The favored narrative holds that above all else, love of sports in Washington brings people together across party lines. Don't buy it—at a game in the capital, politics doesn't enter the equation. I can assure you that Washington politicians care about sports a lot more than Washington sports fans care about politics.
I grew up in Potomac, Md., but like a lot of us who lived just outside the city limits, I considered myself a Washingtonian as much as a Marylander. Washington is an amalgam of distinct, diverse sections: Robert Griffin III could stand on the steps of the Capitol, throw a Hail Mary pass that lands on the porch of a tony town house in Northwest and then turn around and plop another ball into an urban ghetto in Southeast. The suburbs are similarly arrayed, with high-cotton counties abutting blue-collar ones and transplanted techies mingling with homegrown conservatives. Yet on Sundays we all came together and rooted for the Redskins. That was the only party that mattered.
I grew up as a Redskins season-ticket holder (thank you, Dad, now and forever), and I can wholeheartedly confirm that D.C. isn't a sports town so much as a Redskins town. I pity the young fans who only know antiseptic FedEx Field in Landover, Md., as the team's home. RFK Stadium—located in Southeast—was easily the best scene in the NFL. Our seats were five rows from the roof, but since the stadium only held 56,000, we were right on top of the field. Section 531 was a beautiful melting pot. My dad and I got to games early just so we could hear the elderly black man behind us belt out the national anthem. The Skins dominated newspapers, TV shows, watercoolers, school hallways, dinner tables. When John Riggins, after fielding a call from President Reagan upon being named MVP of Super Bowl XVII, cracked that "at least for tonight, Ron's the President, but I'm king," he wasn't boasting.
Like all fans, we love a winner. When the Bullets, Hoyas or Caps were at the top of their games, we joined in on the fun. When Sugar Ray Leonard or Riddick Bowe fought for the title, we rooted them on. But baseball was always tricky. Like most Washingtonians, I grew up rooting for the Orioles, simply because after the Senators left in 1971, we had no team of our own. (The only thing I knew about the Senators was that they always sucked—except in Damn Yankees, and even then they needed a little diabolic intervention.) I was in Memorial Stadium when Willie Stargell's homer beat the O's in Game 7 of the 1979 World Series, and I was in Camden Yards when Cal Ripken broke Lou Gehrig's consecutive games streak in '95.
I thought I knew what love was—until these Nationals came along. Here is a narrative that every fan can buy into: feckless franchise makes a miraculous turnaround, not with help from the devil but rather a near-septuagenarian manager and a teenage outfielder. The Orioles are also having their best season in years, raising the tantalizing specter of a Beltway Series. Should that come to pass, there's no question which team D.C. fans will root for. Some friends have mocked me for claiming the Nationals after my lifelong fealty to the Orioles, but frankly, I don't give a damn. It's my party and I'll cheer if I want to.
Illustration by ABBIE J. ZUIDEMA