WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 03: Evgeny Kuznetsov #92 of the Washington Capitals skates with the puck in the first period against the Dallas Stars at Capital One Arena on November 3, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 03: Evgeny Kuznetsov #92 of the Washington Capitals skates with the puck in the first period against the Dallas Stars at Capital One Arena on November 3, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images)

Caps Finds Footing in Post-Championship Season

Alan May knows a thing or two about commitment after playing in the National Hockey League as a hard-nosed winger in a career that spanned several seasons. That’s why it’s been easy for him to notice a lack of intensity in the Washington Capitals during the early part of their 2018-2019 season.

May, who played with Washington for five seasons in the early 90s and became a fan favorite with his tenacity, says it’s understandable the Capitals got off to a lukewarm start given how much energy was spent gutting through a grueling playoff format last season. That ended, of course, with the team bringing home a championship to DC in the form of the Capitals’ first-ever Stanley Cup.

“I believe they’ve been underachieving,” says May, now a hockey analyst for NBC Sports Washington, which involves regularly covering the team he once played for. “It’s not that they’re not trying, or they don’t give a damn. It’s an emotional hangover from last year and the playoffs. April, May and June were so intense. It’s nothing the players here had ever seen.”

The Caps and DC sports fans alike let out a collective sigh of relief after they won the cup, which represented the first championship for the town since the Redskins won the Super Bowl following the 1991 season. The party began almost immediately after the June 7 victory in Vegas against the Golden Knights and continued through the summer.

But then September and training camp were upon them and it was back to business. The team returned mostly intact, minus checking center Jay Beagle and backup goalie Philipp Grubauer. The key change came behind the bench where Barry Trotz was replaced by Todd Reirden after having served as head coach for four seasons.

It is rare for an NHL head coach and his team to part ways after winning the Stanley Cup, but it reportedly came down to Trotz and Caps management being unable to agree on a contract extension. Trotz initially came onboard with a four-year contract, and he coached the team in lame duck status last year. He ultimately joined the New York Islanders where he now serves as their head coach.

The spilt between Trotz and the front office also had much to do with the respect felt for Reirden. He served as an associate coach under Trotz and was widely considered around the league as a top young coaching candidate. The Caps are comfortable with Reirden, and continued success is expected under his tutelage.

“They all love the coach,” May says. “They’re all supportive of Todd Reirden and I think that transition [from Trotz] was easy.”

So, what could have contributed to the team’s lackluster start besides an emotional hangover? It wasn’t a terrible beginning, as the Caps were 10-7-3 with 23 points as of November 20, and they appeared to have begun picking up the pace. But when a team is led by stars like captain Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson, Braden Holtby and Evgeny Kuznetsov, it’s expected they will be competing near the top of the standings on a consistent basis.

May says the team was noticeably different without power winger Tom Wilson, who was suspended for 20 games after what the NHL deemed was an illegal check to the head of a St. Louis Blues player during preseason. The rugged Wilson, who plays on the top line with Ovechkin and Kuznetsov, saw the suspension reduced by a few games after an appeal and immediately made his presence felt by scoring a goal in his first game back November 13 against the Minnesota Wild.

Wilson is expected to solidify the lineup while bringing a physically intimidating edge back to the Capitals. The winger was signed to a six-year contract extension after having a career year last season with 14 goals, 21 assists and 187 penalty minutes.

“His suspension really hurt the team,” May says about Wilson’s hiatus. “He brings a maximum level of intensity. He’s a physically dominating player and he scares the daylights out of the other teams’ defensemen.”

Besides missing Wilson, other aspects of hockey that are not as evident as goal scoring such as killing penalties and play away from the puck plagued the Capitals in the early going.

“The way that they’re playing when they don’t have the puck has to be a lot better,” says May, adding that overall physicality and mental awareness had been lacking.

It’s not often that a team misses the playoffs the year after winning the cup. The Los Angeles Kings were the last to suffer the indignity in 2015, and before that it was the Carolina Hurricanes in 2007. Do not expect this Capitals squad to endure that fate. While it is common for championship teams to start out sluggish due to fatigue, they usually find their footing and get back to a winning formula. The Capitals will certainly want a chance to defend their title come spring.

