2-0 victory over Union Berlin.

The game was eerily bittersweet. Players tried not to touch their face, but they did. They tried not to spit, but they did. Coaches tried to wear masks, but they didn’t. Players tried to offer a courteous hand to fallen opponents, but they couldn’t. You could hear the players communicating, you could hear the ball bouncing off their cleats in perfect precision as if the season had never stopped. There was this purity to the beautiful game that we haven’t seen in a while, but the loud chants and unifying song of supporters was absent and missed.

The Bundesliga is bigger than the PGA, it’s bigger than NASCAR; it was truly the first great league to return to the international stage. Yet, without fans, there was this sense of neglect looming over the pitch. Then Robert Lewandowski buried a penalty kick. That moment reminded us it was real; it was normal; all was right again. It’s amazing what star power can do; it’s amazing what sport means to the world—especially when people are in dire need of just a beacon of assurance.

So something meaningful happened this weekend even if you don’t follow sports. We’re coming back. We’re strengthening. Society is alive.

Equal Pay (Oh Girl, Here We Go)

“But if you ask for a raise it’s no surprise that they’re, giving none away, away, away.”
-Pink Floyd, “Money”

Do players on the United States Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT) deserve equal pay? Yes.

I wish it was that simple of an answer and that a pay bump solves all problems, but it’s not and it doesn’t (fair warning: get ready for a long post). There’s something that needs to be addressed beforehand: international pull. Unfortunately, the rest of the world may not care as much as we do, and that’s a major speed bump on the road to equal compensation. What a lame attempt to be clever.

Graham Hays, ESPNW.com- USSF says USWNT has made more than men

Let’s start with Graham Hays’ July 29 article stating, well, you can read the headline above. U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordiero provided an independently-performed financial report that reviewed the salary difference between U.S. men and women soccer players over the last decade. Hays said, “Among the conclusions, which U.S. Soccer said were verified by an independent accounting firm, are that women’s players were paid $34.1 million by the [USSF] from 2010 to 2018 in salaries and bonuses,” later adding, “members of the men’s national team were paid $26.4 million by the [USSF] over the same period, the analysis concluded.” I’m not too keen on math, but I believe there’s a difference that may become detrimental toward an “equal pay” argument here.

However, numbers and reports from unnamed firms are somewhat on the same level as the assumptions of lobbyists and members of congress. Hays quoted USWNT players’ spokesperson Molly Levinson, “This is a sad attempt by the USSF to quell the overwhelming tide of support the USWNT has received,” later adding, “the numbers the USSF uses are utterly false.”

We’ll get to those pesky congress members later.

Those are some rash claims by Levinson, and she does cite some things said, but “things said” don’t necessarily compare to things analyzed. Both teams are separate businesses, and everything is revenue driven. I was happy to see that the NSWL got an ESPN contract for 14 games, and the first game after the USWNT’s World Cup title was a sellout. How many sellouts were there before the World Cup? There have been ratings studies in the past that show there’s a general interest in women’s soccer leading up to, during and after the World Cup, but each time the numbers tend to decline during the three years between the buzz quieting and then returning.

People are too caught up on the U.S. side of things though, and it’s the wrong federation to be targeting. If the claim is for the USWNT to make the same as the USMNT then you can complain to USSF all you want, but they can only do so much. It’s FIFA that creates the problem.

But is there an actual international problem, and is FIFA just viewing this as business practicality? With the exception of a handful of countries, how many women’s national teams can say, “Hey, we deserve this because we perform equally or better than the men”? Wait, I answered the question before I asked it: a handful.

Now, the argument itself needs to be revised as well. If the main point for equal pay is international success then that’s a tough way to approach the debate. Let’s go over World Cup winners and runner-ups, but only start in 1990 to make it fair. Here’s how it would play out:

  • Women’s teams more successful than men’s teams (5): United States, Japan, Norway, China and Sweden.
  • Women’s teams equally successful as men’s teams (1): Germany.
  • Women’s teams not as successful as men’s teams (6): Italy, Argentina, France, Spain, the Netherlands and Croatia.

