Let’s Go Caps: A curator’s collecting trip into Caps mania

By Jane Rogers
A tin foil version of the Stanley Cup

I’m a lifelong resident of the Washington, D.C. area and a hockey fan. So imagine my excitement (and surprise) last year when my team, the Washington Capitals, finally won a Stanley Cup championship! I was going crazy. My family was going crazy. The whole town was going crazy! Fans were celebrating in the streets until all hours of the night, welcoming the team home at the airport, and lining the streets for a massive parade to cheer on the players for “bringing home the Cup.”

The Capitals red parade bus passes the museum
Washington Capitals’ Stanley Cup parade, held in Washington, D.C., on June 12, 2018.

I was lucky enough to attend that parade in my capacity as a curator and look for cool stuff to collect. That’s right: curators collect fan paraphernalia to document the whole sports experience, and these objects can tell quite a story about the fan, the team, the sport, and what’s happening in society at a particular time. The museum has been collecting fan items for years—handmade and mass-produced material, from the famous Wisconsin cheesehead hat to game-day giveaways (and those infamous bobbleheads).

A selfie of curator Jane Rogers and the parade route lined in a sea of red
The author enjoying the Caps Stanley Cup parade before venturing into the crowd to collect fan items.

So, dressed in my trusty Nicklas Bäckström jersey and armed with business cards, I walked through the crowd looking for homemade items that expressed a certain spirit and dedication to the team. I saw many objects that were either not appropriate for our collections or just too big to care for. The Stanley Cup made of beer cans was one of my favorites, but we have no place to store it (plus it smelled of stale beer, and that’s not a smell I wanted to bring into the museum).

Object photo, small tin foil version of the Stanley Cup
Homemade Stanley Cup made by Suzanne Tank and carried to many Caps games, from 2008 until the Caps finally won the cup in 2018.

I did find a smaller version of the cup that was handmade by Suzanne Tank and carried by her husband the day of the parade. I walked up to him and asked if I could have his Stanley Cup for the Smithsonian’s sports collection. By the look on his face, he was not expecting a curator in a Caps jersey to ask him for his Stanley Cup. He took my card and said he would ask his wife, since it was really her art project. A few weeks later, Suzanne got in touch and was happy to donate the cup to the collections—along with a few photographs taken through the years at games and at the parade, providing a complete history of the cup and an insight into the Tanks’ fandom. I asked Suzanne why she made a replica cup instead of just buying a foam finger. Like most fans, she said it was superstition—to visualize and then create a cup would bring luck to the team and perhaps induce a win.

A young man holds the Stanley Cup miniature
Suzanne’s son, Sam, with the cup at the first playoff series in 2008.
A small Stanley Cup model at the parade
The cup at the Stanley Cup parade, June 12, 2018.

I was also able to collect a couple of cool homemade posters from Tom Blonkowski and Nicole Svajlenka that show their dedication to the Caps, their feelings about the players, and their unique game-watching traditions. The donors also offered a guide to the posters’ slogans and images, providing a totally different aspect of fan art and dedication.

A  poster that says "Hold it here" with hockey players
Homemade posters by Tom Blonkowski and Nicole Svajlenka showing a photo of Braden Holtby making “The Save,” an incredible stop against the Golden Knights in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals.
A poster with hockey players and the words "Shots Vodka"
This “Shots Vodka” poster includes a photo of Caps players and coaches the moment they became Stanley Cup champions. The “shots vodka” reference is to a commercial starring a young Alexander Ovechkin, in which the Caps player asks for “shots vodka.”

Although I only came away with a couple of fan art objects, I had a blast cheering on the Caps and hanging out with a few (thousand) fans—and now those crazed fans are represented in the national collections, helping us to create a full picture of the whole sports experience, from athlete, to team, to fan!

Jane Rogers is an associate curator in the Division of Culture and the Arts.