There’s nothing quite like the camaraderie of the crowd at a sporting event. Nowhere else in the world can you high-five random people, bear hug complete strangers and jump for joy with tens of thousands of people you’ve never met.
Unfortunately that’s been lacking in Washington D.C. for a long time. The Redskins of the 80s are gone, having abandoned their winning ways and raucous RFK Stadium for years of mediocrity played in a stadium no one enjoys going to. The Wizards/Bullets have never been relevant on a national stage, and the Nationals, even though they’ve only been here for six years, have already disenchanted this town with their losing ways.
Enter the Washington Capitals. In the early-to-middle part of the decade, the Caps were easily on the lowest rung of the D.C. sports scene and frequently one of the worst teams in the league. It showed at the arena. I remember attending games with my dad where we would count how many entire sections were devoid of fans. One game we saw nine complete sections without a single person there. But with good drafting, good fortune, and the help of the most exciting player in all of professional sports (if you’ve never seen an Alex Ovechkin goal, watch this one), Washington now has a team, a fan base and a stadium experience it can be proud of.
Nestled in bustling and revitalized Chinatown, the Verizon Center sits in one of the best areas for fun in the whole city.
In Chinatown and nearby Penn Quarter, there’s an array of bars and restaurants to head to before the game. One can grab upscale cocktails and appetizers at PS 7’s, or play pop-a-shot and grab Miller Lites at below ground Rocket Bar.
The streets are awash with thousands of people all wearing bright red Capitals jerseys and tee shirts. The local spirit was infectious.
Right now, Capitals’ tickets are the hottest in the city; the team sold out every home game last year and is on pace to do the same again this year. And at the Verizon Center, it’s not a faux sellout like at FedEx Field, where there’s thousands of empty seats. No, by the time the puck dropped to start the first period, nearly every seat in the arena was filled, and almost all of the near 20,000 patrons rocked some sort of red. The color is dazzling, the effect amazing, and with everyone yelling, the noise is deafening.
Outside sportswriters ranked the Verizon Center one of the loudest arenas in hockey, and it truly is. On a Tuesday regular season game, the decibel level is astounding. For a playoff game on a Friday night, it’s indescribable.
And Capitals fans are raucous and happy because they know they’re supporting a team that’s likely to win. Turning on a Redskins’ game always comes with a healthy level of trepidation. When you head to a Nationals’ game, you already know there’s a 70 percent chance they will lose. But with Capitals, who won the most games in the NHL last year, fans expect victory.
I struck up a conversation with a girl from Edmonton who’d just moved to the nation’s capital. Canadians love their hockey, and she told me that her experience at the game tonight was as good as any she had in arenas in the cradle of hockey.
A true compliment indeed; and a wonderful way to spend a weekday night.
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