It hurts so much to be a Washington sports fan. The Redskins have never really scarred me — I grew up hating them as a fan of the then-rival St. Louis football Cardinals, and it never has gone away — but the other teams have taken a chunk out of me at different times.
I say that now because the Capitals and the Wizards bowed out in the second round of their respective playoffs recently, within a few days at each other. The Wizards loss didn’t bother me much — they had a great year by the low Wizards standards — but the Caps loss was soul-crushing yet still again. They had the best record in the NHL for the second year in a row; they were eliminated in the second round by Pittsburgh for the second year in a row; they have a record of playoff defeats that seems unprecedented to me in U.S. sports.
I can’t even talk about the Nationals, who have yet to win a playoff series even though they have been the best overall team in baseball the last five years. I honestly had little confidence last year they would beat the Dodgers in the first round of the playoffs; their 2014 loss to the Giants featured the longest game in playoff history (which they lost, of course) and 2012 was the kind of hell that never goes away.
As a result, I’ve adopted a fatalistic attitude toward professional sports here. I start with the assumption that a given team will never win a playoff series, and then I can allow myself to be mildly surprised when one breaks through. If they get beaten (often in excruciating rubber-game fashion, I might note), I don’t have to feel the pain that sports fans usually feel when their team is eliminated. I don’t even watch elimination games; that way, when I get the inevitable result after the fact, the pain only lasts a second.
Of course, that doesn’t suppress the memories. Most of my memories of sports here involve horrifying, critical losses. And even when I take some preparatory steps, those feelings don’t go away.