For more information on the Washington Capitals’ current season, go to www.nhl.com/capitals. Follow Alan May on Twitter @MayHockeyNBCS.

Capital One Arena: 601 F St. NW, DC; 202- 628-3200; www.nhl.com/capitals

Photo: Courtesy of Red Bull
Photo: Courtesy of Red Bull

Red Bull Brings Esports Tournament Final to District

Thousands of electronic gaming enthusiasts will descend on the new, state-of-the-art St. Elizabeths East Entertainment & Sports Arena in Southeast DC this month for four days of ferocious fighting.

The November 16-18 battles won’t put flesh-and-blood fighters in a ring or a cage but rather virtual brawlers projected on massive video screens, as the nation’s best efighters square off in the Red Bull Conquest National Final. The event is expected to draw spectators from around the nation as fighters from 15 different regions vie for prizes and bragging rights as the ultimate competitors in “Street Fighter V: Arcade Edition,” “Tekken 7” and “Guilty Gear Xrd REV 2.”

It’s a moment city officials hope will put DC on the map as fertile ground for the rapidly blossoming – and potentially hugely lucrative – esports industry. In fact, the new $65 million arena in Congress Heights, which will also serve as the home court of the WNBA’s Washington Mystics and Wizards’ G League affiliate Capital City Go-Go, was designed in part with esports competitions in mind.

Jimmy Nguyen, national competition director for Red Bull Conquest, tells On Tap that the nation’s capital does not yet have the egaming reputation of California, New York or Texas, but it is rapidly earning its place on the map. He also says DC has a natural appeal for major showcases because it’s an attractive draw for tourists.

“It could be the next area that could flourish and become a stage where we do all of our big events,” Nguyen says. “What we’re trying to do is create opportunities and grow together, and see where we can take this for years to come.”

Events DC, the convention and sports authority for the District, has been angling to get the city involved in the esports realm for years, and finally scored big when it landed the Red Bull Conquest.

Max Brown, chairman of the Events DC board of directors, says the new arena is a natural fit for the virtual sports competition and was built to accommodate such events.

“The arena was built with extreme Wi-Fi and the fastest ethernet to be able to create memorable experiences that are ideal for esports tournaments and its fans,” Brown says. “Tech is shaping the future of entertainment and with the cutting-edge capabilities of the new arena, esports is just another opportunity for us to showcase DC on a global stage – and attract even more events and visitors to the city, similar to Red Bull’s Conquest Final.”

Earlier this year, Events DC also partnered with industry leader NRG Esports to establish a new training home for elite egamers based in DC.

Nguyen says while Red Bull is famous primarily for its wildly popular energy drinks and sponsorship of extreme sports competitions, it has been aggressively moving into the esports realm for the past two years.

“The next big thing is esports and gaming,” he says. “It’s something that we see as viable to the culture.”

Nguyen also rejects the notion that esports are strictly for kids or “computer nerds.” He says that mode of thinking is seriously outdated.

“Back in the day, it was easy to say this a little hobby that nerds and geeks do, but now we’re all geeks and nerds. The more mainstream it gets, it’s hard to say gaming doesn’t matter anymore. We recognize that, and we want to give everybody the opportunity to get involved.”

In the realm of DC-based egaming, perhaps no figure looms larger than Austin “Boo” Painter – star player for the Wizards District Gaming, a virtual NBA team that just completed its first successful season in the burgeoning NBA 2K League. The 24-year-old former State Department security specialist from Luray, Virginia quit his job last year to become a professional egamer with Wizards 2K.

Painter is among roughly 100 paid players in the new league chosen from among 72,000 contestants nationwide. The league pays for his housing and provides a salary that he says allows him to “live healthy” doing what he loves, which includes playing live ebasketball that is streamed to thousands of fans weekly.

“I wake up every day and play [NBA] 2K,” he says, hardly seeming to believe it himself. “When I have kids, I’m never going to tell them to get off the video games because this could happen to them. Esports are growing, and now every little kid looks at video gamers like they want to do this all day too.”

The Red Bull National Conquest Final takes place Friday, November 16 to Sunday, November 18. Tickets are $15. For more information, visit www.redbull.com/us-en/events/conquest. For more information about the Wizards District Gaming, visit http://wizardsdg.nba.com.

