Something strange happened in 2012 for D.C. sports fans, accustomed to years (or decades) of losing teams: The postseason, that thing that happens to other cities, came here.
The Washington Nationals not only had a winning season for the first time ever; they also became the first D.C. baseball team in the playoffs in 79 years. October baseball in Washington can be a blast, when it involves Jayson Werth’s Game 4-ending home run against the St. Louis Cardinals. It can also be heartbreaking, as we all learned the next night, when the Nats blew a 6-0 lead—and took a 7-5 lead into the ninth inning—before losing 9-7. Leaving the game, the sold-out Nationals Park crowd was silent, cold, and shellshocked; nothing like a gut-wrenching defeat to leave you wanting more. And more is right around the corner: The Nats play their first spring training game on Feb. 23.
Meanwhile, D.C. United, which hadn’t qualified for the playoffs since 2007, overcame a September injury to its best player, Dwayne DeRosario, to finish in second place in Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference. Then the team beat archrivals Red Bull New York in a two-game series, despite Hurricane Sandy–driven schedule changes that gave Red Bull the home field advantage United had earned. By the time eventual MLS Cup runners-up Houston Dynamo eliminated United at RFK Stadium on Nov. 18, the team was playing with house money; DeRosario even made an appearance late in the match, weeks ahead of schedule. Even sports most fans in town don’t follow saw local success; the Washington Kastles went undefeated in World Team Tennis for the entire season, extending a winning streak that dates to mid-2011 en route to their second consecutive league championship. Sure, the Washington Capitals did their usual swan dive out of the playoffs, this time losing Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals to the New York Rangers, and the current season is on hold due to an NHL lockout. And obviously, the Washington Wizards didn’t get anywhere near the postseason.
But so what? The most unexpected—and in this town where you still see no. 17 “WILLIAMS” jerseys all year round, most thrilling—local sports development of 2012 has the Washington Pigskins in contention for their first NFL playoff berth since 2006. Meaningful games in December? Talk of the league’s convoluted tiebreakers? A Thanksgiving romp over Dallas, in Dallas? Don’t ask questions, just thank RGIII.