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Monday, November 22, 2021

OPINION:

As November weekends go, this one was pretty good for Washington sports fans.

In Saturday’s National Women’s Soccer League championship, the Washington Spirit won their first title with a 2-1 victory over the Chicago Red Stars.


Later that night, the Washington Wizards, after losing to defending Eastern Conference champion Miami two days earlier, came back to beat the Heat 103-100 before a home crowd at Capital One Arena.

Oh, and the Washington Football Team traveled to Charlotte to beat one of the best defensive teams in the NFL, the Carolina Panthers, 27-21, for their second straight win. Now, even with a 4-6 record, playoff scenarios are more realistic.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Typically, this is not the case.

Most fans likely didn’t even know there was a Washington Spirit team to root for since they began in 2013, given the shaky state of women’s professional soccer. But the sport seems to be gaining solid footing and people are noticing now.

Heck, Alex Ovechkin noticed — the Washington Capitals’ future Hall of Famer is one of the minority investors in the team, and tweeted out congratulations to the Spirit after the championship win. “@WashSpirit Makes D.C. Proud!”

Proud? Buttons may have been busting after the Wizards’ comeback win Saturday night over the Heat — giving them a record of 11-5, the best start for the franchise since 1974.

That’s 47 Novembers ago.

November has been reserved for the 9-20 Wizards that we’ve come to dismiss and ignore.

Not this November.

“We don’t get rattled,” Bradley Beal told reporters after the win Saturday night.

That’s Fast Eddie Felson talk from “The Hustler.”

Then there is the Washington Football Team.

Their place in this November month of fun is not that unusual.

We’ve seen 4-6 or some version of it turn into the playoffs in the past. Just last year they were 4-7 on Thanksgiving and wound up winning a wounded NFC East with a 7-9 record.

They were 4-6 on Nov. 18, 2012 — that magical Robert Griffin III season and probably the last time Washington Football fans felt like there was a chance for something special in November — before it ended so miserably in the wild card game loss to Seattle and the crumbling of the quarterback of hope and dreams.

They were 4-6 on Nov. 22, 2015, the season when Kirk Cousins had his “You like that!” comeback game against Tampa Bay on Oct. 25.

They would go on to post a 9-7 record and win the NFC East before losing to Green Bay in the wild card game.

But Cousins was never the quarterback of hopes and dreams. No matter how great he played, he never generated November passion. There was always a sense that when it mattered, he would fumble the snap or throw the key interception.

So why has this November suddenly resurrected glimmers of hope? Is it because the 1-4 October seemed so hopeless? Is it the illusion of two straight wins? We’ve seen this before with Cousins and Alex Smith.

Dare I say why?

Taylor Heinicke — the bounced-around former XFL backup.

Washington Football Team coach Ron Rivera told you why the quarterback’s teammates have hope last week. Asked about Heinicke’s “swagger,” Rivera responded, “Yeah, oh yeah. I think that’s great. I really do. But I think also the thing that helps him is that his teammates feel that. It’s funny because when you talk to the guys about him, one of the things they always say is when we get the ball in certain situations, we feel like we have a chance. That’s all part of it is that your teammates have confidence that you can get something done that really helps.”

The former New York Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi once told me the quarterback you want is the guy who, when he gets on the team bus, everyone else believes they have a chance to win that day because of him. Rivera was telling you Heinicke’s teammates feel that way about him.

Now, after two weeks of outstanding performances – 42 of 54 completions for 462 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions — against two quality teams, the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the highly-ranked Panthers defense, Washington fans may be starting to believe the same thing.

You can hear Thom Loverro on The Kevin Sheehan Show podcast.

• Thom Loverro can be reached at tloverro@washingtontimes.com.


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