Rick Snider: Nationals' success means possible shift in D.C. sports hierarchy

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Sports,NFL,Redskins,MLB,Nationals,Rick Snider

Washington is a Redskins and big events town, but the Nationals showed there's room for more.

Nearly 136,000 fans packed Nationals Park for Washington's three home playoff games, including the two largest crowds ever at the stadium. They endured a cold night Friday to watch the Nats blow a chance to advance to the National League Championship Series when St. Louis pushed ahead in the ninth inning.

It was a pretty agonizing loss, but the experience shows Washington is still a good sports town. It's not better than Boston and Chicago, but even New York showed some cracks when there were nearly 5,000 empty seats in the Yankees' division series finale against the Orioles on Friday.

It's largely about winning, and Washington hasn't won a title in any of the four major sports since 1991 or a college basketball crown since 2002. Washingtonians have other things to do, this being the nation's capital and all, so it's either win or get largely ignored.

That's not unusual nationwide, former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman said.

"I've always said Dallas isn't so much a sports town as it is a winner's town," he told KTCK-AM. "And that's not that unique. Most towns are like that. There are very few towns like Chicago where you can go out there and go 4-12, and they're stilling selling out stadiums. That's pretty unique."

The Redskins subsist on the fumes of their legacy. It has been 21 years since their last Super Bowl and the younger generation of fans is full of skeptics since many don't remember the good old days. Still, the Redskins haven't been greatly challenged, so they've remained the local king.

But another playoff season by the Nats will greatly close the margin. More than 2.4 million attended this season, and the bump from winning always comes the following season. They could reach 2.7 million next year, which is a whopping stat. The Redskins annually draw about 750,000 officially in 10 home games (including two in the preseason), but realistically it's more like 650,000. The Redskins like to count tickets sold when the word is attendance, meaning bodies in seats.

The Capitals showed Washingtonians can branch out for another team. They've been Rocking the Red to fill Verizon Center for several years. But the Caps seemed to have missed their title window, and now the sport is locked out.

If the Wizards ever stop being a mess, they would sell out regularly, too. Washingtonians love basketball. But the franchise has largely been a joke for a quarter century, and now star guard John Wall is hurt. Yet this is the sleeping lion in the market.

Washingtonians love big games since they've seen so few in recent years. The Nats' playoff run actually did two things rarely seen locally -- make the Redskins an afterthought and let everyone forget the coming elections for a few days.

If only the Nats could have gone on for two more weeks to the World Series.

Examiner columnist Rick Snider has covered local sports since 1978. Read more on Twitter @Snide_Remarks or email rsnider@washingtonexaminer.com.

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