Photos via the Wolpoff’s
Ever since the NHL came back from the 2004-05 lockout, there has been a constant in Washington: Alex Ovechkin. And also those crazy fans who sat beside the Caps bench wearing 8’s on their heads. They’ve been shown on CSN Washington countless times during games. They are as much a fabric of the Caps fan experience as The Horn Guy, Goat, or the Brouwer Rangers.
I have some sad news to deliver. Thursday night will be the last time you see Max and Zach Wolpoff, The Crazy 8’s, in those seats during a regular season game. Time and higher education have become sad realities for the Wolpoffs.
Max will be leaving the area in the fall to attend Boston University to study communications. His goal is to one day take over the play-by-play duties from Doc Emrick or Joe Beninati. His older brother Zach, already a sophomore in college, is studying geography at Hofstra. Being relocated to New York has made attending games difficult the last two seasons.
“It’s hard to believe that it has been ten years– an entire decade,” Zach told me Tuesday. “Two presidents, an arena name change, a jersey change, two winter classic wins, three captains, five coaches, five division championships, two GMs, a countless number of players that I could probably name most of, and about 15 inches of hair.”
The brothers credit their Uncle Gregg as being the brain child behind the wearable 8’s.
“Ovechkin was in a seven-game goal-scoring slump, the longest of his career at the time, and we wanted to help him break him out of it,” Zach said. “Our uncle thought of the idea of taking mattress foam and putting it in the shape of an 8. We all loved the idea, and so my Uncle Gregg began to work away and what you got was the 8’s that we know and love today.”
The first game the tiny brothers attended a Caps game with their foam masterpieces was December 3, 2005. Max was nine-years-old and Zach was 10.
“When Glen Hanlon and crew came out, they were laughing hysterically at us,” Zach said. “They really needed that laugh. But the boys came out and started to play like a team.”
Ovechkin’s scoring slump ended immediately. He scored the first goal of the game. A superstitious routine was born.
Since then, the The Crazy 8’s have met their beloved Russian machine many times.
“The first time we met Ovechkin was in 2006 at a season ticket holders’ event that was put on at the MCI Center,” Zach said. “We got in and rushed to get in line for him. When we got up there, I had a stick that he gave me, but my brother had nothing. So he got up, leaned over, and Ovi signed his foam 8.”
“That whole experience was surreal,” Max responded. “Try telling a nine-year old that your favorite athlete is about to sign something you made in honor of him and see how he reacts. It’s still my favorite autograph.”
Then there was that one time the Wolpoffs took their sons to Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Olympics.
The family attended the Russia/Czech Republic game. During warm-ups, Ovechkin tried tossing Max a puck, remembering the brothers from Washington.
“Then some other guy caught it and Ovechkin gave him the death stare for about ten seconds,” Zach said. “Eventually, he gave the puck to Max. That was awesome that he recognized us and gave us an Olympic practice puck.”
“Boy, was that guy intimidated,” Max said. “When Ovechkin stares into the abyss of your soul, you do what he wants. To toss me a puck in the middle of representing his country and then make sure it got to me? That sort of dedication doesn’t come around too often from an athlete.”
During the game, this happened.
A year later at the 2011 Caps Convention, the brothers got in line for Ovechkin’s autograph. When they arrived, Ovechkin smiled and joked, “You again?”
Since then, The Crazy 8’s have been to everything Caps-related, including both Winter Classics. Fans recognize and high-five them during games. The brothers say the biggest highlight of doing this is knowing that people actually know who they are– including Ovechkin. Early in his career, the Caps superstar named his charity “Ovi’s Crazy 8’s.”
Other Caps fans will fill Max and Zach’s seats in the future, but it won’t be the same. The diehards have been with the team since they were young, back when the Caps were not a playoff team. They watched the team grow– just like they did themselves. The Caps have been one of the East’s best; the brothers are now intelligent young adults.
“We’ll never forget this,” Zach said, turning serious. “It was a fun ride.”
“If he wore any other number, this would have been much harder,” joked Max.
Here’s the sign Max and Zach will be holding up Thursday.
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
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