CAPITAL ONE ARENA — As he watched the Stanley Cup banner begin its ascent to the rafters of Capital One Arena on Wednesday, longtime Capitals fan Bryan Gomes felt tears well in his eyes.
“I cried,” Gomes said. “Should I admit that? To be a fan all your life, and to see all the heartbreak, and to finally break through, and then it’s like — I’m still pinching myself. Did this really happen? Is this real life?”
Forgive any Capitals fans who held onto their lingering sense of disbelief, even as they watched Alex Ovechkin hoist the Stanley Cup on home ice, even as the banner rose, even as the team completed a fairy-tale evening with a 7-0 drubbing of the Boston Bruins. After all, this happy ending has been a long time coming.
Gomes attended Wednesday’s game with his friend Patrick Sullivan. The two met at Salisbury University almost three decades ago and bonded over their joy and heartache at the hands of the Capitals.
Sullivan attended the Easter Epic in 1987, a quadruple overtime loss to the New York Islanders in the first round of they playoffs, the first of many crushing Game 7s for the Capitals and their fans. Gomes attended Game 4 of the 1998 Stanley Cup finals, a 4-1 loss that completed a sweep for the Detroit Red Wings, the closest the Capitals had ever come to a title.
Then, this summer, the years of agony gave way as they followed the Caps’ championship run. So as the banner-raising approached, the friends made plans to head downtown for the viewing party outside Capital One Arena.
Upon their arrival on 7th Street Wednesday, they decided to see if they could get inside. They searched the streets and bought a pair of scalped tickets with just 25 minutes to spare before the start of the ceremony.
“We had to be here,” Sullivan said.
Gomes agreed, saying: “We just appreciate this team and being in this building for this moment.”
Nick Schulz, 46, and Joe Quinn, 46, lifelong Capitals fans and friends since high school, also felt compelled to take in the banner-raising at the arena.
Quinn remembered long nights at Capital Centre with his father, when a Stanley Cup banner seemed a pipe dream.
“I thought I’d never see it,” Quinn said.
So the friends “cobbled together” four tickets to Wednesday’s game, Schulz said, and brought their 9-year-old sons, Tommy Quinn and Ryan Schulz, along for the ride.
“We used to go out to the Capital Centre, which was the worst pit in the world, and now we’re at one of the best venues in hockey to see the banner raised,” Schulz said.
As the banner lifted during the pregame ceremony, the entire arena thrummed with the shared sensation of anguish giving way to exultation.
Kevin Outram, 33, from Olney, MD, attended the game with his sister Kelly, 29, and in that moment he saw his entire Caps fandom flash before his eyes.
“It brought back, to me, the last decade — 2008 against the Flyers, 2009 against the Penguins, 2010 against the Canadiens, 2011 against the Lightning, and on and on — it brought back every single last one of the memories,” Outram said. “But it made them all worth it.”
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