The Excruciatingly True Story of Three Washington, D.C. Playoff Eliminations


When I was nine, my dad took me to every single Washington home football game. It was 1991 and while I’m certain there were preseason predictions about and expectations of the team, I was either too young to interpret them or am now too old to recollect what they were.

But I do remember Washington won all eight home games that year, in route to a 14-2 record and a Super Bowl win, the last time any D.C. team finished a postseason with a victory.

Of course, that story isn’t entirely true. It’s how I like to recall it. There’s no chance my Dad, with just two tickets and two other children and a wife, took me and solely me to every game. Heck, even though I swore I was right for so long, the team didn’t go undefeated at home that year. They lost to Dallas in November.

But I like that story, because it’s a happy memory. And I remember the Super Bowl. It had a happy ending.

These three, assuredly did not.

Washington Nationals, Fall 2012

Brad Mills / USA Today

Friday, October 12th was Game Five of the NLDS between the Nationals and St. Louis Cardinals. It was also my mother’s 60th birthday.

We had reservations that night at Restaurant Eve, routinely picked as one of the best restaurants in Washington. None of us had ever been before. Dinner time was 7:00, the first pitch 90 or so minutes later. I’d been planning on watching at home, but the day before, one of my best friends–and a huge, huge fan–called me with an extra ticket.

I thanked him profusely, but declined, telling him I wouldn’t be able to make it until the third inning at the earliest, so it would be a waste. Take someone who can go to the whole game.

No, he insisted. You have to come.

When I told my sisters, they had one thing to say. Do not fucking tell mom. You will sit and we will not be rushed and dinner will be over whenever it’s over. You can leave then. We’ve planned this for months and you aren’t going to ruin this.

I agreed.

My braised pork belly, which came with a balsamic and pomegranate seed reduction, was fantastic. Mom had the halibut and dinner flew by. Before I knew it, our dessert menus were being presented.

“Please keep in mind,” the waitress said, “The tart takes 50 minutes.”

“Do you mind?” my mom asked us. She really loved tarts.

I went to the bathroom during the hour wait and saw the Nationals were leading 6-0. This will be awesome, I thought. Show up and celebrate. I changed in the back of my sister’s car, from a suit to warm sweats. By the time I arrived at the stadium, in the top of the 7th, the Nats were only up three.

I stood, screaming and jumping as the Nats came a strike away from winning. Silent, my friend and I sat, passing a bottle of whiskey back and forth, as the Nats’ last three batters came up. Then we slowly shuffled out. The normal 40-minute Metro ride home took almost two hours and we didn’t exchange a word.

Washington Redskins, Winter 2013

Brad Mills / USA Today

The ‘Skins has reeled off seven straight wins after starting the season 3-6. No doubt, they were the hottest team heading into the playoffs. To celebrate, I threw a huge party, inviting 20 people to my living room to watch.

I planned a massive menu, getting up early on Sunday to start.

First, though, was a trip to the park with my dog. As Mandy was trotting along one of the paths, I saw blood covering her right leg. She hadn’t howled or anything, but I rushed up. Her back left paw had a huge gash through it. I picked her up in my arms and ran to the car. I wrapped her leg with a golf towel and sat her in the front seat. Yet blood was still getting everywhere. That’s when I noticed her front paw was sliced up, too. At home, I got a big bowl of water and washed the cuts, realizing she immediately needed stitches.

The closest urgent care vet was a half hour away. I spent the next three hours there as she got two staples in her back leg. Cost $400. Because of time, the menu I planned had to be scrapped. Everyone came over anyway, and we watched as our starting quarterback’s leg got mangled even worse.

I never figured out what cut her up.

Washington Capitals, Spring 2009

In spring of 2009, the Caps were one of the best young teams in the NHL. I was 25 and had just moved back to D.C. from a year in San Francisco. The company I was with at the time, a huge general contractor, sent me to help finish a project already in process. It was the W Hotel in downtown Washington, just down the street from the Verizon Center.

The lead superintendent on the project despised me from the start (I wasn’t punctual and kind of a dick). Whether he’d known I was a Caps fan was debatable, but I do know that the week before the playoffs started, he reassigned me to a noon-to-midnight shift.

My job was simply to supervise all contractors who were putting in overtime to finish the project. I would be the only representative from our company on-site at the time.

“Fuck that,” I thought and from the hours of 3:00 to 6:00, I would watch from the roof of the building and count as I saw each and every one of the superintendents who worked above me leave. Once I was sure I was the only one left, I ran from the building to either a bar or the arena, depending on whether Washington was home or away.

God, was I fired up for Game Seven against Pittsburgh in round two. This really was the year the Caps were going to win a Stanley Cup. They’d even already pulled off a thrilling Game Seven win in their last series.

Except, the Wednesday of the game, one of my bosses was still around at 6:50, right before the puck was to drop. Finally, I came clean, telling him I had tickets and had to go.

“Go,” he told me, and I believed that he was cool with me ditching work and wouldn’t tell a soul.

The Caps gave up two goals in the first and lost 6-2.

Nine days later, I was thrown off the project and out of a job.