It's been a memorable, if upsetting, 2010 in Washington D.C. sports. Really, it's been about heartbreak. The Redskins continued their losing ways despite a new era beginning. The Wizards broke up their old team and committed to rebuilding. The Nationals lost their phenom starting pitcher. The Capitals were upset in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. D.C. United suffered through its worst season yet. Maryland and Georgetown lost in heartbreaking fashion in the early rounds of the NCAA Tournament. Maryland football lost its head coach. Etc.
About the only thing that came out of D.C. sports this year was that there were tons of big stories. The Nation's Capital was also the capital of the sports world on many occasions this year, though it was mostly for the wrong reasons. Still, 2010 will go down as one of the most newsworthy sports years in this city's history. Here now is our list of the top ten sports stories in Washington D.C. in 2010.
HONORABLE MENTION: Greivis Vasquez wins ACC Player of the Year; Michigan State shocks Maryland at the buzzer in the second round of the NCAA Tournament; the NHL Winter Classic calls on the Capitals with HBO chronicling it; the Nationals sign Jayson Werth to a massive contract; Georgetown loses in the first round of the NCAA Tournament as a three seed; the legend Jaime Moreno retires from D.C. United; the Redskins get picked apart embarrassingly on Monday Night Football by Michael Vick; Nyjer Morgan gets into the brawl of the year with the Florida Marlins; the Wizards trade Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison, DeShawn Stevenson and Brendan Haywood in two trades consummated within a few days of each other; Maryland football goes 9-4 after falling to 2-10 the previous year
10. Ralph Friedgen Fired As Maryland's Head Football Coach
A fixture at Maryland throughout the decade, Ralph Friedgen rescued the program from futility. In his first season on the job, the Terps went to the Orange Bowl, shocking the football world. Overall, Friedgen went 74-50 in 10 years, making seven bowl appearances. But after a 2-10 disaster in 2009, it looked like Friedgen's job would be in jeopardy.
Undeterred, Friedgen somehow led his team to an 8-4 record, finishing one play away from possibly playing in the ACC Championship game. For his efforts, he was named ACC Coach of the Year, and his athletic director, Kevin Anderson, proclaimed that he would be back for one more season. This sentiment was punctuated when Maryland upset North Carolina State in the final game of the season, and the Terps appeared poised to go to a desirable bowl game.
Instead, a lack of fan support caused them to slip to the Military Bowl and set in motion a series of events that led to Friedgen's departure. The lack of fans was a clear sign that Friedgen, as successful as he may have been, wasn't bringing fans to the stadium, which matters in bowl season. Then, offensive coordinator James Franklin was hired as Vanderbilt's head coach, taking several assistants with him. With all this happening, athletic director Kevin Anderson changed his mind and decided to let Friedgen go. Calling it a "strategic business decision," Anderson took several difficult questions and hardly inspired confidence about the way the situation was handled. Friedgen, meanwhile, cut off communication with Anderson and had some parting shots on the way out.
Maryland now is hoping to lure a big name to coach their team, whether it's Mike Leach or someone else. No matter the result, the way they handled Friedgen's firing raises tons of questions.
9. Ted Leonsis takes over the Wizards
The new era of basketball in Washington D.C. really got underway in May, when former minority owner Ted Leonsis officially took over the team from the Pollin family. For the first time in four decades, the Pollins will not be involved in the D.C. sports scene after Abe passed away last November.
In Abe's place stands a person who could not be more different. Abe was hands off as an owner, but Leonsis is energetic and forward-thinking. He spends his days answering fan email, posts a list of 101 visible signs of change, blogs about the ups and downs of his clubs, brings Midnight Madness to the NBA and entertains guests while sitting in a front-row seat. He's also unabashed in his philosophy, telling everyone that the Wizards are rebuilding. It's a new era in Wizards basketball indeed.
In the process, Leonsis cemented himself as arguably the most important sports executive in town. Sure, Dan Snyder is the man in charge of the region's flagship team, but Leonsis now owns two clubs -- the Wizards and the Capitals -- and is fully in charge of the biggest sports arena in D.C. proper. Sports Business Journal named him as the 37th most influential person in sports business, and he's surely rising up that list.
8. Wizards win the lottery, select John Wall, open a new era in their franchise
Of course, Leonsis' rebranding of the Wizards would not have been as easy if he didn't get a little lucky. Much like the Capitals, the Wizards struck gold in the NBA Draft Lottery, winning the rights to the number one pick despite a 10 percent chance. Irene Pollin accompanied Leonsis to Seacaucus, wearing her husband's lucky 1978 championship ring. When it was announced that the Wizards won the lottery, she opened her mouth in shock and provided one of the iconic D.C. sports images of the year.