St. Elizabeths East Entertainment & Sports Arena: 1100 Oak Dr. SE, DC; www.esaontherise.com

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 24: John Wall #2 and Bradley Beal #3 of the Washington Wizards pose for a portrait during media day at the Entertainment and Sports Arena at St. Elizabeth's on September 24, 2018 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 24: John Wall #2 and Bradley Beal #3 of the Washington Wizards pose for a portrait during media day at the Entertainment and Sports Arena at St. Elizabeth's on September 24, 2018 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

Wizards Hope New Additions Will Help Shake Slow Start

The Washington Wizards should be reminding themselves it’s early, because it is. Even though our hometown team has started slowly out of the gate, the nucleus of John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter Jr. are undeniably talented. And in an Eastern Conference that’s more top-heavy than deep, these three athletes should be more than enough to get the team into the playoffs.

And as the Wizards’ new additions get acclimated in head coach Scott Brooks’ system playing with the aforementioned stalwarts, the squad should play better as the 2018-2019 season continues.

Fresh faces include future Hall of Fame center Dwight Howard, combo guard Austin Rivers and veteran Jeff Green. Each player brings a skill set missing from the Wizards roster in past seasons, as the team often sputtered due to its lack of depth.

The team shifted from longtime starting center Marcin Gortat to Howard, a player who’s undoubtedly been one of the greatest at his position for the past decade. Though he’s only 32 years old, he’s been playing in the NBA since the 2004-2005 season so he has some mileage on his legs, which could be a cause for concern later in the season.

He’s averaged nearly 18 points and 13 rebounds per game during his career, providing a consistent presence on the boards and in the paint on both sides of the court. Because of early injuries, Howard has missed much of the team’s lackluster start to the season; however, he should make his triumphant return in early November.

Meanwhile Rivers can play the point and off-ball, and is a capable scorer who averaged 15 points per game last season for the Los Angeles Clippers. His flexibility gives the team a reliable third guard, a piece they’ve been searching for since signing Wall and Beal to big extensions in the past few years.

As of late October, the team is 1-5 with several noticeable areas they could improve. Their rebound rate is dead last in the league with a paltry 42.9 percent. Considering the Wizards play with the third-highest pace, they’re leaving ample rebounds unaccounted for, giving other teams opportunities to get second and third shot attempts.

Howard should help with this significantly upon his return, as the team has been forced to go small and play undersized guys like natural power forwards Markieff Morris and Green at center for extended minutes.

Green is another newcomer who should help the Wizards down the stretch of the season. The power forward provides shooting and athleticism off the bench, and always has the potential to score 20-30 points in any game. The knock on his game throughout his career is the inconsistency of these flashes, because as exciting as they are when they’re happening, it can be maddening to watch when they’re not.

Returning players rounding out the team are Morris at forward, small forward Kelly Oubre Jr., center Ian Mahinmi, guard Tomas Satoransky and center Jason Smith.

Wing Troy Brown Jr., the team’s first-round pick of the 2018 NBA draft, should also provide punch off the bench as he gets more comfortable playing in the league. At 6-foot-7, his length will help on the defensive side of the ball against Eastern Conference teams like the Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors.

So yes, the Wizards have gotten off to a slow start, fielding a bottom-10 offensive (104.9) and defensive (114.5) rating so far this season. But with the talent of the roster and most of the season still ahead of them, it’s not time to panic yet. The new additions will help, but Wall, Beal and Porter Jr. will be relied on heavily to steady the ship as the calendar progresses – something they did two years ago.

For more information about the Washington Wizards and to purchase home game tickets, visit www.nba.com/wizards. If you want to hear more basketball opinions from Trent Johnson and a few of his friends, check out his podcast Trolling the Paint on Spotify, iTunes or Anchor.

