Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Makin' "Whoop"ee

There is a tradition in Caps Nation that bears some explaining to you new fans of the Caps out there. On occasion, you will be watching the action unfold on the ice, and a player from the opposing team will take possession of the puck. All of a sudden, it is as if you were transported to a bird sanctuary where field research was being done with whooping cranes.


What you’re hearing is a love song, of sorts. It is not the “whoop” that calls a mate, but rather Caps fan code for, “YOU USED TO PLAY HERE AND SUCK, AND WE REMEMBER, SO PISS OFF, YA BUM!”

The tradition, if it rises to that level, began during the tenure of Larry Murphy as a Capital. Some of you might recognize the name as that belonging to a defenseman who played in 21 NHL seasons, has his name on the Stanley Cup (with two different teams – Pittsburgh and Detroit), and who is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Ah, but such was not the case in 1983. In October of that year, Murphy was traded to the Caps from the Los Angeles Kings (for Ken Houston and Brian Englblom, if you’re keeping score). Murphy arrived in the midst of the go-go era of NHL hockey with the reputation of being an “offensive” defenseman. Unfortunately, as Caps fans found out (or perhaps merely perceived), Murphy had “issues” in his own end of the ice. He was prone to the odd, ill-timed turnover and was not among the more physical defensemen of his day, or at least not to the exacting standards of Caps fans, who had the pleasure of seeing the rough-and-tumble exploits of Rod Langway and Scott Stevens in those early-to-mid 1980’s.

Murphy became something of a convenient vessel into which Caps fans deposited all their frustrations at the club not having achieved much in the playoffs. He was booed often, many times merely for being “Larry Murphy.” He was traded to Minnesota in 1989 (with Mike Gartner, for Dino Ciccarelli and Bob Rouse), but that did not end the affair between Caps fans and Murphy.

Enter, the “whoop.”

Upon his each and every return to Landover, Murphy would be serenaded with the call of Caps fans who remembered – not fondly – his time with the club. The “whooping call” became a staple of Murphy appearances, whether he played for Minnesota, Pittsburgh, Toronto, or Detroit (his stops after leaving Washington).

As the whooping tradition took a foothold by virtue of repetition, the practice expanded to other ex-Capitals that had fallen out of favor with Caps Nation. But there was a certain discipline to it. One might “whoop” a Dmitri Khristich (a player who joined the Caps in the 1990s, but never realized his potential before he moved on to Los Angeles and other teams) or a Sergei Gonchar (mainly because now he is a Penguin), but one would never dare “whoop” Peter Bondra (who after setting many scoring records for the Caps was traded to Ottawa for Brooks Laich in the great purge several years ago).

There are players you “whoop,” and there are players you don’t. There are no hard and fast rules about this sort of thing, it being more or less a folk tradition. But there are some general rules of the road about “whooping” that seem to have evolved...

First, the player has to be an ex-Capital. And not just some scrubeenie who played a handful of games (no Curtis Leschyshyn’s here). They had to play an important role on the squad.

Second, they have to have had a flaw in their game, real or perceived. Murphy’s was his intermittent problems in his own end and not being physical enough. Gonchar was the guy who turned the puck over to Marty Straka for the series-clinching overtime goal against the Penguins (then he ended up playing for them).

Third, they cannot have established themselves deep in the Capitals record book (Murphy was with the Caps very early in his career), or they did things that transcended their accomplishments (see: Sergei Gonchar, Martin Straka).

Fourth, one does not “whoop” good guys. Think of the 2003-2004 team that was gutted…

Dainius Zubrus – don’t “whoop” (even if he underachieved in fans’ eyes, he worked hard and was a mentor for Alex Ovechkin)

Brendan Witt – “whoop” to your heart’s content (he didn’t want to stick around for the rebuild)

Mike Grier – don’t “whoop” (another hard worker who just didn’t get the hoped-for results)

Jaromir Jagr – make as much “whoopee” as you please (other than cashing the checks, he didn’t seem to like it here)

Robert Lang – don’t “whoop” (he did all he was asked and was scoring leader in the league when he was traded to Detroit)

Jason Doig – tough call…he was the guy who took the too-many-men penalty that led to the series-ending goal in the Tampa Bay playoff series in 2003 that nearly sent Ted off a cliff, but he seemed a decent fellow who tried hard, and he did pretty much convince Eric Lindros to end his career.

