So you could say that being a Caps fan - or at least a hockey fan - wasn't so much a choice as it was a birthright. I was indoctrinated right from the womb, really. There's even a story that my mother would attend games while pregnant with me and I would proceed to kick to "Let's Go Caps!"...I only kind of believe it.
So my upbringing was a rather unique one, entirely Caps-centric in a city of Redskins fans - but it was ingrained in me from such a young age that it becomes hard to pick out just one memory that defines hockey's place in my life. It's really more of a collage of sights and sounds and events that turned me into the obsessive nutjob I'm proud to be today.
I remember my sister and I getting little replica jersey t-shirts from the Junior Fan Club and proudly wearing them as often as I could, begging to wear them to school and to bed and then wondering why they weren't clean when I got to go to games. We had a pile of pom-poms in a basket in our basement, souvenirs of past playoff series that would occasionally make cameos in whatever make believe dress-up games we would be involved in on any given day; the number of times I pranced around with white plastic hair is too high to count. On the wall was a growth poster featuring a very young, very large Scott Stevens in full uniform and on skates. I remember gazing up at it and thinking he was a giant, an impression that was probably not helped by the fact that the poster was hung about a foot off the ground. Yet because of that poster Stevens was probably one of the first players I recognized just by looking at his face - and one of my earliest favorites for that exact reason.
It had the strange, scooped-out roof that in my mind looked like it had been crushed by a giant rear end and the parking lots named after patriotic symbols like 'Stars and Stripes' and 'Eagle'. There was the huge video screen in the middle of the arena, the first of its kind, and smaller computerized screens in the corner with funny little cartoons that acted out penalties or implored the crowd to cheer. The concourse smelled like popcorn and cotton candy and cigarette smoke - of course this was back in the days when you were allowed to smoke in arenas. And the building was always filled with noise of some kind or another, whether it was the organ or the cheering of the crowd or the wandering trumpeter who appeared in different sections throughout the game.
Back then I didn't really understand the concept of "other teams" the way I do today. I knew I hated the Penguins, Flyers, Rangers, Devils and Islanders, but aside from a few select faces of evil (Lemieux, Hextall, Ulf Samuelsson, etc.) I couldn't have named players even on those teams - and outside of the Patrick Division, forget it. Hockey was very personal to me. I honestly believed that when I went to a game or watched it on TV the Caps couldn't possibly lose; if I cheered loud enough they would score. And when they got knocked out of the playoffs, as seemed to be their tradition, hockey ceased to exist until fall. I don't even remember actually watching the Stanley Cup being awarded until the Rangers won it in 1994.
Well...that or the hatred of the Penguins. It's a toss-up.