Now, that’s pretty close (damn U.S. hogging all the glory from the rest of the women). Here’s the main difference between the women’s and men’s world cups: prize money. France received $38 million for winning the 2018 title and the USWNT received a measly $4 million for their 2019 championship. That’s quite unbalanced, but is it actually fair mathematically?

Prize funds are generated from World Cup revenue, and the men have had 21 world cups in comparison to the women’s 8. That’s about two-thirds more exposure and two-thirds more time to generate revenue and growth. In World Cup terms alone, the men have been building a brand for 88 years while the women have been at it for 28.

  • Revised Women’s teams more successful than men’s teams (4): United States, Japan, Norway and China.
  • Revised Women’s teams equally successful as men’s teams (1): Sweden.
  • Revised Women’s teams not as successful as men’s teams (11): Germany, Uruguay, England, Italy, Argentina, France, Spain, the Netherlands, Croatia, Czechoslovakia (Czech Republic and Slovakia, but it would unfair to count them both) and Hungary.

Things are starting to look a little different. Though, you could assume two-thirds more World Cups should only account for two-thirds more money. So if we’re being truly “even Steven” then the purse for winning the women’s World Cup should be around $13 million. It’s going to get there sooner rather than later. In 2014, Germany’s prize for winning the men’s World Cup was $35 million, and in 2015 the USWNT received $2 million. For the men’s side, 2018 was around an 8.6 percent increase, while on the women’s side, 2019 was a 100 percent increase. That is incredibly promising, and people need to look at positives like this.

Still not convinced? That’s fair; there’s still an argument. So let’s get to the real deciding factor: international star power.

In 2018, Croatian and Real Madrid star Luka Modrić won the Ballon d’Or, and Norwegian and Lyon star Ada Hegerberg won the inaugural women’s Ballon d’Or. Here’s how the kids measure popularity these days: Instagram.

  • Luka Modrić followers: 17.2 million.
  • Ada Hegerberg followers: 310,000.

Though the 2019 finalists have been announced on both the women’s side, how many of these women below were household names in the U.S. before the 2019 World Cup?

  • Lindsey Horan
  • Megan Rapinoe
  • Amandine Henry
  • Amel Majri
  • Wendi Renard
  • Marta
  • Sam Kerr
  • Pernille Harder
  • Lieke Martens
  • Dzsenifer Marozsan
  • Saki Kumagai
  • Christine Sinclair
  • Lucy Bronze
  • Fran Kirby

Megan Rapinoe, Marta and Christine Sinclair should all be a “yes” if you have followed women’s soccer for at least the last decade. Lindsey Horan, Sam Kerr and Lieke Martens are a “maybe” in addition to Hegerberg, but the rest are probably only well-known to people who are citizens of the countries they represent or are truly devout followers of international women’s soccer—which I don’t believe to be the case in the U.S. I think we know our own players, there’s no denying that, but what about the rest of the world? And vice versa. Does the rest of the world care about our players?

Have you heard of these nobodies?

  • Cristiano Ronaldo
  • Antoine Griezmann
  • Kylian Mbappe
  • Lionel Messi

If you haven’t heard of at least two of them, you’re lying. Here’s something to think about: The combined Instagram followers of the 15 2018 Women’s Ballon d’Or finalists (7.6 million) doesn’t come close to the individual total of any of those four male stars above (177.9 million, 26.9 million, 32.8 million and 127.2 million respectively). And to try to make it fairer, I will add USWNT stars Alex Morgan, Christen Press, Julie Ertz, Mallory Pugh and Rose Lavelle (11.6 million). That brings us closer to Griezmann’s 26.9 million followers.

To clarify, I’m not trying to demean or discriminate against women at all; I’m just trying to prove a point that has been overlooked. The USWNT deserves equal pay and they want it, but the rest of the world is hindering the cause in a sense, and some of the media is framing it in a way that feeds the chants.