Capital One Arena: 601 F St. NW, DC; 202-628-3200; www.capitalonearena.com

Photo: Nicholas Ciafolo, iHeart Media
Photo: Nicholas Ciafolo, iHeart Media

LOCASH Brings Energy to Pepsi Tailgate Tour Experience at FedExField

The Redskins/Cowboys rivalry alone is enough to get a crowd out to Maryland’s FedExField for the 4:25 p.m. kick-off, but one thing about Sunday’s game-day parking lot party was different from the past four 2018 Washington Redskins home games. Fans were welcomed with an ultimate tailgate experience thanks to the Pepsi Tailgate Tour, which has amplified game days at five NFL stadiums so far this season with three more to go, including the Army vs. Navy game on December 8 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.

The popular beverage brand’s tailgate experience features live music from LOCASH, classic outdoor tailgating games like cornhole and surprise guest appearances by NFL cheerleaders and players. At Sunday’s tour stop, guests were treated to an upbeat, energetic set from country duo LOCASH, and appearances by former wide receiver Santana Moss and retired running back Clinton Portis of the Washington Redskins.

Baltimore-native Chris Lucas and Preston Brust of LOCASH are giving football fans something to be excited about on this Pepsi Tailgate Tour. Their one hour pre-game set features new single “Feels Like A Party,” their 2016 hit “I Love This Life,” a cover of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” and more, and this line-up of songs couldn’t be more perfect for the occasion. “We’re positive, upbeat country,” Lucas said. “A good time is what it’s all about.”

The tailgate lot filled up fast before the duo took the stage due to the lively atmosphere. “You got the cheerleaders doing their routines, live music from us, food, former sports stars stopping in, it’s crazy,” Brust said. “It’s celebrity central because it’s Pepsi, such a classy organization. Everybody wants to be around Pepsi.” Lucas and Brust noted that this particular stop might have been the best one yet, despite the chilly weather. “The tailgating we’ve seen for this Redskins game is incredible. It reminds me a lot of a college tailgate.”

The experience elevates the pre-game fun for fans by even introducing them to a new genre of music that they might not be familiar with, which sets the tone so well for this kind of sporting event. “This is putting us in front of different clientele,” Lucas said. “A lot of people that don’t come to football games [regularly] and don’t know about country music and our brand are having a good time. It’s football, it’s fun, it’s music. It doesn’t get better than that.”

LOCASH couldn’t be more thrilled to partner with Pepsi – being husbands and fathers it’s important to them to maintain a tight-knit vibe on the tour. “It’s like having family everywhere we go, it really is. They stick with us, they watch our songs, they ask how our kids are doing. It’s an amazing feeling to have such a huge marketing team,” Brust said. “It’s been a great learning experience, we know what they need from us, we know what we need from them and we execute together perfectly.”

Though LOCASH is newer to the country radio scene than other artists, they’re really just enjoying the ride and soaking in the opportunities to expand since recently signing with Broken Bow Records and planning an album drop in January. The two are enjoying “just experiencing it and showing NFL and country music together. It works, it fits,” Lucas said.

You can catch LOCASH performing three holiday tunes at the National Christmas Tree Lighting on Wednesday, November 28 on the National Mall, or on the rest of the Pepsi Tailgate Tour. Visit www.pepsitailgate.com for more details on the exclusive football experience.

FedExField: 1600 Fedex Way, Landover, MD; www.redskins.com/stadium

PFL_106_12

PFL 10 in Washington DC

On Tap visited popular sports bars around DC and Virginia including Buffalo Billiards, Bracket Room and Kirwan’s on the Wharf to promote the upcoming PFL 10 happening on Saturday, October 20th at the new St. Elizabeths Entertainment and Sports Area. Use promo code ONTAP50 for 50 percent off your ticket to the playoffs!

Photo: Courtesy of Washington Capitals
Photo: Courtesy of Washington Capitals

Capitals’ New Head Coach Todd Reirden Enters Unique Situation

Championship teams are hard to keep together. Whether it’s players leaving for bigger contracts, veterans retiring or staffers jetting for more lucrative opportunities, the likelihood of a carbon copy from year to year is nearly impossible.

An obvious cog for any sports team is the head coach, and though it’s unusual for a championship organization to hire a new leader months after tasting absolute victory, the Capitals are now in the midst of this transition.

Out is Barry Trotz, the man who directed the team to last year’s Stanley Cup championship, as he resigned shortly after hoisting the trophy earlier this summer. While the team could have rocked the boat and brought in an outside candidate, the front office instead opted for continuity, promoting former assistant coach Todd Reirden. The 47-year-old was given a unique set of circumstances surrounding his first National Hockey League head coaching gig.

