The 5 biggest and best surprises in D.C.'s sports history

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The sparkling new Nationals Park is home to the Washington Nationals, as baseball has been revived in D.C. (Photo courtesy of Jake Emen.)
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The sparkling new Nationals Park is home to the Washington Nationals, as baseball has been revived in …

COMMENTARY | Over the past decade or two, Washington, D.C., sports have been collectively known more for their failures than for their successes. However, the city has had some glorious moments as well, including ones that caught the world and local D.C. residents by surprise. Here are the five biggest and best surprises in Washington, D.C.'s, sports history.

[Related: 5 biggest sports disappointments for Washington, D.C.]

1. George Mason makes it to the Final Four.

The ultimate NCAA Tournament Cinderella story was 2006's George Mason team, coached by Jim Larranaga. As a No. 11 seed from the Colonial Conference - before doing such things was cool and more commonplace - the Patriots danced their way past big-time basketball powerhouses like Michigan State and North Carolina, before shocking the No. 1-seeded UConn Huskies to advance to the Final Four. George Mason is still tied as the lowest seed to make it that far in the tournament.

2. Redskins win 1942 NFL title.

Sammy Baugh and the Washington Redskins did what many thought was unthinkable in 1942: defeat the Chicago Bears to win the NFL Championship. As the two-time defending champions, the Bears were 11-0 and utterly dominant that season, having outscored their opponents 376-84 during the year. The Bears had won the 1940 Championship via a humiliating 73-0 victory over the Skins, the largest margin of defeat in NFL history. The Redskins got their revenge two years later, though, winning their second NFL title by defeating the Bears 14-6.

3. Bullets win 1978 NBA Championship.

The Washington Bullets won the 1978 NBA Championship, bringing home D.C.'s first major sports title in 36 years since the Redskins won in '42. They were a good club, with Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes, but they were just the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference that year, in an era where the NBA fielded six-team conference playoff brackets. They were able to come back from a 3-2 deficit to defeat the Seattle SuperSonics in the Finals, closing out a tight Game 7 on the road. The team never stopped believing, though, rallying behind San Antonio sportswriter Dan Cook's new phrase: "The opera ain't over till the fat lady sings." Cook wrote it about the Spurs and their chances to come back against the Bullets, but the Bullets took up the phrase for their own inspiration.

4. Baseball back in Washington, D.C.

While Washington, D.C., and the Northern Virginia area were frontrunners in the race to haul in the Montreal Expos franchise, for a long time it seemed as if it wouldn't happen. The franchise would have been contracted entirely in 2001 were it not for the Minnesota Twins, also up for contraction at the time, being forced to stay and play in their current stadium. D.C. hadn't had a pro baseball team since the second incarnation of the Senators, who played their last season in 1971. In September 2004, commissioner Bud Selig announced that D.C. would get the nod. After three years in RFK Stadium, the much-debated Nationals Park finally opened for the 2008 season, and baseball was truly revived in the city with Stephen Strasburg's major league debut in June 2010.

5. Wizards draft John Wall.

The Washington Wizards finished the 2009-2010 season with a 26-56 record, the fifth worst in the league. This gave them just over a 10 percent chance to land the No. 1 draft pick behind four other teams. But the Wizards won the draft lottery and took the near-unanimous choice, point guard John Wall from the University of Kentucky. In his rookie year, Wall scored 16.4 points per game and averaged over eight assists and four rebounds per game. There's lots of room for improvement, but it was a promising start for Wall and the franchise that bet their future on him.

Jake Emen is a freelance writer based in Bethesda, Maryland, with experience covering sports, local news stories, and more for a number of online publications. He is also the owner of the boxing news website ProBoxing-Fans.com.

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