Mike Wise Wants Our Patience, and I Say Let’s Welcome Him to Our Great Puck Party

I was halfway through Mike Wise’s Tuesday column in the Post and ready to cross-check him in the throat with my prose, I was that disgusted with his allegations against no small number of Caps’ fans. His charge was fantastic in its conception: that some manner of hostile division, a discernible segregation, had settled in among the fanbase, with an old guard of the ancient and angst-riddled past pitted against newcomer lovers of the winning hockey team. Embittered know-it-alls versus jocular Johnny-come-latelys. To read Wise’s fantasy realm was to believe that we actually had segregated Metro cars on game nights, with Dale Hunter-sweatered supporters in certain cars and the Gang Green-clad in others. It struck me as farcical on its face, but apparently Wise really believes this.

He described an intolerant sect of “highbrow” old-timers, possessing a “tortured bond with other ‘true’ Caps fans” and representing a “happily miserable minority in Puckville.”

Really now, who in the Red Army is unhappy these days, let alone miserable?

I would have canceled my Post subscription if I’d had one.

As allegations go, this was pretty serious stuff. An alternative generalization about the contemporary fanbase, also known as the truth, is that they’re a red-fancying genial sort, inordinately passionate and devoted, and the lone community of sports fans in town roaming about with perpetual smiles on their faces. And not really drawing daggers on one another.

Then it dawned on me: Wise almost certainly was consigning rather voluminous criticism of some of his recent interpretative shortcomings with hockey to an imagined breach within the region’s larger hockey community. It was a coping mechanism.

The newest of new media delivers a real-time accountability the likes of which the fourth estate has never known. While I personally took umbrage with some aspects of Wise’s work in Verizon Center on some hockey nights, I also sympathized with the screaming stream immediately launched his way in tough-worded tweets.

It’s [just] hockey,” he infamously articulated on his radio program a couple of months back. He’s also said, “My job isn’t to build up the Capitals’ fanbase.”

He didn’t mean to malign our game in such instances, I don’t believe, but such posturings did display a certain tone-deafness for this region’s puckheads and their longstanding disdain for the apartheid they’ve endured from 15th St. and big media generally, dating back decades.

If I could have had merely a 5-minute telephone chat with Mike on Monday I believe I could have persuaded him to jettison the tortured and fabricated us vs. them premise that launched his Tuesday column. Because halfway through it he arrives at a startling and important confession, and one that merited the full attention of the entire piece: Mike Wise doesn’t know hockey as well as he would like to; he recognizes that there are spirited puckheads poised to take him to task with each and every hockey file or radio segment he crafts; and most especially he wants a truce in the divide precisely because he recognizes the Capitals’ ascendancy locally and the need for his old media brethren to get with the puck program.

Would that I could have had this Mike Wise chat with George Michael some 20 years ago.

Quite simply, and most courageously, and with sudden and commendable humility, Mike Wise articulated a plea: whatever our differences in the past, let’s band together in the present, and part of that banding together requires patience with the uninitiated but every bit as excited new followers of our great team and its great game.

And without question he was including himself in the community of newcomer/uninitiated.

It was so startling an admission-plea that instantly I found myself forgiving Mike for the egregious start to his piece and sympathizing greatly with his present discomfort. More importantly, I want to be enlisted in this great cause.

For more than three years OFB has chronicled — and celebrated — the arrival of newcomers to Kettler and Verizon Center. We’ve profiled transplants from Sunbelt states who’ve purchased Capitals’ ticket plans. If only we had a nickel for every instance we’ve written the words ‘Red Army,’ and always our use of it was in its fullest collective sense. And we are hardly alone among new media in our affinity for our newest friends. We are drawn to the story of new converts because their stories harken us back to our own individual love-at-first-sight beginnings. And Washington can’t fully become a hockey town without these newbies, converts who’ll mentor new arrivals who follow them. Every serious hockey fan believes this. And this is why Mike Wise’s premise on Tuesday was so wildly inaccurate.

There is no divide, no well-defined classes or castes or tiers of Caps’ fans. There are new and more veteran followers, and today they wear one uniform, and they hug and high-five the strangers next to them during Chinatown goal sirens without regard for the puck pedigree of the celebrating. They clog District bars and buy one another beers while in uniform, and they form a teeming sea of reddened humanity beside one another on Metro platforms, spontaneously bursting into raucous chants of ‘Let’s go Caps!” even after rare losses.

Some in media remain slow to the celebration, it’s true. But Mike Wise apparently no longer numbers among them. There are likely to be great stories to be told this postseason, and we ought to welcome Wise’s writing and discussing them. Converts often carry forward the greatest conviction.