“This is an extremely unique one,” Reirden tells me in his office adorned with more Capitals gear than a stadium gift shop. “More often than not, you see an assistant coach take over because it went poorly. In this situation where you’ve won the ultimate prize in your sport, it’s obviously different. I had no ill will or misgivings to Barry. It was his choice not to return. It had nothing to do with my situation.”

Officially hired on June 29, Reirden touched base with Trotz to thank him for the opportunity. Four years ago, Trotz hired him as the assistant coach, bringing him into the organization where he’s now charged to lead.

“It’s been a real comfortable situation thus far,” he says. “Two years ago, I ran the training camp. So this is not new to me as far as where we’re at right now – only thoughts of excitement and opportunity for this group, who for the most part is returning.”

Those returning include legend and Stanley Cup MVP Alex Ovechkin, forward T.J. Oshie and defenseman John Carlson, to name a few.

“Every season is a little bit different, so it’s tough to totally forecast where your team is going to have success or [what they’ll] struggle with,” Reirden says. “[Because of] what we were able to do last year, there won’t be a lot of changes. We’re just trying to emphasize the speed with some of our young players.”

One group of people happy to see him instituted as head coach was the players, who had firsthand experience as he helped guide the team to a championship last season. Though he has a different role, the team believes he can help them achieve a title repeat.

“First of all, he’s very smart,” says veteran center Nicklas Backstrom. “He’s very good at adjusting during the game and making sure you’re screwing with the other team a bit, which I think is positive. People don’t notice that. He’s alert. He’s on top of his game, every game. That’s what you need in this league.”

Along with his mind for the game, Reirden is a great communicator, which is something he’s using to help the Capitals avoid
a title hangover.

“My strengths are in communication and developing relationships with the players,” he says. “I was in constant contact with them and let them know a clear vision of what I expected the camp to look like. They’ve all come back in excellent shape and ready to work. The response from the veteran players and everyone right through is a high energy level and an even higher conditional level than in the past. You have to communicate with the players, you have to talk to them, you have to connect with them. They have to be able to come to you about good things, bad things, whatever it is, and you have to have them trust you and believe in you.”

With a new coach comes new philosophies and tendencies, which carries the possibility of a slow start. However, with Reirden being on staff for the past few years, players aren’t worried about the prospect.

“Potentially,” right defenseman Matt Niskanen says of Reirden’s coaching style. “You get used to a coach’s tendencies – his feel for how he runs the bench, runs your scheme, your practices. So far in camp, there’s been the same types of drills just to get people moving again because everyone’s familiar with them. But we’re going to start filtering new stuff, tweaking the system and details as we go. It should be a pretty seamless transition.”

Though it’s early, everything out of Capitals camp sounds so far, so good. And as the season opener against the Boston Bruins on October 3 approaches, all Reirden and the team can do is put their heads down, get to work and enjoy the journey.

“My goal doesn’t have anything to do with a set number of wins or losses, or this or that,” Reirden says. “I want to create an environment that’s challenging for our players. I want them to enjoy coming to work every day. They need to enjoy coming to the rink and being challenged that way to get back to what we accomplished last year.”

Don’t miss the Caps’ home opener on Wednesday, October 3 at 7:30 p.m. against the Bruins. For more information on the team and their 2018-2019 season, visit www.nhl.com/capitals.

Capital One Arena: 601 F St. NW, DC; www.nhl.com/capitals

Photo: Courtesy of PFL
Photo: Courtesy of PFL

PFL 10: An Event to Watch for Fight Fans

Mixed martial arts (MMA) holds an interesting spot when it comes to the DC sports hierarchy. Known as a fight town, DMV residents tend to sway more toward boxing as the DC area has historically offered the squared circle a true home for locally bred talent and big events.

Globally, MMA as a whole is maybe at its most profitable point and the Professional Fighters League (PFL) is looking to capitalize on the potentially fertile fandom in DC with an event on October 20 in the brand new St. Elizabeths East Entertainment and Sports Arena. This marks the organization’s third DC card, after PFL Fight Night in November 2017 and PFL 3 this past July.

