On the eve of the 2020s, Washington, D.C., has a lot to be proud of as a sports town. In the decades since the Washington Redskins’ dynasty ended, the District has struggled to prove it can stand toe-to-toe with the Bostons, New Yorks and Pittsburghs of the world.
In reverse order, here are the Top-10 D.C. sports stories of the decade. The criteria for some are obvious, while other stories were significant because they changed the course of fate for a team, one way or the other.
Heading into a contentious 2011 NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiation, the league and players’ association went through a so-called “uncapped” year in 2010, where teams were theoretically unconstrained by the league salary cap. However, in a move that probably amounts to collusion, teams agreed to honor the spirit of a salary cap and not spend wildly during that season.
The Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys, however, renegotiated key player contracts that dumped extra salary into that season. It was not until 2012, once the ink had dried on the new CBA, that the league offices punished the two teams. For the Redskins, that meant a $36 million cap penalty spread over two years, announced on the eve of free agency.
This use could be another football stadium, as the Redskins’ lease at FedEx Field expires in 2027. Either way, it will be a sad day in D.C. when the seats that bounced under the weight of excited fans collapse into rubble.
Before the Nats or Washington Capitals won championships, they put Nationals Park at the center of the sports universe. In 2015, the Caps hosted the Chicago Blackhawks for the Winter Classic, in front of nearly 43,000 hockey fans, in a rink that was built over the grass and dirt playing surface.
All champions belong on this list, but the Mystics are a unique story for a number of reasons. Before adding Elena Delle Donne in 2017, the Mystics wallowed in obscurity, even with talented pieces like Emma Meesseman and Natasha Cloud.
During his tenure, the team went 62-100-1 in the regular season, cycling through coaches, quarterbacks and other scapegoats in the front office. His enduring legacy will be his own assessments, that the team was “winning off the field,” and that “the (team) culture is actually damn good.”
Remember #RG3toDC? I was working for Redskins.com when that started, running what used to be the official Redskins Blog. I remember the day that Griffin first visited Redskins Park before the draft and got to shake the Heisman Trophy winner’s hand outside of the team’s weight room.
I was standing in a noisy bar with some of my colleagues as the breaking news banner on ESPN showed that the Redskins had traded up to the second overall pick in the draft. And I will never forget how the first night of the 2012 NFL Draft turned into a nonstop party, until he crumpled under a torn ACL in the Wild Card round of the playoffs less than a year later. At that point, the dream was over, whether we knew it or not at the time.
Hype and marketing aside, what each of these players signified was hope and identity for struggling franchises. The Redskins were coming off of a season in which John Beck started multiple games under center.
The Washington Nationals drafted Bryce Harper at a time when they were still trying to live down the “Natinals” fiasco. John Wall represented a new chapter for the Wizards, who had never recovered from the Gilbert Arenas fallout. These three players were supposed to be to D.C. sports what Alex Ovechkin has been for the Caps--a legendary player and face of the franchise.
Sadly, it was not to be for RG3, who never recovered from injury. Bryce Harper chose to leave, chasing a payday in Philadelphia. The book is not quite finished on Wall, who still has a chance to be part of something great in D.C. Regardless, these three dominated D.C. sports coverage over the last decade, and leave a mixed legacy behind.
Despite having arguably the best hockey player in the world, in Alex Ovechkin, the Caps had always come up just short in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In fact, the franchise probably had better rosters than the 2017-18 team but never had the right combination of talent.
With the bullpen in shambles, Martinez utilized his trio of aces to fill in innings and shut down opposing hitters. The red-hot St. Louis Cardinals ran into a D.C. buzzsaw, as the Nats swept the Cards in four games to advance to their first World Series.