The cities of Washington D.C. and Kansas City were officially awarded franchise licenses from the NHL on June 8, 1972, allowing them to become the league’s 17th and 18th franchises, set to begin play in the fall of 1974.
DC was seen as somewhat of a long shot among the 10 finalists, before forty-six members of the House of Representatives signed a petition directed at the NHL and president Nixon publicly voiced his enthusiasm (six weeks before Watergate break-in), encouraging the league to select Washington. In the end, Washington was selected with Abe Pollin coughing up $6 million bucks for the franchise (Seattle is paying $650 million).
What’s In A Name?
The mission to name Washington’s new hockey team kicked-off on New Year’s Day, 1974. Pollin and the management launched a public “Name the team” contest which received nearly 12,000 entries, consisting of 700 hundred different names. One especially devoted entrant sent in 102 different postcards with 102 different ideas. The winner would be sent two season tickets, allowing them into all NHL games at the Capital Centre during the 1974-1975 season.
According to WETA, The Washington Post writers had quite a time keeping track of the good, the bad, and the groan-inducing entries. Suggestions such as the Puck-Ups, the Slapsticks, and the Caputs reflected a widely shared opinion that the new team would crash-and-burn on arrival.
Those who enjoyed puns sent names such as the Capital Gains, the Belters, the Goal Diggers, the APEs (Abe Pollin Enterprises), the Tri-Stars (for D.C., Maryland, and Virginia), and the Pollin Bears. Others went in a more forceful direction, recommending the Stompers, the Cutthroats, the Killers, the Werewolves, or the Punishers. Still others proposed the Largo Lizards and the Beltway Bandits.
The top three choices, however, after the first week or so, stayed fairly consistent. In first place was the Comets; the Pandas — a nod to recent “panda-monium” (a term coined by First Lady Pat Nixon) — were a strong second, especially among younger fans (though not with Post sportswriter George Minot, Jr., who called them “fat lay-abouts’ and said that “considering their country of origin, their politics are suspect”); there was a tie for third between the Eagles (Minot objected to sharing a name with “an also-ran football team from Philadelphia”) and the Metros (“a misnomer,” he wrote; “there’s no subway line to Largo yet”).
Three weeks later Pollin and company held a press conference on January 22. None of the frontrunners were chosen: instead, the name Abe Pollin pulled out of an envelope while standing rink-side in the new Capital Centre with his new players and a handful of journalists was the Washington Capitals. According to the Post, after he read the announcement, “Pollin had a smiling face, most others had fallen.”
It was a puzzling choice. For one thing, the rules of the contest had stated that the choice was to be made based on the most popular contest submissions. For another, the Washington Capitols had been the name given to not one, but two, local pro basketball teams, which had called D.C. home in the 1950s. Neither had been particularly successful, and both had quickly gone defunct.
Perhaps most perplexing of all, a few hours before Pollin’s announcement, organizers of an effort to bring a pro soccer team to Washington, which was to play in the World Football League, declared that their team would be called the Washington Capitals. Sports fans were confused, and so were the hockey players.
When asked about his decision, Abe Pollin said he had been keeping tabs on the names that had been doing the best in the contest, and noting which he liked best himself. Even though the Washington Capitals was not the most popular choice among fans, he had liked it enough to earmark it on his own list.
The night before the announcement, he and his wife Irene had been going through the results and, at 11:30 p.m., they’d decided that the Comets sounded too much like the cleaning brand, and neither liked the Pandas. The Philadelphia Eagles were at a low point, making the Pollins wary of letting their hockey team share the name, while choosing the Metros would be too close to the New York Mets, short for the Metropolitans. Moreover, the Pollins both thought the Capitals had a good, solid ring to it.
Goalie Ron Low of the Washington Capitals makes the save during an NHL game against the New York Rangers on October 9, 1974 at the Madison Square Garden in New York, New York. The newly-named franchise donned white shorts briefly in their first season. (Photo by B Bennett/Getty Images)
88 people sent “Capitals” in as their suggestion for the naming contest (as opposed to the 250 who liked the Comets), so all of their names were pooled together, and one drawn for the season tickets. A Mrs. Stolarick of Alexandria won the tickets, and the 87 runners-up got autographed hockey sticks.
By Jon Sorensen