WASHINGTON — The word emblazoned across the chests of thousands of Washington Capitals fans had eluded them for over 40 years. But on Tuesday, it was worn with pride: champions.
For the long-suffering sports city, the Capitals’ triumph over the Las Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup finals last week represented more than a hockey win. Not only did it give the Capitals their first championship in their 44-year history, but it also ended the city’s 26-year stretch without a major sports title.
Even President Trump took notice of the Capitals’ achievement, tweeting hours after their series-clinching victory last Thursday: “D.C. is popping, in many ways. What a time!”
That assessment held true through Tuesday, when fans flooded the streets for the team’s victory parade, hauling with them an array of Capitals and hockey-related mementos, from handmade signs littered with jubilant expletives to cutouts of their favorite players’ faces. They also carried their own versions of the Stanley Cup, some inflatable and some a little more creative. One industrious fan fashioned his from dozens of Natural Light beer cans and topped it with a colander, a creation he hoisted giddily in the air.
Perhaps the most visible fan was Ronnie Poland, a lifelong Washington resident dressed as Uncle Sam. Waving an American flag, Mr. Poland donned a beard, flag-printed pants and a sequined, flag-printed top hat — and completed his outfit with stilts that elevated him to well over eight feet.
For Mr. Poland, it was a small way to celebrate a triumph he had long dreamed of.
“It’s a godsend,” he said. “We’ve been waiting for too long.”
For many in attendance on Tuesday, the celebration was a family affair: Parents carried young children holding vuvuzelas as big as their own bodies, grown children hugged and danced with their parents, and grandparents pushed strollers.
“I woke up my 2-year-old daughter,” said Carlos Guerra, a Washington resident. “She had no idea what was going on, but I just hugged her and cried.”
Cyndy and Miles Feldman have been watching the Capitals since before their sons were born some 30 years ago. The couple introduced them to the game as they grew up, with both boys eventually playing youth hockey.
Now, with their sons grown, they celebrated the team’s first Stanley Cup as a family, distributing cups of prosecco down the sidewalk.
“It feels incredible,” Ms. Feldman said. “I have no words — I want to cry.”
The parade route, which snaked along the National Mall, was lined with fans — some of whom have worshiped the Capitals for their entire lives, some of whom admitted in a whisper they had just hopped on the bandwagon, and many of whom had waited hours just for a glimpse of one of the players.
As the team glided down Constitution Avenue, the crowd’s roars of approval were suddenly cut by a collective shriek: “It’s Ovi!”
In a city that cannot seem to rid itself of Russia’s specter, the star at the center of the Capitals’ success, and whose name is engraved upon the fans’ hearts, is the team captain, Alex Ovechkin. The city’s own self-described “Russian machine” and Putin fan inspired a frenzy in the crowd, some of whom had donned his Team Russia jersey, lettered in Cyrillic.
Just days prior, Mr. Ovechkin proved not only that “Russian machine never breaks,” as he famously has said, but also that Russian machine knows how to party. After returning from Las Vegas, Mr. Ovechkin, teammates in tow, toted the Stanley Cup through the city, to fans’ delight. He did a keg stand with it in Georgetown, threw out the first pitch at a Nationals game and posed for pictures with Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.
At the rally after the parade, Mr. Ovechkin’s remarks delivered to screaming fans neatly encapsulated the week.
“I thought it was going to be crazy, but it’s basically nuts,” he said. “You guys are killing it.”
He is seen as a type of god by many of the fans in attendance on Tuesday, all of whom had some sort of “Ovi” story to tell: They did not start watching the Capitals until he joined the team; they once sat behind his mother at a game, and “boy, was she nice.”
One of those fans was a 10-year-old named Theo. He attended the parade with his father, who took off work to bring him to get a glimpse of his idol.
At age 6, Theo saw a gigantic photo of Mr. Ovechkin at the ice rink where his older sister skated, and immediately knew he wanted to play hockey. He is now a goalie on his youth hockey team and wants to play in the National Hockey League one day.
He eagerly showed off his phone’s background, a photo of the Stanley Cup.
“Imagine getting to do something you’ve never done before and then multiply it by 10!” Theo said. “That’s what this feels like.”