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16 Responses to Mike Wise Wants Our Patience, and I Say Let’s Welcome Him to Our Great Puck Party

  1. DCPensFan says:

    I read Wise’s column and found it lacking for a variety of reasons. Mostly, he’s not a great writer and a manufactured controversy (while appropirate for playoff hockey) is an easy column topic and has been done before.

    With better writing and analysis available, i think it’s becoming increasingly irrelevant if “some in media remain slow to the celebration.” I subscribe to the Post, but if I want an opinion on the Caps, I go to OFB or Japers.
    Wise probably doesn’t consider bloggers his competition. He’s right – but only because he can’t compete with them.

    If he wants to cover hockey, that’s great. Go to Hershey and learn the game as a beat writer. He hasn’t earned the right to have an opinion yet. This is the big leagues and if you don’t know the game, go learn it on your own time, not the playoffs.

    As a non-hockey aside, this speaks to a larger problem for the Post and newspapers generally. Employing opinion writers/bloggers fresh out of, or a few years out of school, and giving them a platform for opinion writing is a terrible trend in journalism. If you haven’t covered the state house, or the court house, do you really think I trust your analysis/insight on what’s happening on the Hill?

  2. Ted says:

    Mike Wise’s exaggerated and dramatic description of oldies v. newbies was funny. I get his point, and it’s a fair one; however, I’m an oldie die-hard and have never had some pretentious suspicion of newcomers. The more there are to enjoy the ride the better.

  3. Geo says:

    As a former newspaper reporter (mostly business/news), what distresses me is the number of good print reporters/columnists who decide there’s more money to be made as a ranting radio-talk show host (Wise) or screeching ESPN ranter (Kornheiser/Wilbon) rather than by writing thoughtful columns or analysis in print or online.

    I used to truly enjoy Kornheiser’s humor columns in print many years ago (probably 20 years ago). Nowadays, I just change the channel if PTI comes on.

    I just wish the Post had a columnist whose focus was on hockey and who had a genuine passion for covering and analyzing it (the way baseball has Boswell, and basketball has Wilbon). I realize things are tough in the newspaper biz, but you’ve got one of the best and now even most marketable NHL teams right here in D.C., Wash. Post. So why don’t you find an enthusiastic columnist to give it some proper “between the lines” additional coverage?

    Wise writing occasional columns that seem only intent on poking Caps fans with a stick for an angry reaction (see this most recent one, and the one on Crosby) doesn’t count, imho.

  4. Jim says:

    As another ex-reporter, ditto to Geo’s v-perceptive, on-the-ball (-puck?) comment.

  5. Pants N'at says:

    In my opinion, if there’s a sudden uptick in angst and hostility between any DC-area hockey fans, it’s exclusively between newly-minted Caps fans and the hoards of fans of out-of-town teams (such as myself, a lifelong Pens fan and Arlington resident). Vintage Caps fans may not mind the infusion of fresh passion into the swelling ranks of their fanbase (really, why would they?), but for those of us who root for Pittsburgh or Buffalo, Philly or Boston, it means less seats available at Verizon for much more money than it took three years back. It means you take some heckling for your shirt, your cap, your bumper sticker by less-seasoned fans who have little in the way of appreciation for hockey, historically speaking, beyond that of the Great 8. It means an entire sea of red literally coming out of the woodwork to support a winning team (I sincerely hope they’re still around when that trend declines). While all of this certainly grinds my gears– for the sole reason that they support the opposition (a team, specifically, that I hate above all others) –I have to remind myself to step back, breathe, and remember that it’s good for the sport of hockey overall… the game we all love. You can’t ever be wholly frustrated at the growth of any fanbase, no matter how despised, when it’s so good for the sport itself. Maybe Mike’s opinion betrays his true loyalties, in the sense of the teams and the sports that are truly nearest and dearest to his heart.

  6. Grooven says:

    He’s right, there are two kinds of people showing up to games. But it’s not divided into older/newer fans. That’s the wrong line.

    There are actual fans and those who want to be.
    Then there are those who come to be seen, or because it’s the hot thing to do, or who are with friends who are fans but can’t be bothered to look up from their text-messaging, or who come to instigate fights, cause trouble, etc.

    I have no problem with, for example, the father who brought his son to their first game, telling him to cheer as loud as he wanted, and explaining what was going on and why play stopped. We all started as a fan at some point.

    I do have problems with the people who show up sitting in front of me with the express intent of being pricks. (At least the text-messagers keep to themselves and don’t cause trouble.)

    That’s the dividing line. There are just a lot more of the second category to go with the more tickets being sold. With 5000 in the stands, I could easily move away from them. (And no, the team for which one cheers is NOT the dividing line either, necessarily.)