So, when you take your seat tonight with Brian Pothier and Oskar Osala in the house, you might want to consider whether you really want to “whoop” it up. Pothier fought his way back from injury to contribute to a playoff run last year. Osala just wasn’t here long enough to reach the “whooping” threshold (and he seems a decent sort, too).

Whooping is a tradition among Caps fans, not like that silly “one-two-three-it’s-all-your-fault” nonsense, or shouting out “RED” AND “O” during the National Anthem. This is something that goes back decades, whose honor needs to be preserved. Don’t go wasting your “whoops” on every Tom, Dick and Brendan who comes back to pay a visit…

…Oh, Brendan Witt, yes… Brendan Morrison (if he should leave and visit from time to time), no.


Anonymous said...

Is there any way someone can post some sort of audio clip of this practice?

Dave Nichols said...

well thought, sir. i certainly hope Pothier is greeted tonight with the same respect he showed the fans of DC and the game.

Snktimoniuz said...

Sorry to disagree, but I vote for Whoop Doig, don't whoop Kwiatkowski. Not based on Doig's preference to stay or leave during the rebuild, but more based upon his general suckitude. Same applies to Jeff Friesen for lack of effort.

mooky said...

I heard some folks start to "whoop" Pothier tonight, but I don't think it caught on, thank God! He was a good guy and as you rightly explain, doesn't deserve it. I will continue to "whoop" Witt and Gonch loudly.

Brian said...

I could be wrong, I was born in 1980 so Murphy played for the Caps before I was fully conscious of sports and players on the team etc., but I thought I heard once that the "whoop" is more a specific sound having to do with people shouting the word "Whoops". Wasnt there some play, or did he have a tendency to do something(yeah, this is vague) that was some kind of major blunder/gaffe and people would yell "Whoops" and that just evolved into the "Whoop" that we hear now?

Maybe I have no idea what im talking about, but I thought that the "Whoop" came from a more specific instance or call, rather than just people deciding as a collective to make some weird bird noise?

Anonymous said...

How could you leave out the only guy to get whooped more then Murphy? The immortal Kevin Hatcher? When he came back with Dallas it was BRUTAL. And awesome.

Eric in Baltimore

SuzukiSandy said...

I beg to differ on whooping Mike Grier. I'm not sure of the number of failed breakaways he's had while wearing the screaming eagle, but it's up there. Had he cashed in on just a few of those opportunities, I'd probably be more lenient.

Anonymous said...

As someone who had season tickets in section 127 at the Capital Centre, it wasn't 'whoop' that Larry Murphy originally got serenaded by the fans while he was still in a Caps uniform. It was 'WUS' because we were tired of watching opposing forwards skate right around him to the front of the net w/o getting hit. 'Murphy hit someone with your purse you big WUS!' The chant quickly spread to Gord Murphy of the Flyers, because w/ the same last name he had to be a wus also. Over time it morphed into 'whoop' and a greeting for other former Caps whether they deserved it or not.

mrszilla said...

Im so glad you posted this! Was debating the key points of the whoop with people of japer's. I grew up whooping any ex-cap who we disliked, but some people believe it should just be dmen... which to me takes a lot of the fun out of it! Memories of whooping Jagr still makes me feel mildly better... well that and watching Ovie demolish him in the olympics.

mrszilla said...

And the "O" is still a tradition I hold dear. I don't even like baseball but I grew up doing that at caps centre so I will always continue that one! The red and 1,2,3,4 chants are all new and come and go but i'll continue the whoop and O forever.

Unknown said...

I grew up in section 104 of the old Caps center. Murphy was whooped while he was still a Cap (I'm sure he was relieved to be traded). It continued when he left but was also used on other current Caps from time to time when they were having a bad game. Later, it became more of a thing for former Caps like you described. I don't think it came from the word "wus" as another commenter said. It was the nervous sound fans made whenever he touched the puck. Like "whoa, whoa, whoa".