It was as dramatic a sports night as anyone can remember around here. Within about half an hour Tuesday night, in order, the Wizards completed a double-digit win over Toronto to take a 2-0 lead in the series, the Capitals beat the Islanders on an overtime goal by Nicklas Backstrom to tie the series at two and Yunel Escobar hit a 10th inning walkoff homer to give the Nationals a 2-1 win over St. Louis. But beyond the way the three games ended, was the fact that we actually had three major sports teams to play on the same night – two of them in playoff series. The release of the NFL schedule, which usually overshadows everything around here, had to take a back seat to actual big games.
In a city like New York, it’s no big deal to have a crowded sports night. In fact, the Big Apple has the chance to have as many as seven of their area teams playing on the same night. Imagine trying to keep up with NBA playoff games involving the Knicks and Nets, NHL playoff games involving the Rangers, Islanders and Devils, plus regular season games for the Yankees and Mets. It could all happen on one night!
Of course, there may not be enough channels to televise it all. Just with our three playing on Tuesday, Cox cable subscribers in Virginia couldn’t get the Wizards’ game because the second Comcast channel was contractually obligated to carry the Orioles-Blue Jays game. The main Comcast channel had the Caps game and even though the Wizards were on NBA TV, the game was blacked out locally. Oy.
Anyway, having lived here most of my life, it got me thinking how incredible it is to have three major sports teams at all, much less have all of them playing on the same night.
Only 11 years ago, we had no baseball team, the Wizards missed the playoffs with 25 wins and the Capitals not only didn’t make it to the postseason, they wouldn’t get back together for more than a year and a half because of the lockout that wiped out the entire 2004-05 season. Checking back on the sports pages from late April of 2004, the only local sports news involved speculation whether the Redskins would take either Sean Taylor or Kellen Winslow Jr. with the fifth pick of the upcoming draft.
And if you’re old enough, you may remember a time when the Redskins were the only major professional team in town. When the Senators left for Texas after the 1971 season, it was two years before the Bullets moved here from Baltimore and three years before the Capitals were created as an expansion team. That meant that for all of 1972 and most of ’73, it was Redskins only. It didn’t hurt that they were good. The Skins made the Super Bowl after the ’72 season and went back to the playoffs in ’73.
Just for grins I took a look back at the sports pages from this week in 1972 and ‘73. In ’72, while the rest of the country focused on Vida Blue’s holdout in Oakland and the Knicks and Lakers heading towards the NBA Finals, the only local sports news we had to chew on was the Redskins 12th round pick, quarterback Don Bunce, signing with the British Columbia Lions of the Canadian Football League. He wasn’t exactly needed. Sonny Jurgensen and Billy Kilmer were still playing. Kilmer would lead the Skins to the Super Bowl that year. Bunce, who had led Stanford to a Rose Bowl win over Michigan, wound up playing only a year in Canada before heading to Stanford medical school. He became an orthopedic surgeon and died of a heart attack in 2003 at the age of 54.
In 1973, the late April D.C. sports news was the Redskins trading a draft pick to Houston for Alvin Haymond, who never played a game here. Oh and, there was some rub some salt in our wounds news. Joe Coleman, who’d been traded to the Tigers in the ill-fated Denny McLain trade before the Senators last year here, had just raised his record to 4-0 with a win over the Orioles. Coleman would win 19 games for Detroit that year and make the All Star team. He’d won 20 games the year before. Watergate was dominating the news in those days. It would have been nice to have more sports diversion than the comings and goings of low round Redskins draft picks.
Yes the Tuesday night trifecta of dramatic wins for the Wizards, Caps and Nats was great, but really it’s great in itself to just have all three teams.