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Eisenberg: Lessons Learned From the Capitals’ Long-Awaited Championship Win

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Baltimore is filled with sports fans devoted to their birds. If the Ravens are No. 1 among those who frequent this team’s website, app and digital channels, the Orioles surely are No. 2. There’s a ton of crossover.

But there’s also crossover, more than I thought, between fans of the Ravens and fans of the National Hockey League’s Washington Capitals, who raised that sport’s hallowed Stanley Cup for the first time Thursday night after a frustrating 44-year drought tracing to the franchise’s inception.

The Caps surely rank No. 3 among Ravens fans, and honestly, given the Orioles’ condition in 2018, they’re probably bidding for No. 2.

I know some Baltimore fans don’t get that. In the years when the city didn’t have an NFL team, after the Colts left and before the Ravens arrived, I occasionally wrote Baltimore Sun columns about the Redskins on autumn Sundays. Some readers furiously called me out for daring to write about a team from that city. (For the record, I was assigned to cover those games.)

But that was a long time ago. Anyone doubting the Caps’ penetration into Baltimore need only look at TV ratings from the Stanley Cup finals to understand the situation has changed.

Outside of Las Vegas and Washington, the cities actually involved, ratings in Baltimore were consistently higher than those in any other city – so high, in fact, that they couldn’t possibly be comprised strictly of bandwagoneers.

Ratings don’t identify viewers’ other rooting interests, but it’s certainly likely that a significant percentage of sports-inclined Baltimore viewers support Baltimore’s NFL team. Crossover, indeed.

For the longest time, rooting for those two teams, the Ravens and Caps, provided markedly different experiences. The Ravens were the up-from-nowhere success, having reached their sport’s pinnacle twice in a much briefer existence. The Caps were the tantalizing championship contender who always frustrated you in the end.

More recently, though, the experiences have been more similar. While the Caps continued to fall short until the other night, the Ravens have a 40-40 record since their last Super Bowl triumph and have qualified for the playoffs just once in the past five years.

Their latest shortfalls have been especially wrenching. Do I have to explain why the simple phrase “fourth and 12” upsets so many stomachs in Baltimore? I don’t think so.

When the Caps finally reached their pinnacle the other night, it was interesting to see their fans take to social media and comment that all the tough times made this triumph that much sweeter. It was an easy thing to say in the moment, but they’d certainly earned the right to say it.

Ravens fans might want to take note of the sentiment given their own recent frustrations.

The burning stomachs they’ve experienced can’t possible compare to what a 44-year drought produces, but that doesn’t make it less real. Framing it as part of a long journey that’s ultimately joyful sounds like a nice defense mechanism to me, or at least a good way to maintain your sanity.

Ravens fans actually know this can happen. They endured a nightmarish end to the 2011 season when Billy Cundiff’s kick flew wide. But no doubt, that bitter disappointment made the next year’s Super Bowl triumph even more satisfying.

Fans of some teams aren’t about to buy such an optimistic narrative, of course. The Cleveland Browns have never played in a Super Bowl and didn’t win a game in 2017. They don’t want to hear about any happy endings in their future.

But the Ravens’ history suggests success is always possible, and hey, strange things happen all the time. The Caps who finally won probably weren’t as good as some of their talented predecessors who fell short. The Ravens who fell short in 2011 probably were superior to the team that went all the way in 2012.

It can be frustrating not knowing when, or even if, that success is coming. But to those who keep the faith, the reward can be sweet almost beyond measure.

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