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Washington, D.C. Sports Faced with Dark Age

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Nearly all Washington, D.C. sports fans of the 2010s, before the Capitals won the Stanley Cup in 2018, heard about the “D.C. sports curse” that allegedly plagued the city’s sports franchises.

These days, it feels like the nation’s capital was actually spoiled back then.

Let’s look back at those “cursed” 2010s seasons. The Capitals boasted a prime Alex Ovechkin, one of the greatest hockey players of all time. “Ovi” and his formidable supporting cast powered the team to the NHL’s best regular-season record in 2015-16 and 2016-17. Before breaking through in 2018, the Capitals were a title hopeful for close to a decade.

Meanwhile, the Nationals won three division titles in four years from 2014 and 2017 while being led by 2015 NL MVP Bryce Harper and three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer. The Wizards, led by an All-Star backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal, were a game away from advancing to the NBA’s Eastern Conference Finals in 2017.

Even the city’s downtrodden NFL team got to witness QB Robert Griffin III’s stellar rookie season in 2012, and then the unlikely playoff run led by Kirk Cousins in 2015. During the three years from 2015-17, the team went 24-23-1 with Cousins at QB, which by Washington football standards is the most competitive it has been over a sustained period in recent history.

Now let’s fast-forward to 2023.

Under new ownership, the Commanders (4-10) are a wreck and probably headed for an offseason that will include a front-office makeover and perhaps a rebuild on the field.

Heading into Monday night’s game at Sacramento, the Wizards are 4-21 and at the beginning of what’s likely to be a lengthy reconstruction.

The Nationals, who finished last in the NL East in 2023 with a record of 71-91, are in the midst of their own transitional period. Meanwhile, the Capitals (15-9-4) remain a playoff hopeful, but Ovechkin and the rest of the old guard are on their last legs.

More disappointing for Washington fans is the lack of young, talented players who could replace the big names of the past decade as D.C. sports icons. There are no highly touted recent draft picks who will put fans in seats as the faces of the next generation.

Who, on any of the four major pro teams, has superstar potential? Bilal Coulibaly of the Wizards? Connor McMichael of the Capitals? Commanders QB Sam Howell appeared to be trending in that direction earlier this season, but now it’s unclear what his future may hold. In the MLB Draft in July, the Nationals selected outfielder Dylan Crews second overall, but it may take years before he appears in the majors.

Long story short, it’s a rough time for professional sports in Washington. Call it a transitional period before the next generation arrives, but when that next generation doesn’t even appear to be on the horizon yet, it’s hard for D.C. fans to be passionate about their teams.

When D.C. was “cursed,” Washington pro sports fans embraced their teams. They knew they had four chances every year to at worst be in the playoff picture and at best be a title favorite. Despite the lazy, media-driven myth at the time that D.C. sports were forbidden from having good things, it in fact had a surplus of them.

This is the true dark age of D.C. sports. On the plus side, though, that means there’s nowhere to go but up.

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