    If Wise sat next to me at a game, I’d have no problems talking hockey and explaining rules and the like. If he really wants to learn and appreciate the game.

  7. Angie says:

    Grooven hit it head on I think! There is nothing more annoying to me than being surrounded by people that are not there to watch the hockey being played. They talk on their phones, they stand in the middle of play to go get drinks or whatever with no regard to others around them. I’ve been following the Caps for over 20 years now, I’m happy to share any and all knowledge I have with others. I’m a loud and proud red army member who converted her football watching, NASCAR loving husband into a die hard hockey fan! I hold nothing against new fans as long as they are truly there for the hockey game going on in front of them!

  8. OvieTracker says:

    As a long time Caps fan from the days when I first got satellite TV in the 1980s and found HTS, I’ll only speak for myself. I do not in any way consider myself an “embittered know-it-all versus jocular Johnny-come-latelys” or part of a “happily miserable minority in Puckville.” As someone who lived outside an NHL city for years, I was, and still am, happily cheering the Caps on from the comfort of my living room, watching the new additions to the Rock the Red fanbase support the team in person. I have since gained an NHL team due to movement, but still retain a loyalty to the Caps, and thank satellite TV for helping to maintain my connection.

    I am pleased to no end about the Caps’ recent success–due in no small part of shrewd drafting, thus the arrival of the Young Guns on the scene, and fantasize about the day I can make the trip across the country to see the goings-on at Verizon Center and Kettler for myself.

    The Red Army umbrella is big and wide enough to embrace the old timers like me as well as the new wave of Caps supporters. Long may we reign, with no hostile division between us.

  9. Eric says:

    I have always noticed two distinct groups amongst the greater fan base that goes something like this:

    Caps Fans who are Hockey Fans – Long time Caps fans who probably played, play, or are otherwise involved in the sport of hockey.

    Caps Fans who are just Caps Fans – Usually, short term or periodic fans that follow the team at different times in their lives but otherwise don’t follow hockey.

    Nothing is wrong with either. It is just what I have noticed over the years.

  10. Hittman says:

    I’m not a lifelong Caps fan. I moved all over the country as a kid and rooted for the Red Wings because #19 was the best player in NHL 93. However, since I’ve been able to watch all the games since 2004-05 by virtue of moving to the area, I’ve developed an obsessive interest in the team.

    I am a lifelong hockey player/fan, however, and a student of the game. Which camp do I fall in? I am not a lifelong fan, but I am as knowledgeable about the sport of hockey as anyone. I am not knowledgeable about every Caps team that ever played. Do the original fans still dislike me? Because I dislike both the original fans for their animosity and the new fans for their lack of knowledge. But this animosity is kinda foolish. I just like watching and playing hockey and it just so happens that I happen to have moved to the current mecca: best player in the world, best team in the NHL, affordable tickets, a great owner, great building, etc.

    Someone please tell me who to hate and who hates me since I am neither old guard nor a newbie.

  11. Sorry but after that article I’ll probably nover get by my newfound “Mike Wise is a synonym for putz” feelings.

  12. These are thoughtful and thought-provoking comments, all. I enjoyed reading them. Thank you for sharing. I hope all of you daily share the postseason ride with us.

  13. Rob H says:

    I’m 24 years old… but consider myself one of the old-time die-hards. I’ve played hockey and been a Caps fan since I was 4 years old… and I have absolutely no issue with the newbie fans whatsoever. The only issue I have is that the tickets are more expensive on StubHub now… but to be honest, I’ll deal with it if it means I finally have friends that want to go to the games with me.

  14. Ben says:

    “I just wish the Post had a columnist whose focus was on hockey and who had a genuine passion for covering and analyzing it”

    This. Wise gets a ton of flak but the anger shouldn’t be directed his way. It should go to his editors and radio producers, too thick-headed to realize the deeper problem: their failure to hire someone who knows ALL sports, hockey included.

    I don’t give a crap that people who don’t know or like hockey don’t want to follow it. I just want to read someone’s intelligent take on my favorite team, like any other of numerous hockey cities has. I never thought that would be so impossible a feat for a professional newspaper to find someone who can speak intelligently about more than 1.5 sports. It’s unfuriating.

  15. odessa steps magazine says:

    given the state of newspaper economics, should the Post really have a “hockey first” columnist like they have/had in places like Boston or Philly or Detroit?

    Also, anyone who bothers to read Wise’s columns gets what they deserve, same as people who listen to the midday ESPN radio host.

  16. Mike Wise says:

    I appreciate the constructive criticism. It means a lot.

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