Nike released a statement that boasted the fact the USWNT’s jersey was the No. 1-selling kit, men’s or women’s, ever sold on their website in one season. That’s an amazing feat, but how many of those sales came within the U.S. compared to other countries purchasing the jersey? Also, it’s just one season. Can this consistency keep up when the momentum of the World Cup declines once again?

Headlines that have been filtering around the internet claim that the 2019 women’s World Cup final was watched by millions more viewers than the 2018 men’s final. That’s true—in the U.S. FIFA reported that 3.5 billion people globally tuned into the men’s final. For all you non-population buffs, that’s half the world. We will see what the final global numbers for the women’s final was in October. If you’re going to use international success as a talking point, you need to talk international numbers.

The world: we get back to our true problem with the progression of women’s soccer. Women’s soccer is huge in the U.S., and our women are damn good at what they do; the proof is in the titles and there’s no question they are the world’s best—not just now, but of all-time. FIFA doesn’t just look at the U.S. market, however, they look at the global impact of the game.

Let’s finally get to those pesky congress members. Oh man, do we have to? Tell me if you think this is dumb: Hays’ reported, “Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virigina, introduced a bill earlier this month that would deny federal funds for the 2026 Men’s World Cup, to be hosted jointly by the United States, Canada and Mexico, until the American federation agrees to pay its men’s and women’s teams equally. Last week, Rep. Doris Matsui, D-California, and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Connecticut, introduced a similar bill in the house.”

That’s one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard, and the government does a lot of dumb things. First of all, you can’t make that decision for Canada and Mexico who are just kind of piggybacking off the U.S. as joint hosts. Second, that’s a childish, selfish and rash reaction to a report that didn’t provide the answer you wanted.

“I didn’t get my way so I’m going to ruin everything for everyone!”

How many people in the U.S., Canada and Mexico agree with this bill? How many people in the world agree with this bill? Like it or not, it would affect all countries that make the 2026 tournament, not to mention tourism revenue for all hosting states. You would be taking away a quality World Cup from billions of people who consider this “The World’s Game” and don’t give two shits about your petty agenda that only helps a small percentage of this country.

We don’t consider the other variables; we just consider what’s on the surface and what we assume.

Here’s another interesting statement to dissect: Hays’ quoted Levinson again, “Here is what [USSF] cannot deny: For every game a man plays on the MNT, he makes a higher base salary payment than a woman on the WNT. For every comparable win or time, his bonus is higher. That is the very definition of gender discrimination.”

Meg Kelly, Washington Post- Are U.S. women’s soccer players really earning less than men?

Now, hold on there a second. Washington Post contributor Meg Kelly reported, “A contract player on the women’s team makes a base salary and can earn performance-based bonuses. (Players without a contract have a different pay schedule.) On the men’s team, players earn only bonuses.” Kelly added a quote from Sports Illustrated writer and University of New Hampshire Law professor Michael McCann, “The male players are paid when they play, but not when they sit. USMNT players must thus be on the roster to be pay eligible, USWNT players, in contrast, are guaranteed pay.”

This is because both teams have separate collective bargaining agreements. Levinson may need to reword her statement, or either her or McCann are wrong. So who do we believe?

Back to the question at hand from around 1900 words ago: Do players on the USWNT deserve equal pay? Yes—in the U.S.

Maybe Japan, Norway, China and Sweden have arguments as well, but there are too many variables that prevent an easy solution: revenue and sponsorship obtainment and distribution, collective bargaining agreements, international comparisons and star power and FIFA.

The fans need to show their support consistently, ESPN and other networks need to offer more than 14 games to viewers and FIFA needs to do a better job promoting women’s soccer globally because smaller countries need more help gaining exposure, and don’t have the national structure to do so alone.

Don’t just blame the USSF; a lawsuit isn’t going to solve anything, and, just like in life, everything is a trade-off. A lawsuit just means someone else is going to lose. However, organic progression, as we have clearly seen over the last 28 years at a fast pace, is something incredible.

