It’s odd to be in a one-pro-team town. We’ve got the Magic. That’s it. And now we’re cooking with fire, so the city is getting excited. I love seeing the signs around town, on Chik-Fil-A boards and banners in blue, white and black. Last time we did this well was in the early 90s with Super Shaq. And it was fun.
My parents raised us three Nelson girls to love sports—playing and watching. If you live near D.C., you love the Skins, the Caps, the Wizards (nee Bullets), and you’re warming to the revised teams like the Nationals and United. But if you were born and raised in Northern Virginia, you know your teams. Boy or girl, it’s part of the fabric, like traffic and government scandals.
Every Sunday afternoon we sat with a fire in the fireplace, chips in the dip and curled up on the couch listening to Sam and Sonny call the Gibbs’ boys’ game. We knew every player and their number, every Hog and even some of the Hoggettes. One of my friend’s dad was in the Skins Marching Band. As if it were yesterday, I remember the Monday night game against the dreaded Giants when Joe Theisman’s leg snapped. Over and over they showed it in slow motion. The bone poked through; it’s not something you forget.
In the 80s when we won all those Super Bowls, we got out of school for the victory parades. Joe Gibbs was God and The Post’s now-famous Tony Kornheiser called us all onto the bandwagon. Riggo carried the opposing defense around his blue-collar shoulders— he just hauled them into the end zone with them like barnacles. Darrell Green was the fastest man on earth, and Gary Clark made us JMU alumni proud. Art Monk was silent, but he was deadly. Love that number 81.
When I was 8, we had season tickets to the Bullets. It wasn’t over ‘til the fat lady sang. And sing she did. We won the National Championship that year. Wes Unseld, Elvin “EEEEEEE” Hayes, these are the men of my youth. Dad would quiz me: “Zone or man-to-man, what are they playing?” Now doubt, I’d fall asleep on the long way home and dream of being Susan O’Malley, the long-time VP of Operations for Abe Polin and the Cap Center.
There was no fear of an 8-year-old girl climbing the steps to the concourse alone, off to use the restroom or get some snacks with Daddy’s money in her hand. Today, we wouldn’t consider it. These are different days. Tiny BB the daschund was the Bullets’ team mascot (I Googled him and found out he died in 1987 and is buried in a special pet cemetery for celebrity animals. Good ole Tiny.) They shot a tennis ball out of cannon, and he ran and got it. We cheered. That’s all we needed, no half-dressed hip slingers. Please. Bring. Back. The. Live. Mascots. OR DRESS THE WOMEN. (There is actually a Magic dancer who can jump on the mini-tramp and dunk. It is impressive, dressed or not.)
The Magic’s wins have ushered me down memory lane and made me long for some more teams to follow. What is it with Orlando? Still, in my blood, I bleed burgundy and gold or red, white and blue for the Skins and the Caps. It’s easy to keep up since my parents have season tickets to those teams. My Dad even has the 27-year-old paper mat they gave out at the first ever Caps game. Now, Ovechkin’s Mom sits behind them in her Russian furs. They rocked RFK in the ice storms for years. Now they have fancy seats at FedEx Field with leather chairs and heat or AC on the concourse. They’ve earned them, I say.
It’s my parents that introduced us to this lifestyle. My Mom would have done it even without my Dad. She grew up in Maine, listening to the Boston teams on the radio. She even saw Ted Williams play at Fenway Park! My Dad is a lucky man indeed. I asked them to brainstorm all the famous athletes they’ve seen play live. (My Dad’s a New Yorker, who as a boy went to every NY baseball field with his youth group; my parents met in D.C. and started a new combined tradition backing the D.C. teams.)
Here goes baseball: Jackie Robinson, Joe Dimaggio, (all the old Yankees and Giants, Dad says), Yogi Berra, Willie Mayes, Bobbie Thompson, Sal Maglie, Duke Sneider, Dixie Walker, Pee Wee Reese, Frank Howard, Carl Yastrzemski (one of my Mom’s faves), Cal Ripken, Jr., George Brett, Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez, David Ortiz, Manny Rameriz, Dice, and the current Red Sox whom they visit at Spring Training on the Florida Coast.
Basketball: 1976 World Champ Bullets, Dr. J, Kareem, Larry Bird, Jerry West, Coach Red Auerbach, Bob Cousy, Bill Russell, Pete Maravich, Oscar Robinson, Michael Jordan, John Havlicek (I was always wore #17 after Havlicek and Redskin QB Billy Kilmer), the U.S. Women’s Team who won Atlanta Gold (Lisa Leslie, Rebecca Lobo, etc.).
Soccer: the Women’s 96 and 99 World Champ teams (the great Michelle Akers, Mia, etc), Pele, Johan Cruyff, Beckenbauer, John Harkes and U.S. Men’s team during different season. (One year, I was helping with the 99 Women’s Team and we were in D.C. and Dad came to RFK before a game right from work. In his suit and tie, he snagged a ball and dribbled it into the goal. I was mortified. “Daaad,” I whined, “What are you doing?” “I want to say I scored a goal at RFK.” That’s cool, Dad. ) I happen to also see the amazing Brazilians play in Paris at the World Cup in 1994 (Thanks, Mich!).
Golf: Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Annika
Hockey: Wayne Gretsky, Mario Lemieux, Rod Langway, Ovechkin and other visiting stars.
Football: Skins Hall of Famers: Coach Gibbs, Sonny Jurgenson, John Riggins, Art Monk, Darrell Green, other superstars: Bill Kilmer, Mark Mosley, Joe Theisman, Charles Mann, Emmit Smith, Roger Staubach (at Navy and Dallas), LT, Troy Aikman, and anyone else who dared come to RFK or FedEx Field.
Because they’re nice parents, we also saw the Ice Capades with Dorothy Hammill and gymnasts Olga Korbut and Nadia Comanechi.
Now, come ignite the blue and white: Let’s go Magic!