Sunday, November 27, 2011


I read Tracee Hamilton's most recent column as my three-year old napped prior to tip-off of the Maryland-Florida Gulf Coast game. We were taking our daughters to their first Maryland men's basketball game after a pleasant Tuesday evening visit to campus for my five-month old's first Maryland women's basketball game.

The view of Comcast that my girls had at both games was roughly the same, as the stadium was largely devoid of fans for Mark Turgeon's second home game of the year. The thousands of empty seats led the Baltimore Sun's Don Markus to observe:
One more thing. I have never seen the Comcast Center as empty as it is tonight. I know it's Thanksgiving break, but the marketing department should have done a better job getting tickets out to youth groups, etc. to try to fill the student section behind the basket.
Of course, if Markus ever wants to see Comcast more empty, he need only show up to a women's basketball game.

Hamilton's frivolous lament stuck with me during the game because it seemed to so perfectly reflect the ethos of what it means to be a Washington-area sports fan. It also encapsulates why midwesterners (among others) have such difficulty sympathizing with the fickle nature of the DC-area sports fan.

Washingtonians behave as if this is an anointed city of Champions. And not just run-of-the-mill "we're ridiculously, phenomenally blessed in these particular areas of sport" but Champions in things that will earn the attention of important people around the globe. What matters is the Redskins competing for the Super Bowl, the Wizards marching towards the Eastern Conference finals, the Nationals stirring towards a wild-card spot, the Capitals hoisting the Stanley Cup, and the Terps in play for a BCS bowl or yet another Final Four men's basketball tournament appearance.

The complaints about the dire status of Redskins and Terps football, Wizards and Terps men's basketball, and Washington sports generally comes at a time when my enjoyment of local sports -- particularly those at the University of Maryland -- is at an all-time high. And the incongruences between the way sports are covered in this region and what actually takes place become all the more remarkable.

The best example I can give is from two weekends ago beginning with Veterans Day.

The weekend began with a trip to Ludwig to watch the Maryland women open up their NCAA tournament games against a La Salle team that had given up seven goals all season. Led by a fantastic performance by sophomore transfer Hayley Brock, the Terps put five in the back of the net against the Explorers in one game. There were probably more La Salle students in the stands for the game than Maryland students, but those Maryland supporters that showed up were treated to a terrific showing by an extremely talented Terp team that had sputtered a bit through ACC play.

After the game, we walked down to Comcast to watch the women's basketball team open the regular season by blowing out Loyola. And, as usual, the student showing was even more sparse than at the soccer game. Even with few eyes on them, Coach Frese's team served notice that this year's squad is much stronger than last year's version.

Saturday night, we traveled over to FedEx Field to catch Maryland get whacked by Notre Dame. There were probably better ways to spend the evening and there's little doubt that the Terps are not a good football team, but, for us, we're not going to do a lot of traveling with the team and sitting down on the field engulfed by Notre Dame supporters afforded us a level of intense fan support that is unmatched at Byrd on gameday. Plus, despite being pounded on the scoreboard and pummeled in the stands, we got to watch solid linebacker play out of Demetrius Hartsfield and freshman Alex Twine.

And Sunday, I went to Comcast twice -- first for the Maryland women's prolific beat down of a very, very good Georgetown team (a team that embarrassed Georgia's women tonight in Las Vegas) and later for Coach Turgeon's inaugural win as head coach of the Maryland men against UNC Wilmington. For both games, the Center was largely empty. And the massive line from community supporters waiting to meet the Maryland women's players and coaching staff after the Georgetown upset was piteously juxtaposed with the short wait I endured to get into the men's game as students got their tickets scanned, then turned around and walked out of the stadium (something I've never previously seen first hand).

In between all of that, I also attended my first ever field hockey games, watching Maryland beat Iowa in their first round NCAA tournament game and then sitting through most of a thrilling, tense affair that concluded with the Terps upending Syracuse to advance to the Final Four.

Of all the Maryland events I went to that weekend, the Syracuse field hockey game was the single-best sporting event; although I had little idea of what was going on in terms of rules or playing strategy, the contest was so engrossing I forewent a large part of the Maryland-Georgetown game. And the timing could not have been better... the next weekend, for entirely bizarre and providential reasons, we toured the Field Hockey Hall of Fame housed in Collegeville, Pennsylvania on Saturday and then my three-year old and I watched, through a live feed, Maryland's stunning comeback win over the Tar Heels in the National Championship game on Sunday.

I may not have any ability to appreciate the subtlety of the sport, but even my three-year old could appreciate the drama of a two-goal comeback with four minutes in regulation and the exhilaration of Jill Witmer's determined run in overtime to give the Terps yet another National Championship.

But an NCAA field hockey championship is not a real championship and Kevin Anderson still deserves to be fired and Debbie Yow remains the worst person in the world. And *yawn* we've got another top ten women's basketball team in College Park. And *shrug* Maryland's men's soccer team absolutely obliterated West Virginia -- with a hat-trick from future professional Casey Townsend -- in their opening game of the NCAA tournament, roughly a week and a half after Maryland alum Omar Gonzalez was named MLS defender of the year and shortly before he and fellow Maryland alum A.J. DeLaGarza would start together and secure a clean sheet MLS Cup win.

Of course, all of the above relates only to Maryland.

After skipping the Georgetown men's home opener to watch field hockey, I went to Verizon that Monday to see the win over UNC Greensboro and was floored by how good Georgetown's young team was. I sat down behind Roy Hibbert, equally impressed by how accommodating Hibbert was with fans in the crowd and how impressive Georgetown's freshman class looks on the court. For those who were paying attention, the Hoyas remarkable run at the Maui Invitational wasn't wholly unexpected -- indeed, on the strength of the Greensboro game I stayed up to watch the Kansas opener live because I thought that Georgetown had a decent opportunity to pull the upset win. Although this year was written off as a down year for the program, the chances now are better than fair that the Hoyas will once again be among the nation's elite.

And none of the foregoing even begins to account for the insane level at which prep sports are played in this region: DeMatha's soccer team went undefeated and was generally considered the number one or two high school team in the entire country. The last ESPN ranking I looked at had Good Counsel's football team placed at sixth nationally.

Yet, even with these overflowing blessings, the accepted storyline is the paucity of compelling sports storylines this fall.

I don't get it.

On almost any weekend day over the last couple of months, anyone could easily have taken themselves over to watch world-class athletes compete in high-level sporting contests. Those of us in this region are privileged to have before us a bountiful cornucopia of excellence across fall sports -- football, basketball, soccer, and field hockey -- and yet the complaints about what we don't have register the loudest.

There are many, many more important things that I am thankful for. Nevertheless, the simple fact is, as a massive fan of sports, I am thankful for what D.C. offers. And, in my own selfish way, I'm thankful for all the empty seats around us that facilitate going to these matches with an infant and toddler in tow.

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