I’m ecstatic that revenue is increasing, popularity is rising and publicity is becoming more prominent, and I think the USWNT has a valid argument. I still play soccer, now in a co-ed league, and I know how great women are and how well they compete against men.

Fans, if you really want to support the USWNT, here is their upcoming victory tour schedule:

  • USWNT vs. Republic of Ireland- Aug 3, 2019
  • USWNT vs. Portugal- Aug 29, 2019
  • USWNT vs. Portugal- Sep 3, 2019
  • USWNT vs. South Korea- Oct 3, 2019
  • USWNT vs. South Korea- Oct 6, 2019

Get a ticket or tune in, and keep the momentum for a team that has proven themselves.

What about U.S. Olympians and equal pay then? They always win, too!

No! I’m tired of writing. That’s a whole other thing.

My Annual Washington Capitals Post-Playoff Post

“Just when you think you’re in control, just when you think you’ve got a hold, just when you get on a roll, oh, here it goes, here it goes, here it goes again.”
-OK Go, “Here It Goes Again”

There was a nice break from disappointment in last year’s championship post, but old habits die hard for the Washington Capitals. As a fan, another early exit stings, however, I’m not about to claim it hurts less because they won the Stanley Cup last year. In fact, this one will linger a little longer due to wasted opportunities, a sense of urgency for the dwindling hopes of a dynasty, and the eerie fall into familiarity.

Okay, the Pittsburgh Penguins getting swept helps a little, but it was by a Barry Trotz-led New York Islanders squad that was supposed to be garbage this year.

And the stinging returns once more.

Does experience actually matter or have the Caps reverted back to underachieving heartbreak? The team was essentially the same group that won the coveted cup last year, so one would assume that they would be able to hold a 2-0 series advantage against arguably the 16th best team in the playoffs: a Carolina Hurricanes team they swept 4-0 in the regular season. Or they would at the very least be able to hold a two goal lead at home in a game seven that shouldn’t have been happening to begin with. Fans and analysts can claim that T.J. Oshie’s game four injury played a vital part in losing four out of their last five games, and Michel Kempny’s exit before the playoffs even started doomed the squad from making another deep run, but those are just excuses. The Hurricanes had injuries as well, and even more players have been added to the list in their second-round series against the Islanders—a series they lead 3-0 at the moment.

So are the Hurricanes that good? No. Sebastian Aho is pretty decent, but he can barely be considered a top-50 talent. So are they young? Sure, but that’s not an excuse either because their youngest star, 19-year-old Andrei Svechnikov, was knocked out early in game three against the Caps courtesy of a few powerful rights by Alexander Ovechkin, and just returned to the lineup last night.  The two players who really stabbed a dagger in the hearts of the Caps organization and fan base were Jordan Stall and Justin Williams, 30 and 37 respectively.

What’s the secret to the Hurricanes’ success then? It has to be momentum, and this is why the Stanley Cup playoffs are great, but also devastating at the same time. This has been a wild (no pun intended) year so far; all four wild card teams moved on to the second round, and only three higher seeds won their first-round series, and two of them had to clinch in game sevens, including a miraculous comeback by the San Jose Sharks over the Vegas Golden Knights. Out of the four wild card teams, the Hurricanes are the one team that can’t truly validate their magic.

Everyone is aware of how great the Tampa Bay Lightning played this season (and everyone is still aware of the President’s Trophy curse). Maybe it’s shocking the Columbus Blue Jackets swept the Lightning in the first round, but I didn’t find it surprising that they won the series. They have a superstar in Artemi Panarin, one of the league’s best young defensemen in Seth Jones, and all the acquisitions they made at the trade deadline were bound to pay off. In fact, they may be the favorite to come out of the Eastern Conference at the moment, leading their series against the Boston Bruins, 2-1. The Colorado Avalanche and the Dallas Stars both have perennial superstars as well: Nathan MacKinnon, Jaime Benn, and Tyler Seguin to name a few. The Avalanche have a top-ten offense, tallying 260 regular season goals, and the Stars allowed the fewest goals in the league (202) due to a stout defense and Vezina Trophy-finalist Ben Bishop.

