Rituals bind us to one another. In a fan community, rituals take many forms. In the clothing we wear, the cheers we shout, the fives we high– that’s where togetherness happens. It’s like a wholesome mob mentality, and everyone’s allowed in the mob so long as they can do a couple simple things.
Problem is: sometimes those rituals get us into trouble. Some rituals become bad habits, and those bad habits have got to go. You know what I’m talking about: It’s all your fault, Who Cares?, RED!, and a certain nickname for Sidney Crosby. It’s not cool anymore. Let’s discuss.
“It’s all your fault”
Imagine a Capitals player scoring a goal. I ask you to use your imagination because my recent memory is coming up blank. To make it slightly easier, pretend it’s the Caps best goal-scorer Jason Chimera doing the deed. Once P.A. Announcer Wes Johnson growls out the scorer’s name, the red army typically berates the defeated goalie with a taunt of “it’s all your fault!”
There are three ways to categorize a goal: due to scorer skill, due to goalie error, or due to some combination of the two. When the crowd at Verizon Center says, “It’s all your fault!”, they’re also relieving the scorer of any responsibility for that goal. Jason Chimera worked hard for that goal, but you’re saying he got it just because the other guy was incompetent.
After witnessing the siege of Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Frederick native Francis Scott Key wrote a poem that was later set to the tune of an old British drinking song. ”The Star-Spangled Banner” became our national anthem a century later, and it’s been performed at sporting events since the 1950′s. The lyrics remind us that America’s very existence is owed to many valorous dead. In Chinatown, Caps fans memorialize America’s patriots by tunelessly shouting “Red!” during the “rocket’s red glare” line.
Beyond being rude to singer Caleb Green (who is too much of a pro to ever let it shake him), the shouting is dumb. And I say this as a purveyor of dumb things. It’s no more clever than guffawing whenever the number 69 appears. (Heh.) There are many ways to enjoy the national anthem, and all of them are valid so long as this is a nominally free country. But we can do better than this.
Instead: Sing it loud! Or stand silently. Or sit in quiet protest. In America it’s your call, but you don’t have to be a dick about it. (We’ll tackle the “O” thing another time.)
When the opposing team scores at Verizon Center, Wes has the solemn duty to read the scorer, assist, and time of goal. As soon as he finishes, the crowd shouts, “Who cares!”
For context, as of game 23 the Capitals are third-to-last in the league in goals against per game– averaging 3.22. We all care deeply that goals are being scored against our team. If not, we should.
Perhaps when the Caps are leading by 6 goals and Mathieu Perreault is taking his shifts in the cage just for a giggle, it’d be cool. But that’s not right now. Right now our team is fighting for every precious goal it can get, and every puck in our net is a minor tragedy. “Who cares” is false bravado at the wrong time. So….
When fans discuss star players from other teams, character assassination is hard to avoid. That’s why we get Alex Semin is a diver, P.K Subban is a jerk, and I wouldn’t pee on Danny Briere if he were caked in napalm and I’ve been pounding Gatorades all day. But that stuff is kind of quaint. So too is calling Sidney Crosby a whiner. After all, thanks to 24/7, we’ve got incontrovertible video documentation of Sidney Crosby being a whiner.
Some fans call him Cindy Crysby. Crysby is a little obvious and punny, but I guess it’s fine. Cindy, on the other hand… Here’s why that’s a dick move. You see your sister, mother, girlfriend, wife, daughter sitting next to you? She heard that. And now she’s internalizing what you said– that being a girl is a bad thing. That women have no place in sports, regardless of what mindblowing stuff my 15-year-old cousin is doing on that blueline in Vermont. When you call him Cindy as an insult, you’re perpetuating that boys club nonsense, and it is keeping a pretty cool sport on the fringes.
Sidney Crosby is back, but he’s still worth mocking. Not because he’s a little bitch and not because we wish serious injury upon him, but because he’s our opponent. We can find new and better ways to talk trash. For now, we’ll toe a fine line.
Instead: Create a poster like this:
But I’m not trying to be a downer; there’s a ton of good habits among Caps fans too. The 100% participation rate for “Unleash the Fury” is still inspiring, and we’ll always have The Horn Guy and Goat to get the crowd going. Maybe we could deal with a few “Crash! The! Net!” cheers and maybe a “ka-NOOOOOOO-ble” chant, but that stuff will come in time.
Verizon Center always explodes in applause for military folks. That’s fantastic. Since there ain’t no way I’m fighting, I’m happy to thank those who will and have. I suppose you guys feel the same. Right on.
Then there’s the rally balloon, an emerging and possibly fleeting trend of spurring a comeback by floating a creepy red balloon out over the ice. That one’s a bit mischievous, isn’t it? It’ll pass for now.
And then there’s my favorite: the D.C Hat Trick. We haven’t seen this one recently, and you may not know it at all, so I’ll explain. When a player scores two goals in regulation and then scores during the shootout, fans at Verizon Center lose their dang minds! It’s great! Even though that goal doesn’t really count at all, Caps fans throw hats on the ice and hoot and holler like history has just been made. This is awesome and should never stop.
Don’t ever change, D.C. We love you just the way you are. Except for, ya know, all the stuff I listed at the top. Change that right away.
Illustration by Ian Oland