Why one fan collects memorabilia from D.C. sports' worst moments originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
Mike Callow has a hobby only D.C. sports fans of a certain age would understand. While most collectors of sports memorabilia seek out artifacts from the best and biggest moments in their teams' history, he has taken the opposite approach: commemorate the worst moments, the ones that left scars and made finally climbing the mountaintop that much more gratifying.
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Yeah, it's kind of twisted. But at 31 years old, heartbreak and disappointment is all Callow knew as a sports fan until 2018, when his Capitals broke through after years of postseason failures to win the Stanley Cup.
"It's not about the big moments for me, it's about the unique items and moments," Callow told NBC Sports Washington.
"Before the Caps championship, it felt like you were in a well. You could see the light, but there was no way to get out of it."
Callow, who is originally from Olney, Maryland, and went to Sherwood High School, was just 2 years old when Washington won the Super Bowl in January of 1992. Until the Caps won it all in 2018, D.C.'s four major sports teams combined for just one deep playoff run. That was the Caps who made it to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1998. He is part of what the Washington Post's Dan Steinberg once coined the 'loss generation.'
Along the way, there were good teams that just weren't good enough. The Capitals and Nationals, in particular, had epic playoff meltdowns.
That gave Callow plenty of ideas and opportunities to build a collection of agonizing memories. But that wasn't his original intention when he began collecting.
"You find out really fast the good [memorabilia] is super expensive. If you acquire one of those items, it clears you out. At some point I just started looking at really bad items from D.C. sports because they were so cheap," he said.
"I was like, 'You know what, screw it.' We've had these horrible moments sometimes. I'm just going to seek out those items," he said.
Callow first tried to purchase items from the Nationals' 2012 NL Division Series loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, but because it was their first-ever postseason appearance, there was a ton of interest. By 2014, when they crashed and burned against the San Francisco Giants, it was Callow's time to strike.
He bought manager Matt Williams' clubhouse nameplate from that series, which featured him being ejected from a game and, of course, the most ill-fated decision in Nationals postseason history.
"That commemorates him pulling [Jordan] Zimmermann with two outs left to get the complete game [in Game 2]," Callow said.
Callow also bought a game-used jersey worn by first baseman Adam LaRoche. Why you ask?
"Because he had a horrible postseason," he said.
Callow's most cherished item would have to be the game-worn uniform by Washington quarterback John Beck from the team's 23-0 loss to the Buffalo Bills back on Oct. 30, 2011. The game, which was played in Toronto, Canada, saw Beck post a 53.6 quarterback rating and get sacked 10 times.
Beck had nine recorded sacks during the game, which set a franchise record. Then, later in the week, he was given another after a league review. It was arguably the worst quarterback performance in Washington football history and, if you know their history, that is saying something.
Callow remembers listening to the radio broadcast that day with then-analysts Sonny Jurgensen and Sam Huff.
"I don't think I've ever heard them so disgusted," he said. "[The jersey] popped up in eBay one day and I was like 'I have to have that.' That jersey is like the crown jewel of bad."
While the game-used jerseys from the best moments in D.C. history run thousands of dollars, he bought Beck's for about $150. It even has a characteristic mark to represent the sacks record.
"There is a rip down the back. It's crazy. It's one of my favorite items. It is just the epitome of being a fan of this franchise," he said. "Just the fact John Beck was a starting quarterback for this team, that was a low point."
Other items Callow owns include an Ethan Albright jersey (with a Sean Taylor patch) from Washington's 2007 playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks. He has a jersey and helmet from former Caps defenseman Nate Schmidt's final season in town because he knew he would be picked in the expansion draft by the Vegas Golden Knights. The jersey is from the Caps' playoff series loss to the rival Pittsburgh Penguins.
Callow also owns former Washington tight end Fred Davis' jersey from the Senior Bowl. That one he finds interesting because of Davis' downfall with the team which included not showing up to practice one day because his alarm clock didn't go off.
There are also some not-so-terrible moments he has pieces from like a signed Cole Holcomb jersey from Week 1 of 2020, the first game (and win) of the Washington Football Team era after they changed their name. He has a Jordan Crawford jersey from the final Wizards home game of 2011 before they rebranded and changed their colors to red, white and blue. And he owns Caps defenseman John Carlson's jersey from his junior hockey days.
The painful moments, however, made the Caps winning in 2018 and the Nats winning the World Series in 2019 much more enjoyable. He had to endure the losses first before experiencing what it was like to win.
"The bad things are what I gravitate to because they make a really cool story. Especially when it comes to the Nats and the Caps, it's kind of fun to look back on those moments now that we know they've been successful," he said.
Callow is now an update anchor and radio host at 630 AM in D.C. He produces and co-hosts the Bram Weinstein Show on weekdays. And now, despite knowing what it is like to be a winner, he isn't done collecting the memorabilia only he seems to want.
Callow next hopes to buy Nate Sudfeld's jersey from Week 17 of 2020, which he wore while quarterbacking the Eagles to a loss against Washington. It lifted Washington to the NFC East division title and got Philly head coach Doug Pederson fired.
And while Callow does have a game-used jersey from former Nats reliever Drew Storen, who was on the mound for their postseason collapses in 2012 and 2014, there is one Storen item he sees as the ultimate prize.
"Drew Storen in 2012 is my white whale, easily," he said. "That's probably my No. 1. I don't think I'll ever get it because I don't know who has it."