With this being said, the Caps failed to take advantage of said wild situation. With most of the top competition ousted, including the pesky Penguins, they had a grand opportunity at being able to chant “back to back” as Oshie preached during last’s year celebration.

Perhaps they were a tad too lax throughout the series, perhaps they’ve adopted this young societal mindset of full entitlement expected after little to no accomplishment, but there needs to be some urgency if the organization wants to take advantage of a window that has been closing for over half a decade now.

Isabelle Khurshudyan, Washington Post- Capitals prepare for offseason focused on the roster’s fringes rather than its core

The core isn’t that young and it showed in both overtimes of game seven against the Hurricanes as stamina was an issue. Nine players are set to become restricted or unrestricted free agents, and 2020 is a pivotal year for stars Nicklas Backstrom and Braden Holtby to receive new contracts, not to mention Ovechkin’s contract is up in 2021. If the Caps are to extend their title window, they need to start acting like 2018 wasn’t some fluke.

David Hookstead, The Daily Caller- TV ratings for the NBA playoffs down 19%, NHL playoffs up 1%

Every Stanley Cup playoff game is a battle; it’s not like the predictable NBA playoffs which can be guessed after the ball is tipped at the start of the season. The parity and intensity of the NHL playoffs are on full display this year, leaving Caps fans saying, “Here it goes again.” Winning a championship doesn’t automatically change everything.

Good luck to the Hurricanes because they’re going to need it; next year they will revert back to their normal as well. Unfortunately for the Caps, the Blue Jackets will be way better, the Islanders should improve as well, and the Penguins will still be around—and that’s just in their division. The Montreal Canadians are on the rise, the Toronto Maple Leafs are a force, The Boston Bruins somehow continue to not get worse, and you don’t think the Lightning are really really pissed off right now—again?

Shout out to the Buffalo Sabres as well. They’re about due. Like, seriously, Buffalo.

Let’s not even get into how good the Western Conference will be.

The window is closing again, don’t let it shut.

The Washington Capitals won the Stanley Cup. Wait, Really?

“Not a trace of doubt in my mind.”
-The Monkees, “I’m a Believer”

Yes, really. Don’t worry about that unseasonable chill outside either; it might just be the cold rising from the caverns of Hell.

Eesh, I thought this was supposed to be a happy post. It is! So it has been a few days now, but I still haven’t caught my breath—I still can’t believe that the Washington Capitals have won the Stanley Cup.

This is the type of moment that will stand still in time for fans of the franchise—and I’m sure NHL.com’s shop profits have proven that thus far. I know I’ve contributed to keeping some of their employees employed over the course of the weekend.

If you’ve read my posts consistently, and I know there are very few according to my stats, you can pick up a few things here and there about my life. I keep my internet presence fairly simple and my personal life separate, but here are two freebies if you didn’t know this already: I’m a huge Washington Capitals fan and I’m not 44-years-old, but am within a decade.

Why is that important? Well it explains some ailments and losing a step and some hair, but that’s not the reason nor is it a cry for sympathy, just a reminder I need to accept the aging process. Okay, we’re getting off track here… the mind seems to wander, you know. The reason 44 years is important is because this is the first time in that period that the Washington Capitals have won a Stanley Cup. Think about that; people were born and have already started their midlife crisis during that span.

Now, I think we’re well aware that hockey is the fourth most popular of the four major sports in this country—and that’s only because it’s considered one of the four major sports. If NASCAR was in that category then hockey may not even be recognized by many. However, if you watch the NHL you realize that every player on every team works harder than most other athletes (I’m definitely not saying that other athletes don’t work hard, so let’s not let sensitivity kick in and concentrate on a minuscule statement while losing focus on every other sentence in this entire post). In hockey there isn’t a pitching staff in which each member throws a few innings every few games, there isn’t a rest for the defense while the offense is on the field and vice versa, and there isn’t more than half the team sitting on the bench in their warm-ups as a handful of superstars spend a majority of the time on the court. In other words, it’s the epitome of what a team represents and how hard work by each individual is the only way a moment can bring so much boyish joy to grown men.

