It's Thanksgiving, and I'm in a good mood like everyone else. I'm in such a good mood that I'm willing to forget the largely miserable year Washington D.C. sports has had in 2011 and focus on happier topics.
Sure, the Washington Redskins have continued to stink. Sure, Maryland football has been a disaster in 2011, and Maryland basketball may soon be on the way. Sure, the Capitals fell short in the playoffs again. Sure, the Wizards won fewer than 25 games again, and that was when they were playing. Sure, no local college basketball teams advanced to the second weekend of the 2011 NCAA Tournament, unless you count VCU. But I'm willing to set all that aside for one day because there are still so many elements of D.C. sports that bring so much joy to our lives.
So without further ado, here are 10 things that D.C. fans should be thankful of in D.C. sports in 2011.
10. Georgetown potentially saving a bad basketball year for D.C. on paper
It's still early, but Georgetown's strong performance at the 2011 Maui Invitational may be the springboard needed to preserve a surprising year from the Hoyas after losing Austin Freeman and Chris Wright. It also may mean that there's one team that is actually going to be good in the area this season. With Maryland losing by 26 to Iona, George Mason falling to two bad small-college teams in Florida (Florida Atlantic and Florida International) and George Washington getting drilled by Cal, it's been a bad start for local college hoops. The Hoyas' performance in Maui at least provides some hope that this won't be one of the area's worst seasons in years.
9. Maryland basketball is beefing up recruiting
Sure, prospects for this year's Maryland squad look slim thanks to a lack of size and depth, but the future looks promising. New coach Mark Turgeon, with the help of assistant Dalonte Hill, has added several top recruits for 2012, including Shaquille Cleare, a big man from Houston that should make people soon forget Jordan Williams. Turgeon himself has been successful at every stop prior to Maryland and is the perfect candidate to replace Gary Williams. The future of Maryland basketball appears to be in good hands.
I wish we could say the same thing about the football program ... but we're here to be thankful, not bitter.
8. Ryan Kerrigan and the Redskins' youth movement
It's just a start, but it looks like the Redskins began laying a good foundation for the future in the 2011 NFL Draft and in free agency. First-round pick Ryan Kerrigan is already the best player on the defense. Several late-round picks have shown they at least belong as pieces for depth. Young free-agent signings like Stephen Bowen, Barry Cofield and Josh Wilson look to have their best years ahead of them. Lots more is needed, of course, but you need to start somewhere.
7. Dan Snyder has been quiet
Save for a frivolous lawsuit against an alternative newspaper, Redskins' owner Dan Snyder has stuck to his word of staying out of the public eye. He's been letting Mike Shanahan, Bruce Allen and company do their job as football personnel people, at least so far. Perhaps the era of the meddling owner really is over.
6. 30 goals is a massive disappointment for Alex Ovechkin
The Washington Capitals' star is on pace for another 30-goal season ... and yet it is correctly seen as a massive disappointment. That's the standard set by someone who is one of the five best hockey players on the planet. He plays for our favorite team, and even through all the struggles and frustrations, we should be thankful that he's set such an incredibly high standard for excellence.
5. Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper are almost Major League teammates
We're one year closer to the day when the best pitching prospect in years and the best hitting prospect in years suit up for the same team. Stephen Strasburg's return from Tommy John surgery went about as well as could be expected, and Bryce Harper tore it up at all levels of the minors despite slow starts in AA and the Arizona Fall League. Even if the anticipation is still much better than the reality, we're still in the anticipation stage at this point. I know I personally am enjoying it.
4. John Wall's Endless Summer
As all of his summer exploits showed, Wall is the NBA's next superstar, at least when the NBA ever resumes. Soon, he'll be the biggest personality in town, if he isn't already. It's just a matter of finding him a supporting cast of peers that can restore glory to a perpetually downtrodden Wizards franchise.
3. London Fletcher keeps giving it his all
Despite the physical pain of nagging injuries; despite his advancing age; despite the doubts that he was too small; despite the zillions of scheme changes; despite having new partners alongside him; despite the mental pain of losing; despite being the advocate for high expectations that are consistently not met by his teammates; despite doing it in so many meaningless games at the end of seasons ... London Fletcher keeps putting on those pads and performing every Sunday. Two hundred and eighteen games and counting.
2. The Capitals and the burden of great expectations
We've reached the point with the Washington Capitals where one three-game losing streak is cause for mass panic and calls to fire coach Bruce Boudreau. This is the burden of being one of the best teams in the NHL. We can focus on the lack of postseason success, and eventually, that must be rectified. But there's also a significant achievement of its own to get a franchise to the point where it's championship or bust and truly mean it. The Capitals have reached that point through unparalleled regular-season success in their franchise's history. As fans, we're here watching the story play out. Beats cheering for a losing team.
1. Next year's Washington Redskins' quarterback
And no, we're not talking about John Beck.