The PFL separates itself from other MMA promotions by instituting a tournament system between the top eight fighters in each of its six divisions. The PFL 2018 season will conclude on December 31, with six championship fights back-to-back and a $10 million prize pool.

PFL 10 offers a boon for fight fans who have followed the sport over the past decade, with veterans like former Strikeforce champion Jake Shields, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) vets Rick Story and John Howard, and other talents such as Abubakar Nurmagomedov and Louis Taylor.

Fights at the top of the card include Shields vs. Ray Cooper III (who square off in a rematch after Cooper bested the veteran by technical knockout), Eddie Gordon vs. Andre Lobato, and Howard vs. Shamil Gamzatov – to name a few.

“There is an appetite for the very, very high end of fighting, whether it’s [boxing’s] Pacquiao and Mayweather or [MMA’s] Conor McGregor,” says MMA journalist Luke Thomas. “But the midlevel has been harder to cultivate [here in DC]. The PFL is trying to tap into that, and even though some of the guys aren’t the best of the best anymore, it’s good fighting. It’s a big test, it’s critical. But the question is how difficult is [getting people to the event].”

Thomas, of MMA Fighting and SiriusXM’s The Luke Thomas Show, is   a DC native and says there has been a general interest for the sport dating back to the days of DC promotion Ultimate Warrior Challenge. The promotion featured early bouts of eventual UFC standouts John Dodson, Brendan Schaub and Mike Easton. But because of commission issues in DC and big markets like New York City only a few hours up the highway, big MMA fights have largely eluded the city.

“Part of this is DC hasn’t had a DC fighter breakthrough,” Thomas says. “It’s a newer fight community, and I don’t think they know enough about the sport. There’s a fight community, but it leans more toward boxing, and this new audience doesn’t know all the practices.”

Despite this, Thomas and I are in agreement regarding the talent on PFL 10. More high-level fights in the District could further the sport’s exposure, perhaps making way for breakthrough stars and additional can’t-miss fight cards.

“The PFL will bring many talents that are pretty damn good,” he continues. “A lot of these guys have been floating just outside the UFC ranks. There are definitely some fights to look out for, and you have an undercard with good veterans. These are all legitimate fighters.”

The fight card will represent one of the first large-scale events to take place at the city’s new venue. In addition to featuring touring sports like the PFL, e-sports and concerts, the 4,200-seat arena will also house the Washington Mystics and the Wizards’ new NBA G-League team, the Capital City Go-Go. The completion of the 118,000-square-foot St. Elizabeths East is the culmination of a year-long construction process that cost the city about $69 million.

While there’s currently no boxing cards scheduled for the arena, there’s little doubt DC’s newest building will host bouts in the future. Fight fans in the District yearning for high-level combat sooner will be treated to the PFL 10 and a collection of MMA talent from around the world.

“I guarantee that when the card is over, we’ll have been treated to quality MMA,” Thomas says.

Don’t miss the PFL 10 on Saturday, October 20 at the new St. Elizabeths East arena. Visit www.pflmma.com for more information and to purchase tickets.

St. Elizabeths East Entertainment and Sports Arena: 1100 Oak Dr. SE, DC; www.esaontherise.com

Nats_092118_TurtleRecall_Kim (17)

Turtle Recall at Nationals Park

The last Friday home pregame show at Nationals Park featured DC 80s rock band Turtle Recall on the Budweiser Terrace. We’ll see you in 2019 for next season’s Budweiser concert series at the ball park! Photos: Mike Kim

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Ryan Kerrigan’s 6th Annual Celebrity Waiter Night

Washington Redskins linebacker Ryan Kerrigan hosted his sixth annual Celebrity Waiter Night at The Watergate Hotel.  Kerrigan and his Washington Redskins teammates mingled with supporters of Ryan’s Blitz for the Better Foundation, DC’s charitable community and Redskins fans who enjoyed a high-spirited cocktail reception, fine cuisine and exciting live and silent auctions. Photos: LAFlicks Photography

Photo: Courtesy of Professional Bull Riders
Photo: Courtesy of Professional Bull Riders

Not Your Average Rodeo: PBR Rolls Through NoVA

You may have seen the slogan on the Metro buses taking you in and out of the city lately. The large sign reads, “And You Thought This Town Couldn’t Handle Any More Bulls#*t,” and with the most recent political developments, it seems like the marketing ploy couldn’t be more timely.

