City of Shining Lights
Barack Obama may not have been able to transform Washington.
But when it comes to pro sports, no town knows better than D.C. how one player can transform not only a team, but the perception of a team in its sport and city.
Seriously, what a procession of individual stars the U.S. capital has seen in recent times.
In 2005, it witnessed the arrival of Alexander Ovechkin. Not only did Ovechkin become the biggest scoring threat in the sport and help turn the Capitals into an Eastern Conference power, he helped make the Verizon Centre a preferred destination in the city and did so with an exuberance that so many found appealing.
In 2009, the Washington Nationals selected right-handed power pitcher Stephen Strasburg with the first pick in baseball's amateur draft. Strasburg pitched his first game in 2010, and in his debut struck out a franchise record 14 batters, making him arguably the most exciting young pitcher in the game.
Tommy John surgery derailed Strasburg after a spectacular, if brief, start, but he was terrific and an all-star this season for the Nats as the ballclub soared to a division title.
This year, finally, Robert Griffin III went second in the NFL draft out of Baylor to the moribund Redskins. Well, they are moribund no more. In fact, the Skins are among the most appealing NFL clubs to watch these days because RGIII is the most exciting player, quarterback or otherwise, in the sport.
They're winning a bit, too. In fact, they're in the hunt for a division title in the NFC East after knocking off the Super Bowl champion New York Giants on Monday night. Griffin didn't run wild, exactly, but he led his team, made key plays at key moments with his arm and his legs and became the first rookie QB to beat the Jints in six years.
Ovechkin, Strasburg and Griffin. What other North American sports city has been so blessed with such unique individual talent in three different sports? What other city has seen its teams rewarded so richly for being so bad?
If there's a "but," well, with Ovechkin its that his exuberance seems to have faded in the past two seasons, and his game has faded a bit as well. With Strasburg, there was intense debate over the fact the Nationals shut him down early this season, and he still needs to establish his credentials as a 200-plus inning pitcher.
And Griffin? Hard to see any warts so far, and that warm and generous personality just makes it about the perfect package. If there's a fear, it's that he takes a lot of hits, big ones, and that he won't be able to survive over the long haul.
We'll see. For now, he's a joy to watch, not only in Washington but outside Washington, as well. You know, the city where the young stars go to live and play and dominate.