Quick team note: I called Billy Baldwin a prick on social media because he didn’t even wait a day to preach his political agenda after the Caps won the cup. People waited 44 years for this, and he ruined it in less than a day just to try and get some chuckles from all his followers who accidently thought he was Alec. With that being said, politics needs to stay out of it, and Devante Smith-Pelly, please be the bigger man here and attend the White House ceremony. Be there for your team, for your city, for the hundreds of thousands of good and average people who just want to enjoy their interests without a social asterisk for once. You’ve earned this and the fans love you just as much as they love every player on the team. That certainly trumps (wow, what a poor word choice) the opinion of one person who you disagree with.

Moving on.

No disrespect to other sports; I enjoy every league and obsess and stress over my loyalties equally, and that’s why this championship run means so much. I went out to DC for Game 3, and though I wasn’t able to get into the stadium, the excitement that spread over the city was an extraordinary moment to experience, and the spontaneity was worth every cent. People in the District were actually friendly with each other, they strode down the streets with smiles and glee, saying hello, shaking hands and high-fiving others, shouting their support for a team destined to change the entire outlook of great city starved for success. It had been since 1992 that a Washington franchise won a championship in their respective league—sorry, DC United, people still don’t take the MLS seriously I guess, but I see you and your four titles!

I know a Caps fan who cried for 30 minutes after the team lifted the cup and I’m sure there were thousands more and for longer stints; people said most others in DC weren’t at work on Friday because the celebration went through the night, and you know what, it was a free pass; and even congress could agree on one thing while “working” late hours: The Capitals.

For everyone who believes sports are merely recreational and lack deep meaning, watch the footage of the 6-block radius that was dedicated to fans on foot around Capital One Arena, watch the reactions of desperate individuals finally reveling in a moment that has plagued a community for 44 years, and think about the last time that many people gathered together with the same thing on everyone’s mind. You have to remember that a sporting event is the one thing—with maybe the exception of a concert—where a massive amount of people come together and share a common interest no matter their sex, race, age, political or religious affiliation, or whatever difference a person has with another. Tell me that’s not meaningful.

The Las Vegas Golden Knights had a wonderful season and did so much for the city of Las Vegas, especially following one of the most tragic events in this country’s history—again, tell me sports aren’t meaningful. What those players did for the community was amazing, and on a lighter note, after those fantastic pre-game productions, I’m sold that major professional sports in Las Vegas is a great thing.

The Caps worked harder than I’ve ever seen them this season, and Alexander Ovechkin has worked as hard as any player in any sport I’ve ever seen over his last 13 seasons—I mean he had to if he eats a chick-parm before games still for being in his thirties. Seriously, I can’t even have a turkey sandwich before I exercise without becoming bloated and sluggish, and I bet nutritionists and personal trainers hate him because he’s bad for their business.

TRAINER: You need to go on a diet.
CLIENT: I’m good. Ovi eats chick-parms before a game so I did before my workout, and I will after, and probably have one for dinner as well. That’ll make me three times in shape than he is!
TRAINER: He’s playing professional hockey and you’re doing a couple lunges and hitting the elliptical for 15 minutes.
CLIENT: Exactly! It’s like we’re twins!
TRAINER (whispering to self): With a huge weight and overall health discrepancy. CLIENT: What was that?
TRAINER: You’re doing great! Only four more lunges! You can do this!

The Washington Capitals deserved this championship. The players deserved it, the organization deserved it, and the fans deserved it. Cherish it forever, Caps fans, and always rock the red!

Now they just have to go and do it again. How hard is that?

