WASHINGTON — I originally planned for this column to answer whether D.C. sports has reached the commencement stage of a championship renaissance.
Now it’s begging the question of whether the fabled D.C. Sports Curse has even lifted yet.
At its core, this is a matter of semantics. While Washington’s 26-year championship drought in the four major professional sports is unquestionably over, the collective curse over its teams could actually still be ongoing.
Just look at what happened Monday. Less than 11 days after the Capitals won their first Stanley Cup, they lost a contract dispute with their coach, Barry Trotz, and watched him walk away after guiding the team to its best four-year stretch and first title in franchise history.
With the Nationals, Wizards, and Redskins all plausibly close to being contenders, the Caps’ title run could have been the spark that ignites a Bostonian run of success.
Boston comes to mind because the Caps’ title run felt somewhat similar to that of the 2001 New England Patriots, who came out of nowhere to win Super Bowl XXXVI and kick start not only the greatest dynasty in the NFL, but a dominant decade for pro sports in Boston that saw the Red Sox end a 86-year drought with a trio of World Series titles, the Celtics knock off the rival Lakers to win their first NBA Finals in 22 years, and the Bruins win the Stanley Cup to end a 39-year drought.
Can Washington replicate that? Methinks not.
The Celtics shook free of their mediocrity in the 2000s because they were able to seduce perennial All-Stars Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett to come to Beantown and author a 42-game turnaround that ended with a title in 2008. The Wizards have a tantalizing tandem of John Wall and Bradley Beal, but lack the championship heritage and/or intrigue to appeal — not to mention salary cap space — to lure big name free agents (*cough* LeBron), thus placing the Wiz further away from being a title contender than we care to admit.
The Red Sox entered the new millennium as a good team saddled with high-profile postseason failures, and it took an ownership change, a deal for one of the all-time great postseason pitchers (Curt Schilling), and the hiring of Terry Francona to end their Curse of the Bambino. The present-day Nationals are in a somewhat similar boat, but no rookie manager since 1969 has won a title after inheriting a playoff team, and a number of the team’s stars are on the brink of free agency.
Thus, D.C. is probably closer to Cleveland as a sports town. The Cavaliers stunned the Golden State Warriors to win the NBA championship in 2016, but have won only once in the last two NBA Finals. The Indians — amid a controversy similar to the Redskins’ — lost Game 7 of the World Series in 2016 and bowed out in the first round of the playoffs the following season after a 102-win campaign. Oh, and the Browns are currently coming off the second 0-16 season in NFL history.
That doesn’t sound like a city reversing a curse. It sounds like a place that went from not having nice things to not keeping them for long.
That’s not to say a string of championships isn’t in the offing. Washington baseball has historically had great success with first-time managers and could finally emerge from a wide-open National League field. If the Wizards can shed some of their awful contracts, they could stun the basketball world and land someone like LeBron James or DeMarcus Cousins. With its unbalanced schedule, the NFL is the friendliest of the pro sports leagues toward those who love a good worst-to-first story, which only helps a projected bottom-of-the-division team like the ‘Skins.
But it’s hard to look at the events of this week and not think that Alex Ovechkin’s epic bender in Georgetown and the parade down Constitution Avenue are anything more than a brief reprieve from the pain of being a D.C. sports fan.