Dan Steinberg is a sports columnist at the Washington Post and a darned good one, but he was losing me earlier this week while writing about the sorry state of teams in the District of Columbia. For a while, you would have assumed our nation's capital cornered the market on failure. I almost stopped reading.
Steinberg rattled off stats supporting his argument while leading readers down a trail littered with heartbreak. "Washington has now completed 68 straight baseball, hockey, basketball and football seasons without once appearing in a conference finals, easily the longest drought of any town," he wrote. "In the past 15 times they might have ended that streak, Washington teams are now 0 for 15."
And that’s true.
Steinberg listed names of players who pushed Washington toward the abyss in sports. Allow me to cut-and-paste: Dan Turk, Shaq, Carlos Rogers, Sidney Crosby, Sean Bergenheim, Henrik Lundqvist, Pete Kozma, David West, Brandon Belt, Derek Stepan, Paul Pierce, Nick Bonino, Clayton Kershaw, Marc-Andre Fleury and Kelly Olynyk.
That's also true.
Steinberg added comments he received from Washington sports fans that were eerily familiar to me. Taken directly from his column: “At some point this becomes a comedy, right?” one asked. “The Caps had already sapped my spirit to the point I felt nothing tonight,” another wrote. “Feels as bad as it sounds,” someone else wrote.
Capitals fans have been whining for years about their team's shortcomings. The Caps finished first or second nine times in 10 years and failed to get past the first or second round each time. They have been dumped the past two seasons by Sidney Crosby and the Penguins, injecting acid into Alex Ovechkin's ulcer.
And when the Wizards lost in the seventh game to the Celtics earlier this week, well, it was almost as if Washington fans had a license to moan and groan about their sports teams. Fans in other cities climbed aboard with wisecracks about Washington that were borderline appalling, if only because they were forgetting about Buffalo.
"There’s a tortured, expect-the-worst mood around town," Steinburg wrote, "and each successive playoff loss makes it a little worse."
Wait just one minute, Bub. That's my line.
Anybody making references remotely close to "tortured" or "impending doom" or "hoping for the best while bracing for the worst" must get permission from The Buffalo News. I was prepared to fire off an email to Steinberg that would have been worse than emails sent to me. Steinberg recovered, as I suspected he would.
"Here’s the list of cities," he wrote, "that have won MLB, NHL, NBA and NFL division titles over the past two years: Washington. Here’s a list of cities whose NHL and NBA teams both advanced to the second round this year: Washington. Here’s a list of the cities whose MLB, NHL, NBA and NFL teams all had winning records in their most recent seasons: Washington and Boston."
You're darned right.
"The Capitals just completed their best back-to-back regular seasons in franchise history," he wrote. "The Wizards just won their most regular-season games since the Carter administration. The Redskins just completed their first back-to-back winning seasons in 19 years. The Nationals are tied for the most wins in baseball over the past six years. At any time of the year, you’ve been able to settle in after a horrible commute from your frustrating job and watch a relevant team play relevant games."
Thank you, Dan.
By all means, please continue.
"The eventual endings have been gruesome, and so there’s sadness in the sense of disappointment, and heartbreak, and agony. But let’s not confuse that with sad as in pathetic, or sad as in punchline, or sad as in … well, sad as in Buffalo.
"The Bills have missed the playoffs 17 straight seasons. The Sabres have missed the playoffs six straight seasons. That’s all those folks have. Sure, they have a more recent appearance in the conference finals — that round wistful Washingtonians have started fetishizing — but you can’t convince me that being a Washington sports fan is sadder or more hopeless than rooting for Buffalo teams."
Finally, someone gave Buffalo credit it richly deserved.
The Bills and Sabres have combined for 97 seasons without winning a championship – 51 years in which the Super Bowl was played and 46 seasons the Sabres have had an NHL team. The Bills won two AFL titles in the mid-1960s, a time in which many viewed the NFL as the superior league.
Let's not forget that Washington beat Buffalo, rather soundly, in the second of four straight Super Bowl losses for the Bills. Let's also remember that the Capitals beat the Sabres the last time a Washington team reached the conference finals (or championship game) in any sport.
You know how tiresome it became when Cubs fans moaned about 1908 and Red Sox fans groaned about 1918 before both teams won the World Series? Meanwhile, fans in both cities enjoyed multiple championships in multiple sports. They weren't getting much sympathy from anyone living in the 716. Buffalo's only rival when it came to losing was San Diego, which should suffer eternal punishment for making a deal with Boston and essentially stealing our Braves.
Buffalo has its own collection of players who need no introduction, starting with Brett Hull, and various phrases, such as Wide Right, that define our wretched, insufferable sports folklore. Steinberg knew as much, too. As I learned after calling him Wednesday, he grew up in Fredonia. His parents now live in Williamsville. His four years of high school were marked by four Super Bowl losses for the Bills.
Why, of course. It took a Western New Yorker to put losing into proper perspective. And that's why it's important to read to the end.