Excellence

“Had the guts, got the glory, went the distance, now I’m not gonna stop.”
-Survivor, “Eye of the Tiger”

Congratulations to the Philadelphia Eagles for winning Super Bowl LII (“52” for all you non-numeral number people), the first in franchise history.

Thank you again, New England, for making it fun, but you probably understand why no one is offering sympathy for your loss.

Let’s cover a few things…

THE GAME: Great Super Bowl, but not the greatest – there were flaws (specifically, missed kicks).
FOOTBALL SQUARES: Jake Elliot and Stephen Gostkowski (see above) owe me $50 so they need to each pitch in and send me a check.
THE CATCH RULE: Change the damn thing already, NFL.
COMMERCIALS: Tide was the clear winner, they were spot on. That was dumb; it’s why I don’t write commercials.
NBC: Did anyone else find it ridiculous that NBC had to tell people to make sure to set their DVR for extra time to watch This Is Us in case the game went too long? Have we really reached a point in our society where people can’t think to do that themselves? We have.
THIS IS US: We finally saw Jack die. It was good (why would you say that?), but somehow not as climatic as it should’ve been.
JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE: Entertaining, but I didn’t understand why they had to use a flawless white grand piano during his tribute to Prince (other than the representation, of course), easily upward of $100k I’m sure, just so JT could hammer out a handful of basic chords anyone could’ve played – and apparently it didn’t bode well with Prince fans. What a waste of resources.
“CHAMPIONS” SHIRTS AND HATS: We really need to stop wasting resources (see above) and dressing developing countries in clothing that represents losing.

The Patriots don’t actually represent losing, and people hate that. There’s something to say about this though. We’ve come to a sad point in our society where greatness seems to be frowned upon. Not many people appreciate the idea of a dominant dynasty, the achievement of excellence whether it’s because of bitterness or jealousy. The mystique of greatness must be admired. I didn’t realize this until yesterday, but out of the eight “Brady-Era” New England Super Bowls, I’ve actually cheered for the Patriots six times. Let’s quickly go over that.

YOU: Oh come on. Do we have to?
ME: Yes; you have nothing better do and that’s why you’re reading this post, and don’t lie and say you’re jam-packed with work the Monday after the Super Bowl.

FOR- 2002 vs. St. Louis Rams: It was cool to see them win their first.
AGAINST- 2004 vs. Carolina Panthers: It would’ve been cool to see the Panthers win their first.
FOR- 2005 vs. Philadelphia Eagles: I’m a Washington Redskins’ fan (and amazingly not a racist).
FOR- 2008 vs. New York Giants: Again, per my loyalties, I just can’t root for rivals, but I can recognize and congratulate.
FOR- 2012 vs. New York Giants: See 2008.
FOR- 2015 vs Seattle Seahawks: There’s just something unlikable and annoying about Pete Carroll and his players.
AGAINST- 2017 vs. Atlanta Falcons: It would’ve been cool to see the Falcons win their first.
FOR- 2018 vs. Philadelphia Eagles: See 2005.

However, it was cool to see the Eagles win their first Super Bowl, and to do it by taking down the evil empire. There’s nothing wrong with the Patriots; they’ve displayed excellence in an era when most are content with average and believe the playing field needs to be evened in all aspects of life. Opportunity should be given, but you have to do the rest. I applaud New England for what they’ve accomplished – which is easy to say now because we’re finally at the tail end of this thing.

Yet, this is about the Philadelphia Eagles and the way they earned their victory when all hope was lost after Carson Wentz got injured in the latter part of the season. It’s okay; Nick Foles went out and won MVP. That locker room wasn’t handed anything, they weren’t settled on accepting their participation trophy, and because of that, we all got to witness something wonderful.

