I come from a long line of sports fans. Growing up in Connecticut, my entire neighborhood would battle it out when the Yanks played the Sox. (And when I say “battled,” I mean it. We’d wildly honk car horns when runs were scored, and phones would get unplugged out of frustration during extra innings.) I ran 5Ks in the hopes of meeting some of the venerated UCONN Huskies that had been on a winning streak no one could believe. Our high school basketball games were filled with chants of “Lets Go Whalers”… even though they’d left the area years ago.So when my husband introduced me to the Capitals six years ago, I eagerly jumped on board. I’d never been to a hockey game and fell instantly in love with the noise, the quick action, and the sheer energy that could be felt walking in the doors of the Verizon Center. (Oh wait, I’m sorry: Capital One Arena. That’s gonna take some getting used to.)
When we moved to the D.C. area, we were excited to start watching games live again. Date nights from October through March meant that we arranged for babysitters and ditched our young kids for the Caps every chance we got. (We brought them to quite a few games, too, but let’s face it: it’s easier to drink beer and yell obscenities at the Penguins when you’re sans tiny people.) We accumulated Caps paraphernalia until our relatives ran out of things they could buy us emblazoned with the Weagle or Tom Wilson’s face. (But really…. Who could ever have too much of his handsome, chiseled, scruffy face…. Wait. Where were we? What was I talking about?)
But… that’s what any fan would do for the team they love, right? People have done crazy things for fandom, so when do you know you’ve got it bad?
At first, I thought the first sign of Caps Fever was when I would eagerly attend morning skate at Kettler on my days off. I gloried in the chance to make eye contact with my favorites as they entered the ice. (Beagle ALWAYS said “Good Morning” back. I was usually too busy stammering to get a real greeting off to Holtby, but he politely pretended not to notice how flustered I was in his presence. And I know Kuzy smiles, but I’m guessing he’s just not a morning person.) When I would post pictures of my squee-ing face with the guys in the background, my mom commented things like, “Is that just a practice? Why are you so excited? What’s wrong with you?”
One time – I’m not proud of this — I dragged my poor children to a grocery store an hour away when I heard that Wilson – my secret boyfriend – would be there signing things as a promotion for the new Safeway. Our family would wait in line for hours at places like car dealerships just to get an autograph from Oshie and Alzner.
But it turns out that lots of fans do these things. Otherwise, we’d be the only ones there.
No, I discovered exactly how bad I have it for my beloved Caps when our family had to relocate to the Florida panhandle. (Thanks for nothing, US Air Force.)
As with every move our family has had to make, we were heartbroken to leave our friends and family. But this time, we had to say goodbye to hockey, too. There isn’t an ice rink anywhere near our new house, let alone a hockey team we could support. But we took this whole thing in stride.
We converted the office in our new house into what we call our Caps Cave. The walls are lined with all the things we collected over the past few years and photos of the family Rocking the Red. That helped, a little.
Then, we bought the NHL network and app for Apple TV, so we could watch every game regardless of where the guys were playing. Bonus points: it lets us listen to the home broadcast with Loughlin and Beninati. I can’t get enough of those guys.
Still, going to these lengths is pretty typical for fans, right? I mean, that’s why there’s a market for such things.
But the moment when I realized that I’ve Got It Bad was when my husband and I decided that our family vacation this year (which would be brief, thanks to the move) would be a road trip to Tampa to watch the Caps take on the Lightning.
We decided to drive six and a half hours with a cranky five year old and a potty-training three year old through blazing heat and endless religious billboards. We reserved rooms at the hotel across from the one the Capitals usually stay in, so we could conveniently encounter them, if possible. And sure, we took in the sights the city has to offer, like the Aquarium and the Children’s Museum. But we were there for the Capitals.
We decked ourselves in red from head to toe and entered the Lightning arena like we owned the place. We stood by the glass and watched all the guys warm up with wistful tears in our eyes. My only regret was that Wilson was still suspended, so I didn’t get to see the ritualistic Oshie butt-slashing. But Beagle – sweet, sweet Beagle – skated over and handed my autistic five year old a puck as he skated off. He didn’t toss it over the glass, or throw it into a crowd like a free T-shirt from the T-shirt cannon. Somehow, I like to think, he knew that would’ve sent my kid over the edge. Nope, he carefully handed it to my incredulous son with a smile on his face, and that’s when I lost it. Such a little gesture from someone I admire so greatly reduced me to a weepy mess. And that’s the moment I knew how bad I have it.