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.