Winning windows don’t stay open for long. Very few teams in any sport sustain success for long periods of time. There are of course, exceptions like the Yankees in baseball, the Lakers in basketball and recently the Patriots in football. But even their windows close. The Yankees missed the playoffs this year, the Lakers were in the lottery and many are wondering after the way New England was clobbered in Kansas City, if their window has closed.
Now the Nationals are breathing in the sweet smell of an open winning window. They’re National League East champions for the second time in three years. But their first stay in the playoffs lasted only one round two years ago, and although they hold home field advantage until the World Series this year, there’s no guarantee of any more than three playoff games. The Nats could be playing baseball for the next month or they could be finished by Monday in San Francisco.
If it is a long postseason run for the Nats, it will buck the recent trend of the other local pro teams.
The Redskins 10-year run between 1982 and 91 is the exception. During those years, they played in four Super Bowls, five NFC Championship games and a total of 14 playoff games. They missed the playoffs only three times during that run, and two of the times they missed, they finished 10-6.
Consider, though, what’s happened since those glory years ended in the relatively few times they’ve made the playoffs:
1992 – lost to San Francisco in the divisional round after beating Minnesota in the Wild Card game.
1999 – lost to Tampa Bay in the divisional round after beating Detroit in the Wild Card game.
2005 – lost to Seattle in the divisional round after beating Tampa Bay in the Wild Card round.
2007 – lost to Seattle in the Wild Card round.
2012 – lost to Seattle in the divisional round.
Those Redskin teams all won 10 regular season games or fewer. They struggled just to make the playoffs. Take the Caps though. Following a first round playoff loss to Tampa Bay in 2003. They unloaded Jaromir Jagr and rebuilt with draft picks. After three playoff-less seasons and a lockout year, their winning window opened. Alexander Ovechkin had become their star and the Caps went on a six-year run of postseason appearances after big regular seasons. However, like the Nats two years ago, their playoff success didn’t match their regular season expectations:
2007-08, division finish, 1st – lost in the first round to Philadelphia
2008-09, division finish, 1st – beat Rangers in the first round, lost to Pittsburgh in the second round
2009-10, division finish, 1st – lost in first round to Montreal
2010-11, division finish, 1st, led the NHL with 121 pts – beat Rangers in first round, swept by Tampa Bay in second round
2011-12, division finish, 2nd – beat Boston in first round, lost to Rangers in second round
2012-13, division finish, 1st – lost to Rangers in first round
It’s pretty much the same story for the Wizards, who opened up their winning window last decade, but mirrored the Caps:
2004-05 – beat Chicago in the first round, swept by Miami in the second round
2005-06 – lost to Cleveland in the first round
2006-07 – lost to Cleveland in the first round
2007-08 – lost to Cleveland in the first round
Add it up, between the Redskins, Wizards, Caps and Nationals, that’s 16 combined playoff appearances with only seven trips past the first round. Not once in those 22 years have we had a team make it to the conference title round.
Back in the playoffs last year, after five years out, the Wizards did manage to get to the second round, before falling to Indiana. You hope it’s the first step towards being real contenders, rather than what they experienced last decade. We’ll see.
As for the Nats, it’s show time. Show us as D.C. sports fans that you can buck the trend. You have to go back 16 years to find the last time a D.C. team played in the finals. And those 1997-98 Caps were swept by Detroit. A deep October run would really be something new.