However, the bull advertised isn’t the kind peddled by politicians or reported in news stories. It’s real and it involves actual bulls, riders and extensive pyrotechnics. The Professional Bull Riders (PBR) tour is here, and it’s time to take notice.

“You can expect there to be a lot of action,” PBR rider Cody Nance says. “It’s a ton of fun and it’s funny. If you like exciting things, you’re coming to the right place. You see the top guys in the world against the best bulls in the world.”

The PBR rolls through Northern Virginia on September 22 and 23 for the U.S. Border Patrol Invitational at EagleBank Arena in Fairfax, Virginia. The stadium where George Mason athletics take place will be completely transformed into what sounds like a rodeo atmosphere on steroids.

“For years we said, ‘It’s not a rodeo, but a one and only PBR,’” production manager Jim White says. “We’re a full entertainment package, and even have bands on occasion. We have the same sound systems as most rock ‘n’ roll bands, and our lighting is a lot like those concerts as well. It’s bull riding. It’s Americana. Anyone can enjoy it. It’s two-and-a-half hours of nonstop action.”

Though the spectacle is not a rodeo, it does mirror more than a few of the same aesthetics including 300 tons of dirt stretched over 40 yards, loads of steel for pins and barriers, and of course, gigantic athletes weighing in at nearly 2,000 pounds each.

“They’re just like any other kind of athlete,” PBR stock provider Mike Miller says about the bulls. “It’s about diet and exercise. We feed them twice a day: low fat and high protein. We try to get them as much exercise as possible to build their lung capacity and muscles up.”

Miller says that much like the riders who train to be flexible and durable for the strenuous task of riding atop a bull, the bulls themselves are bred to be athletes – part of the spectacle.

“We look for intensity – how high they jump in the front and how hard they kick in the back,” Miller says of identifying the best bulls. “I guess if you’re in the business, you can notice [the difference between them] a little easier, and that’s your job to kind of know what the bull is and what the best bulls look like.”

According to the PBR website, a bull ride in the league is an “eight-second contest of strength, balance, endurance and effort between the world’s best bull rides and the world’s best bucking bulls.” In order to score, riders must have one hand on the bull rope and one in the air, and if he makes it for eight seconds, he’ll receive a score up to 100 total points with a possible 50 points awarded to each the bull and the rider.

“Most people think we’re crazy,” Nance says. “But once you explain what it’s about, they understand. It’s just a cowboy thing. A lot of people don’t understand how much goes into raising a bull. To be able to compete with a bull at that level is like playing in the [NFL] Pro Bowl.”

Nance was the fifth ranked PBR rider in the world standings and the top ranked American as of August. Despite his unusual career path, he says it was one he yearned for from an early age as his stepdad rode bulls and served as a judge after he gave up the trade.

“I got on bulls through high school at different levels, but couldn’t join the PBR until I turned 18,” Nance says. “In 10 years of riding, a lot can change. You get the heck beat out of you. Sometimes it’s a little more physically challenging, but mentally you go about it the same way.”

Miller says that while the bulls themselves may not be aware they’re competing with one another, each has a unique personality. So temperamental bulls may be more challenging than others.

“They’re like me, you or your friends,” Miller says. “Some are nice to be around, and some are really ignorant to be around.”

So, if you’re into lights, music and cowboys riding atop giant, potentially annoyed animals, the PBR is right up your alley. And we promise we’re not just saying that, because frankly, that would be bulls#*t.

“The newcomers in Virginia, they’re going to see Western lifestyle in a way that they’ve never seen it before,” White says. “It’s like a rock show with meat.”

Don’t miss PBR’s U.S. Border Patrol Invitational at EagleBank Arena on Saturday, September 22 at 6:45 p.m. and Sunday, September 23 at 1:45 p.m. Tickets start at $71. Learn more about Professional Bull Riding at www.pbr.com.

EagleBank Arena: 4500 Patriot Circle, Fairfax, VA; 703-993-3000; www.eaglebankarena.com