With the number one pick, the Wizards selected Kentucky's John Wall, a can't-miss prospect that had been favored to be the number one pick in the 2010 for over two years. They then ushered in a heroes' entrance for Wall, throwing a ceremony and inviting fans in for his opening press conference. Perhaps it was too much too soon, and indeed, Wall has struggled with injuries in his brief NBA career, but it's still a jolt for a franchise that had been so down recently. It's only a matter of time until Wall is healthy and shows the promise he did in college.
Wall's selection also was the high mark in a rapid deconstruction of the roster. Only three players from the Abe Pollin era remain on the team's roster (Andray Blatche, JaVale McGee, Nick Young). General manager Ernie Grunfeld sent away former mainstays Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison, DeShawn Stevenson and Brendan Haywood in a series of trade-deadline moves in February, then found a way to move the mercurial Gilbert Arenas in a December trade to the Orlando Magic. Washington is starting at rock bottom, but thanks to Wall and Leonsis, hope remains.
7. Redskins hire Mike Shanahan to coach the team
When the Redskins fired Jim Zorn and Vinny Cerrato in December of 2009, they were looking for someone with professional credibility that could restore order at Redskins Park. Soon, they found their man, offering a five-year contract to former Broncos coach Mike Shanahan. They adorned him on their media day cover and gave him free reign to be the new sheriff in town.
Boy has he ever been. In a harbinger of things to come, Shanahan praised then-quarterback Jason Campbell in his opening press conference, indicating he believed in him. Three months later, he acquired Donovan McNabb from the Eagles for two high draft picks and sent Campbell packing. He insisted on every player participating in the offseason training program and waged a war against the one player that didn't, Albert Haynesworth. Eventually, he did battle with McNabb himself, benching him after a series of poor games and allegedly leaking his displeasure to the media. On a smaller scale, he revamped the team's defensive style, sent several long-time starters to the bench and got snippy with a questioning media cycle.
The Redskins will finish with a better record than they did in Zorn's final year, but the cost remains to be seen. Was Shanahan's year of intrigue necessary to change the culture in Redskins Park, or did it only set the team back further?
6. Stephen Strasburg-mania overtakes D.C., then he gets injured
It's no secret that Washington D.C. is not a baseball town. Since coming in 2005, the Washington Nationals haven't done much to rally up fan support. Their failures were best encapsulated by the debacle that was opening weekend in 2010, when team president Stan Kasten basically implored Philadelphia Phillies fans to come to Nationals Park so the stadium would be filled.
But for a fleeting moment, the Nationals did capture the city's attention. That was thanks to one man: Stephen Strasburg. The highly-touted pitching prospect blew through the minor leagues, generating a buzz that was bigger than almost any other young prospect this town has seen in a long time. The buzz was so palpable that Nationals fans rushed to buy tickets for what they thought would be his debut, even though the team never said that would be the day.
Eventually, he debuted four days later, and boy was it memorable. He struck out 14 hitters in seven innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates, mystifying them with pitches few others could throw. The stadium was sold out and rocking, as the team finally found their meal ticket into making a dent in the city. That meal ticket continued to do his thing all summer, though Strasburg never quite topped his debut.
But alas, there's always a catch. Desperate to preserve their long-term investment, the Nationals were extra cautious with Strasburg. They pulled him minutes before a showdown with fellow rookie Jason Heyward and the Atlanta Braves after Strasburg said he was stiff, with the directive coming from general manager Mike Rizzo himself. They then placed him on the disabled list, just to be extra sure. It got to the point where the team's color commentator was calling out Strasburg for his lack of durability.
And then, disaster struck. During an 8-1 win over the Philadelphia Phillies, Strasburg was suddenly pulled after experiencing more discomfort. The team immediately placed him on the DL, and it seemed to be a precautionary measure. That is, until two days later, when the Nationals were forced to announce the bad news. Strasburg, despite all the care he experienced, would be forced to have Tommy John surgery.
Strasburg could return strong in 2012, seeing as many pitchers have responded well to the surgery, but the buzz is likely gone. As good as he could be, the anticipation and excitement he delivered to this city probably won't ever return. The only good news is that the Strasburg situation finally convinced the team to fire Rob Dibble.
