D.A.: Like Peyton, Ovechkin Can Finally Smash That Glass Ceiling

The Caps had become the Colts of the NHL, DA said, with Ovie's perceived greatness hanging in the balance

Damon Amendolara
May 24, 2018 - 1:12 pm

USA Today Images

We are, at our core, a nation of sports simpletons, one which has dismissed Alex Ovechkin for his entire career. Nuance is eschewed, and deep analytics are "the land of dorks." Aesthetics? Meh. We usually base our ultimate judgments on only one criteria: championships. The roots of our country are fueled by overcoming (American Revolution), conquering (Manifest Destiny), and victory (American Exceptionalism), so our prism of success is often limited to that. 

It's an overly simplistic narrative, but it's what we've got. Finally, Ovie has his chance to smash that glass ceiling with a 101-mph slap shot. After a Game 7 win in Tampa, his Capitals are in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time. This postseason has reflected one of our oldest sports stories: Aging legend wanders playoff desert in search of first championship to validate greatness

Dan Marino is regarded by football minds as perhaps the best pure passer in NFL history. He was constantly let down by his defense, lack of elite running backs, and shallow supporting cast. Yet, when we utter the names of the greats (Montana, Brady, Unitas, Elway), we leave Marino's name out. We like exclusive clubs, and an easy final decider. Like the Masters' green jacket, once you're in, you wear it for life. But if you never won a championship? Well, we don't have much use for you. 

Peyton Manning dealt with this. From his sublime college career through the first sevens seasons as a pro, the "Next Legend" reached every apex. Well, almost every apex. He won SEC Championships, NFL division titles, playoff games, and put up incredible numbers. But without the ultimate prize, a national championship or a Super Bowl, his resume was tossed into the recycle bin. Losses to the Gators and the Patriots haunted him. Peyton and the Colts offense dazzled in the regular season, were in the postseason every year. But they fizzled after all those 12-4's, 13-3's and 14-2 campaigns. And that became his albatross. 

Finally, Manning was spared the harness we place around our legends' necks in '06. The Colts won every which way, with defense, by field goals, on the road, and then over the hated Pats. Peyton faced a 21-3 deficit at home in the AFC Title Game against New England, his personal tormentor. Solving Bill Belichick for three touchdowns with a trophy on the line? America was once again ready to kick dirt on Peyton's grave. But after halftime Indianapolis staged one of history's greatest final acts, dramatically defeating the Pats 38-34, with 330 yards through the air. Manning was heading to his first Super Bowl, where he'd win his elusive Lombardi Trophy

This postseason has felt eerily similar for Ovechkin and the Capitals. It's been a ghost seeing his reflection in the ice. Washington had become the Colts of hockey. President's Trophies for best record three times. One of the most talented rosters in the NHL. Outsized expectations. Ovie owns seven scoring titles, and three MVPs. But the Caps had been our hockey punchline. "How can you tell spring is in the air in D.C.? Cherry blossoms and the Caps choking." 

Yet, almost exactly like those Colts of 12 years ago, the Capitals have been ghostbusting every step of the way. In the first round, Washington lost its first two games at home by gagging away two-goal leads to Columbus, both in overtime. Here we go again. But instead of fading away into the night, the Caps ripped off four straight wins to advance to the second round.  

There, they met their nemesis, just like Peyton had to stare down the Patriots. Across the ice loomed Sidney Crosby, the face of the league, the multiple-time champion, the guy who already etched his place in lore. Forget that Sid the Kid had been drafted into a much more stable and historically successful franchise. Like Brady, who had the good fortune of being coached by one of the greatest football minds of all-time and supplemented by one of the era's best defenses, Crosby had a better culture around him to win. And he did. 

The Capitals lost Game 1 to the Penguins, at home no less. Here we go again, again. But Washington rallied to take the series in six, including an overtime victory to clinch the series. The Caps found guts when it mattered most. Ovechkin had outplayed Crosby. The dragon had been slayed. Since nothing can come easy, the Caps then created more doubts in the East Finals. A 2-0 series lead (and heading home for two more) evaporated, and the Lightning pushed the Capitals to the brink in an elimination Game 6. Not only did Ovie and Washington survive, they won a Game 7 on the road. In a laugher. Maybe it's different.

What happens if the Caps can't finish the job against the expansion Golden Knights? Will all of this be for naught? Had Peyton lost to the Bears in the Super Bowl, many of his critics would've used it as even more reason to trash his legacy. But the reality is Ovechkin has already pushed his team and himself to greater heights than ever before. His coach and teammates insist he entered this season with a different determination. He has led his organization not only in scoring and firepower this postseason, but in leadership, energy and compete level as well. Here's hoping Ovechkin finally gets to hoist Lord Stanley, because then no one can question his greatness again. And he deserves that much already. 

Damon Amendolara, known by his fans as D.A., hosts “The D.A. Show,” from 9:00AM-12:00PM, ET, across the country on the nation’s largest 24/7 major-market radio network. “The D.A. Show” is known for its unique perspective on sports, tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, colorful listener interaction, and candid interviews with athletes and coaches. Amendolara also appears regularly on NFL Network as part of the “NFL Top 10” documentary film series, CBS television and SNY TV. He is a Syracuse University grad and native of Warwick, N.Y.