There’s a middle-aged man who works the front desk at the gym I frequent weekday mornings. He was in the best mood I had ever seen him in; greeting everyone with the longest grin imaginable and whistling between happy anecdotes. He’s an Eagles’ fan, from Philadelphia, and he actually said he can die a happy man now. Let’s not get too obsessed now. The footage of the pandemonium in Philly was fantastic; all the ecstasy and tears of joy was touching in a way (my friend and I set the over/under of arrests at 125). However, that overwhelming happiness wasn’t derived from contentment with average or good enough; it was given to these fans through excellence by a group of men who earned their success.

Congratulations again, Philadelphia, now you’re the most hated team in the league (you were up there to begin with). To be disliked for winning means you’re successful, which is better than being admired for a false sense of accomplishment.

The Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals

“There’s no compromise, No second prize.”
-Airbourne, “Rivalry”

I was born in Washington, DC and have devotedly supported the area’s professional sports franchises for the last few decades. I do lean more toward the Orioles because the Nationals weren’t around when I was born, and they just can’t enter my life like some arrogant stepfather. It’s a relationship that has taken time, but I already have a dad (I mean, team) in my life.

As a Capitals’ fan, I would like to congratulate the Pittsburgh Penguins.

With that being said, I don’t believe a Penguins’ fan would offer such a gesture if the Capitals were to ever win the Stanley Cup. I know a handful of Penguins fans – sadly, I’ve been to Pittsburgh more times than they have combined – and they just aren’t that type of person. There’s nothing wrong with that; it just makes it easier not to like the team or players.

Imaginary Penguins’ Fan: You’re just saying that because they’re rivals.
Me: Perhaps, but why?
Imaginary Penguins’ Fan: You’re just jealous.
Me: I’m asking you why we’re rivals?
Imaginary Penguins’ Fan: Because we’re bad ass and you suck!
Me: Why won’t you actually answer the question?
Imaginary Penguins’ Fan: Woo! Go Penguins!

I’m coming to grips with the fact that it’s actually not a rivalry. A rivalry usually includes two teams or individuals that are evenly matched and equally decorated like the Celtics-Lakers in the 80’s or Federer-Nadal in the 21st Century. The Pittsburgh-Washington rivalry is completely one-sided and predictable. It’s similar to Ohio State and Michigan; a rivalry that has completely lost its luster because since 2001 the Wolverines have only one twice. Of course, they have a more storied history, but my point is that rivalries can become very bland and uninteresting.

Imaginary Penguins’ Fan: You’re just jealous.
Me: You already said that.
Imaginary Penguins’ Fan: Fine, you’re bitter.
Me: That’s the same thing.
Imaginary Penguins’ Fan: Woo! Go Penguins!
Me: Hmm…

I am bitter, I will admit it. However, Pittsburgh fans can’t say anything about it because they don’t know what it’s like. They’re spoiled brats when it comes to sports. Not in like an inherited classy New York way, or rags to riches Boston way, but more like a trailer trash wins the lottery kind of way (it’s a joke, not a stereotype, calm down, everybody). Let’s look at the Pittsburgh-Washington rivalry if it were between the two cities as a whole:

Super Bowls: Pittsburgh 6, Washington 3.
Stanley Cups: Pittsburgh 5, Washington 0.
World Series: Pittsburgh 5, Washington 0.
NBA Championships: Washington 1, Pittsburgh 0 (because they don’t have a basketball team).

16-4 overall. How pathetic. Rivalries aren’t supposed to be pathetic; they are supposed to move us, keep us enthralled, make us anxious, and make supporters from other teams tune into the matchup just because it’s an amazing unpredictable game. The Penguins-Capitals has become hardly that.

I always thought the window was closing for the Capitals the last few years, but I believe it’s now shut. The hope of just a shred of glory has drifted away; especially with the emergence of the Blue Jackets, Maple Leafs, and Sabres (you’ll see) in the East and the Predators and Oilers in the West. Las Vegas has once again given Washington high odds to win the Cup in 2018. Sadly, I wouldn’t take that bet. In my disgruntled eyes, the Golden Knights have just as good of a chance.

I will always support you, Capitals, but when the hell are you going to return the favor to the fan base? Forget about Pittsburgh and just rock the red.