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Don't head into the new book by Glenn Dreyfuss looking for tales of triumph and championship rings. No, The Legends of Landover: Long-Lost Stories of the Washington Capitals, is decidedly much more about failure and losses, which he's okay with.
“I think books about winning teams tend to be a lot more similar than books about losing teams. The winning teams, the quotes are all about, well, 'We overcame adversity and nobody believed in us,' and, 'Boy, we had a great bunch of guys in the room,'” Dreyfuss began over the phone from Seattle.
Yes, Seattle, home of the Kraken—though that name hadn't been announced at the time of our conversation.
In 1974, when the Washington Capitals franchise came into existence, Dreyfuss was 14 years old and living in suburban DC in 1974. Originally from the New York City area, he hadn't developed any love of those teams, and the Caps filled a spot in his heart. “Even though I didn't know anything about hockey, I decided to adopt the Capitals. And you can call it masochism or amnesia or whatever you like, but I had to live long enough to see them actually win.”
The Caps did, of course, finally win the Stanley Cup, in 2018, so Dreyfuss accomplished one goal.
But his book, a long time coming too, isn't about that win. It's about the losses.
“It was surprising to me that no one had ever written a book about the worst season any team had had in more than 100 years of NHL hockey,” he mused, referring to the 1974-75 Capitals, that finished 8-67-5. Yet there was a book about the terrible debut NFL season the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had in 1976, shut out five times and only managing to score 125 points in the entire season, and a recent one about the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers and “The Process,” tanking for better draft picks. The debut season of the 1962 Mets is detailed by Jimmy Breslin in the iconic Can't Anybody Here Play This Game? More recently, books on the hapless NHL teams, the Kansas City Scouts and California Seals, have celebrated anti-winners.
“Why wasn't there one about the Capitals?” considered Dreyfuss. “That was kind of my inspiration to find out if there was something worth looking into.”
So he did.
Unlike those books on the Seals and Scouts, and another book about the first 25 years of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Dreyfuss didn't have to detail ownership woes at all. Abe Pollin owned the team from its debut until 1999. According to Dreyfuss, Pollin “didn't really want a hockey team. He just wanted a tenant to go along with his basketball team for the new arena he wanted to build. He grew to love hockey, but before he owned the Capitals, he'd never seen a hockey game. And had never even been on skates.”
The same might be said of some of the misfits that made it onto early Caps teams. Dreyfuss' book celebrates them all in a light-hearted, fun way, delving into newspapers and publications from back in the day rather than conducting interviews. It's tongue in cheek, with plenty of pop culture references.
“I wanted this to be a storytelling book. A lot of the books that cover older franchises go into a lot of the backstories. I wanted this to be like a bag of potato chips. You can pick it up, eat a few put it down, come back the next day, eat a few,” said Dreyfuss. “I like the idea that hockey and the Capitals and these stories and the people around them are part of a larger culture. So yes, I do have everything from Mickey Rooney to the movie Slap Shot, and a whole lot of other things that aren't hockey and mention baseball and basketball and football and so on. Maybe that just means I have a short attention span.”
That short attention span didn't apply to The Legends of Landover, as Dreyfuss spent a decade working on it.
“It was like a jigsaw puzzle with 5,000 pieces. You only need 3,000 to complete the jigsaw puzzle, but you don't have any picture on the box to tell you what it's supposed to look like,” he explained. “So the first thing I did was just gather an immense amount of facts and immense amount of stories. And of course, you come across one source that would have part of a story, and then you'd have another source that would have another part. So I digitized all of these, I started creating a thousand online folders—this should go with this, this should go with that. And eventually, kind of like a big bang, all these disparate particles slowly coalesced into asteroids and planets and so on, into chapters. And even over the 10 years that I worked on the book, a lot of things got shifted around.”
He relished some of the tales of the unknown. “Sometimes the best stories aren't the best players. Nobody has to write about Rod Langway or Dale Hunter, although of course I did. But it's the players that nobody remembers that sometimes have the most fascinating stories.”
One of those stories belongs to Todd Bidner, from the 1981-82 Caps. “He played two games in two leagues, in one day,” recounted Dreyfuss. “He broke his leg in a game at Capital Center and got shuffled off get a taxi to go to the hospital still wearing his sweater. He comes back after the game and finds out the coach and general manager got fired. So he's had a lifetime of stories in a 12 game NHL career.”
Dreyfuss didn't seek out anyone to interview, but it wasn't that he didn't have that skillset.
“I have been a TV producer for 35 years so I really love to interview people. But an interesting thing is that after 35 or 40 years, most everybody who does reminiscences gets them wrong. And so I decided that I would take a different approach, which is to base most of the stories from contemporaneous newspaper, magazine, TV interviews, when everyone's memory was fresh,” he said. “I would get stories wrong if you asked me what I was doing 35 years ago ... In fact, in doing the book, I came upon the truth about memories that I had had that were mistaken.”
He's okay with the decision. “Did I miss out on probably 500 more good stories by not doing that? Yeah, I did. But I think there's enough in there to make it worthwhile.”
It's a process getting it out there. Dreyfuss has shared it with some of the original Capitals media members, radio and television broadcasters, and some podcasts and websites, and hopes to get it into the hands of players.
Like tickets to an expansion team in a new market, The Legends of Landover is priced to move.
“I priced the book at $10. I'm not making any money, I'm selling it at cost,” he said.
For more on The Legends of Landover, visit at http://capitals-legends.blogspot.com/ or order it directly at Amazon (https://amzn.to/3f1oSlA)
Back but in Seattle, with the team's debut a belated 2019-20 playoff, and the subsequent season away, will Dreyfuss's allegiences change?
“Well, the question becomes, can you have both a wife and a mistress? And in my own marriage, which has lasted 32 years, the answer's no. But when it comes to hockey, I hope you can. I'm certainly excited to see the Seattle Kraken. But my first loyalty will always be to the Capitals.”
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