5. Capitals collapse, blow 3-1 first-round series lead to No. 8 seed
For the first time in a long time, Washington D.C. was officially overtaken by hockey. The Washington Capitals surged to the top of the league, running away from everyone in their path. They put together one of the most dominating regular seasons in years in cruising to the President's Trophy. All the while, they did it their way, with lots of offense, a ton of flash and a style that spurred consistent sellouts at the Verizon Center. Washington D.C. believed it was time for the Capitals to win a Stanley Cup, and why not?
The journey began with what appeared to be an easy first-round matchup with the Montreal Canadiens, a team that slipped into the playoffs at the last minute. The Caps lost Game 1, but then won three straight games, punctuating a Game 4 victory with a blitz of offense in the late-second and third period. It looked like everyone could punch their ticket to the next round, where a date with Sidney Crosby and the Penguins was not out of the realm of possibility.
Instead, the Capitals lost Game 5. Then, they lost Game 6. Finally, Game 7 arrived, and disaster struck. An early cross-checking penalty on Mike Green led to a Montreal goal that put them ahead. Suddenly, the high-flying Capitals couldn't score. They battered Montreal in the offensive zone, but great defending combined with a brilliant performance from goalie Jaroslav Halak kept them off the scoreboard. Montreal added a goal late in the third period, and while the Capitals cut the deficit to 2-1, they could get no further. A banner season ended in the first round.
The Capitals treated the whole thing like an unlucky situation, declining to make major changes to their roster, save for an early-season trade for Colorado defensemen Scott Hannan. This year, they have taken their lumps, losing nine games in a row at one point. This time, though, they're hoping adversity is a teacher, seeing as they suffered none in the regular season last year. It may end up coming true, but the reality is that the Capitals squandered a huge opportunity to bring this city what it now desires most last season.
4. Donovan McNabb is benched as Redskins quarterback
3. Redskins trade for Donovan McNabb
I decided to split this up into two stories, since they deal with two completely separate sides of the same couple of people. Ultimately, I decided that the trade was a bigger deal, since it was more shocking at the time.
The benching was a stunner in a different way, but truthfully, we all knew something was coming. As the Redskins started to struggle after a good start to the Mike Shanahan era, so to did McNabb start to have his issues. He eclipsed a quarterback rating of 80 only once in the first eight weeks of the season, and never managed to have a game where he threw more than one touchdown pass. That all led to the shock in Detroit, when McNabb was benched for Rex Grossman on the game's crucial possession.
Looking back, that was that event that signaled the beginning of the end for McNabb. Nobody believed Mike Shanahan's bumbling explanations at the time, and nobody should believe them now. Shanahan and his son Kyle began letting several "leaks" get out to the press about their displeasure with McNabb's ability to pick up their offense. The Redskins tried to quench the tide of negative publicity by giving McNabb a contract extension, but it was a hollow deal that barely guaranteed McNabb anything. McNabb was on a short leash, assuming he even had a chance to keep the job long-term in the first place
In other words, the benching two days before the second game against the Cowboys was something that we could all see coming if we thought long enough. The April trade for McNabb, though, was much more shocking. It was common knowledge that McNabb would be traded from the Eagles, but the Redskins were never really in the picture. Nobody thought the Eagles would trade McNabb within the division. But then, reports trickled out that the Redskins were interested, and a couple days later, the trade was done. The price was steep -- a second-round pick and a third- or fourth-round pick the next year -- but D.C. finally had a notable quarterback.
At the time, many were killing the Eagles for trading their franchise quarterback within the division. Eight months later, Michael Vick was putting together an MVP-like season, and McNabb was on the bench. It's a striking reminder about how much things can change in a year's span.
2. Gilbert Arenas brings guns into the Wizards' locker room, officially ending an era
Considering the way the Gilbert Arenas era was falling apart amid injuries and an extremely disappointing start to the 2009/10 season, it wasn't too outlandish to suggest that the eventual end would come in turmoil. Still, nobody could possibly suspect that it would end like it did. Arenas' pranks eventually got the best of him, as he brought it four unloaded guns to the Wizards' locker room after a gambling dispute with teammate Javaris Crittenton.
The whole episode was Arenas at his essence. The story was initially reported on January 1, 2010 as if Arenas and Crittenton brought pistols into the locker room and engaged in a Western-style standoff. Later reports indicated that Arenas actually brought in unloaded guns, put them on his chair and told Crittenton to "pick one" to shoot him with, as a joke. That Arenas would go to such measures to make a joke is quintessential Arenas and says a lot about what kind of state his mind was in at the time. In a way, it's almost more ridiculous.
