On the Caps, Bandwagoneering and Me

Growing up I was into whatever my dad was into, and one of the ways that manifested itself was in us attending Caps games together. Some of my most vivid childhood memories are of sitting with him in the Caps Centre, and some of my most cherished possessions are my Rod Langway rookie card, Dale Hunter autographed puck and vintage Caps pennant.

But that was long ago. We stopped going to games, I went off to college and the Caps moved downtown. I stopped caring all that much about the Caps, probably because I cared more about the sports I actually played. I still liked the Caps, sure, but not as much as the Skins, O’s and Wiz.

I’d periodically attend games with friends, but it was mostly just an excuse to get some beers downtown. Beyond Olie or Bondra, I couldn’t name many of the players, let alone care about them. Then Ovi showed up.

My dad and I finally went back to a Caps game in February 2008, before that season’s ungodly run to a division title. Before the whole “Rock the Red” thing. Before the success of this season and last. The Verizon Center was dead that night, and we agreed that there was no reason to go back.

Of course, look at it now. Just two years later Caps games are a full-blown phenomenon, night and day from what they were. And, of course, we’re caught up in it. Dad just got a Langway throwback. I watch games, follow the team, blog about them and take heat for it.

Not once but twice recently I’ve been labeled as a “bandwagon” fan. The first was by Pensblog and the second was by ESPN’s DJ Gallo. I suppose they’re right, as I’m more interested in the team now than before. (Note: WaPo also profiled “die-hard” Caps fans vs. “newcomers” the other day.)

But I’ve always been a fan (see above). And it’s not like we just started blogging about the Caps; Chris and I have made 71 Caps posts on this blog in the past two-plus years. Our coverage has increased lately, sure. The same thing would happen if/when the Skins, Nats, O’s or Wiz are going good. And that’s not just native to D.C.

Since my critics hail from Pittsburgh, let’s look there for a comparison. The Penguins and Steelers get great support, and they’ve been winning teams forever. But what about the Pirates? They play in a wonderful ballpark but drew only 19,000 fans per game last season. The only time Pirates attendance has spiked over 25,000 fans/game was PNC Park’s inaugural season. Before that, you’d have to go back to 1990-91 to see Pittsburgh filling the stands. What was happening then? The Pirates were winning.

When they start contending again the fans of Pittsburgh will come, much like they do in Washington. If it’s alright with you, I plan on letting them enjoy it.

14 thoughts on “On the Caps, Bandwagoneering and Me”

  1. I’m sure these fine gentleman our familiar with bandwagon fans, seeing how the Pittsburgh Steelers have the largest bandwagon fan base of all teams residing in North America. Yes, bigger than the Cowboys, Yankees, and the Lakers. Have you seen their cockroach like fans crawl out of the woodwork for away games? They need to look in a direction that is closer to home.

  2. They do acknowledge this on the Pensblog too, but let’s not forget how big of a bandwagon the Pens have. Before Sid and Malkin came to town, the Penguins literally were going bankrupt and considered moving the team BECAUSE NO ONE WENT TO GAMES. So the Pens aren’t exactly the shining example of non-bandwagon fans either. It took Mario Lemieux saving the franchise with his money and then lucking into Sidney and Malkin.

  3. I’ve never understood the whole diehard fans versus bandwagon fans thing. I was there when the Verizon Center was empty and the Caps were getting blown out on a nightly basis. It sucked. Now that the building is sold out every night it’s a much more enjoyable gameday experience. It’s cool to see the entire building rocking the red.

    Do we really need to go seat to seat and ask each fan to prove they’re fanatical about the team or can we all just be happy that one team in town doesn’t blow?

  4. Tell the Pensblog to eat this:

    For 3 straight seasons (’01-’02 through ’03-’04 seasons) quite fucking recently, the Penguins attendance was in the bottom 8 of the league, well behind Washington’s.

    In ’03-’04, Pittsburgh’s fan loyalty? Good enough for 30th out of 30 teams. They ranked last in attendance, averaging 11,000+. The Pens were also on the brink of collapse in the 1980s before Lemieux swept in and saved them with championship runs. Sound familiar?

    Couple this with your apt point about Pirates attendance and I can’t help but laugh at Pittsburgh fans who make the bandwagon argument. It’s retarded to begin with, and it’s invalid.

    This is how fanbases are created: through championship-caliber teams being consistently good. If the Caps ever win multiple Cups and their playoff history becomes balanced, you can bank on the fanbases being officially balanced.

  5. I apologize to the good Reverend Paul Revere, who made basically the same point I did first. We came to the same conclusion independently though, that counts for something. AMIRITE?

  6. Seriously how is this even an argument. The Penguins ALMOST MOVED CITIES. The Capitals, nor any DC team ever came close.

    END OF STORY

  7. At least Caps fans never led their team to the point of almost moving to Kansas City. Which happened quite recently to Pittsburgh.

  8. As a season ticket holder for the last 11 years I have mixed feelings about the new fan base. While I feel I have paid dues these new fans have not, nothing makes me happier than seeing the phone booth filled with red clad fans, and knowing opposing fans can’t fill the place. My only real complaint is the odd attendee who isn’t really there to see the game and those who ignore basic hockey etiquette: people who attend the game and spend the whole time on their cell phones, or talking about work; or those who decide the middle of a rush is a good time to go get a beer.

  9. I’m with the poster above: I don’t get the whole “bandwagon” divide between fans. When ownership puts out a lousy product, I’m not going to apologize for cutting back my consumption. I grew up in DC desperate for tix to the skins (mid to late 80s). Now I get offered them all the time, and I cannot imagine why I’d want to go. As far as I’m concerned, continuing to flush your money and time away on a terrible club run into the ground by a terrible owner does not make you a “true fan.” It makes you a sucker.

  10. I don’t want to appear to be a “basher” but in your article you say the Penguins have always been winners. This is not true as they got Lemieux for being the worst team in the NHL and again rebuilt by being even worse than the capitals the year before we drafted Ovechkin(however, due to the draft lottery we luckily got him). I’m sorry I just had to point this out.

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