Anyway, as the reports came out, the Wizards and NBA painted Arenas as a pariah and everything wrong with the NBA. Some wanted him banned for life. Some wanted the Wizards to void his contract, which owed him $80 million over the next four years. The Wizards certainly didn't want much to do with Arenas, taking down his banners and refusing to sell his merchandise.
In response, Arenas lashed out. First, he mocked the whole thing in the famous "finger guns" photo seen above, which only hurt his cause and made it seem like he wasn't taking responsibility. Then, he went on Twitter and posted strange tweets in broken English. Eventually, David Stern had enough and suspended Arenas for 50 games, saying he did it to protect Arenas from himself.
There was still the law to worry about, and luckily, Arenas got off without going to jail. Thanks in part to an outpouring of support in the community, Arenas got off with 30 days in a halfway house, despite trying to conspire with Crittenton to cover up the crime. He then disappeared for a summer and showed up to Wizards media day with a grizzly beard and a frown. A month and a half later, he was traded to Orlando, where he had some parting shots toward an organization he felt never wanted him back. Maybe the taking down of the banners was drastic, but after what Arenas did, what the Wizards did in response was understandable.
And thus ended the old era of Wizards basketball and the career of one of the most compelling athletes this city has ever seen. It was a wild ride when it was great, and it was a wild ride when it ended horribly.
1. Albert Haynesworth refuses to play the 3-4, is suspended
And yet, nothing in D.C. sports can take a backseat to the Subplot From Hell. Arenas may have been a bigger story nationally, but Haynesworth was the story that never ended locally. It lasted, essentially, from January to December, with a resolution only happening very late in the year. Let's see if we can break this one down into a series of events.
- December 2009: Haynesworth is sent him from a practice by Jim Zorn.
- March 2010: Haynesworth tells Mike Shanahan that he doesn't trust the Redskins' training program and therefore will skip OTAs.
- April 2010: After initially saying he would attend the Redskins' minicamp, Haynesworth pulls back and doesn't show.
- April 2010: Shanahan tells Haynesworth that he will release him if he rejects a $21 million roster bonus. Haynesworth accepts it instead.
- April 2010: The Redskins try shopping him at the NFL Draft, but teams say "LOL" for the most part, and he stays in D.C.
- June 2010: Haynesworth initially says he will attend the Redskins' mandatory minicamp, but ends up skipping that too, requesting a trade through his agent.
- Summer 2010: Tons of people lash out at Haynesworth for his lack of devotion to the team, making it so that any comment about the big man qualifies as news.
- July 2010: Haynesworth reluctantly decides to go to training camp, mostly because he could get fined if he doesn't.
- July 2010: Shanahan greets him by making him go through a conditioning "test" that was really just a drill turned into a test. Haynesworth fails the first two times, doesn't take it due to knee soreness that never amounted to anything, and finally passes it a week later.
- August 2010: Haynesworth is sidelined with some condition called rhabdomyolysis, which is very uncommon in professional athletes. He claimed he was dehydrated and the Redskins downplayed his injury, and indeed, Shanahan said he had no idea about it. Eventually, Haynesworth poked fun at his condition by using air quotes.
- September 2010: Haynesworth plays every snap in the team's final preseason game as all the other starters sit out.
- September-October 2010: Haynesworth misses one game with a sprained ankle and another because of the death of his brother back in Tennessee.
- October 2010: The Redskins make Haynesworth inactive for their game against the Indianapolis Colts, which bugs Haynesworth.
- October 2010: Haynesworth has his best game of the season, creating havoc in a 17-14 win over the eventual NFC North champion Chicago Bears.
- October 2010: The Redskins and Tennessee Titans discuss a trade involving Haynesworth, but the Redskins don't like Tennessee's offer and keep Haynesworth.
- December 2010: Haynesworth misses practice before a game against the Giants and was eventually deactivated. We eventually learn that he was "sick" and allegedly had a hangover.
- December 2010: Haynesworth lashes out at the team in a hilarious radio interview on 106.7 The Fan, calling everyone a "bunch of haters" and essentially asking his way out.
- December 2010: Mike Shanahan decides to suspend him, and suddenly, all those people that kept quiet about Haynesworth (Jim Haslett, Phillip Daniels, others) lash out at him.