SPORTS TALK By Pat Malone: Dave Johnson

He’s all over the place, from his home in Annapolis, to the ‘glass-enclosed nerve center of WTOP’, to the studios of either Comcast Sports Net, or Monumental Sports and Entertainment, to doing the play-by-play for the Washington Wizards, and D.C. United, the Energizer Bunny couldn’t begin to think about keeping up with Dave Johnson, who’s the hardest working man covering D.C. area sports.

Wizards’ fans have joined Dave on the ‘Radio Party’, the past few seasons, as he and Glenn Consor call their games both home and on the road, sometimes late into the evening, on west coast trips, and D.C. United fans have keenly listened to his every word, but no matter where he is, or how much sleep he might have missed, Dave still rolls with the punches on the air from 5:00 to 10:00 am, at WTOP.
I recently had a chance to catch up with Dave, during a quick trip with him getting a cup of coffee, where he generously took the time to answer a few questions for me.

Pat: You’ve seen the maturation and transformation of the Wizards over the past three years of Randy Wittman’s program, which has produced a complete defensive mindset that the current roster has bought into. Covering the team, as you do, at what point did you start to see results start to take place on the court?

Dave: When Randy Wittman took over it was under very difficult circumstances, and he made it clear from the start he was going to coach his way. I think John Wall especially appreciated the challenge of playing for Wittman. Wittman is fair but demanding. He wants his players to be accountable. The Wizards team that made four consecutive playoff appearances a decade ago was about outscoring the opponents, but now can win games on defense. Certainly with the 2012/2013 season, it was clear the Wizards were heading in the right direction and would have made the playoffs had John Wall not missed the first 33 games with a knee injury.

Pat: The Wizards seem to have developed a stronger fan base over the past few years, even more so than the days they played at the Capital Centre. Do you feel that fans have come out to support the Wizards more so this season, which has helped to amp up the Verizon Center?

Dave: DC is a great basketball city period. The fans are knowledgeable and passionate. I think the city environment of Verizon Center adds to the electric atmosphere, but I have fond memories of the Capital Centre.

Pat: Much like what Randy Wittman has done with the Wizards, Barry Trotz seems to have also changed the mindset of the Capitals. Do you see similar traits between both coaches?

Dave: Trotz and Wittman are two coaches who are very comfortable in their own skin and can draw on decades of experience. Both have core principles they believe in and know how to get their messages through to players. I think fair and honest applies to both and players appreciate and respect that.

Pat: For years the Redskins have dominated the local D.C. area sports landscape, but that all seems to be changing a bit, with the Wizards, Capitals, Nationals, and D.C. United all seemingly developing a winning formula with their franchises. Are you surprised by the shift of interest by local fans towards other professional teams, besides the Redskins?

Dave: The Redskins still command the most support and attention in this town. It is a credit to the fiber of Redskins’ fans that they stayed committed through disappointment. I think in general DC has become a better sports town, and that is reflected by an interest in more sports. Interest in hockey has surged. Baseball is back, and this is a great soccer town.

Pat: When you can sit back and be a ‘fan’, what’s your favorite sport and what’s your favorite sports team?

Dave: I know sounds like I am avoiding it, but I enjoy it all. Naturally teams I am more invested with like D.C. United and the Wizards are my favorites.

Pat: Isn’t it a lot of fun watching your son, Pierce, grow up and play sports? How often do you and your wife, Diane, get to his games?

Dave: It is the best. I go to every practice, every scrimmage, and every game. If I can, I change my travel schedule, so I limit what I miss.

Pat: What was the most significant game, to date, that you’ve either broadcast or witnessed in person?

Dave: World Cup final 2006 Italy vs France in Berlin. I was broadcasting the game for XM Radio. The venue was the Olympic Stadium in Berlin. It was an amazing night from the venue to the magnitude of the game.

Pat: La Barra Brava, Screaming Eagles, La Norte, and District Ultras really have locked on to becoming strong supporting fan clubs for D.C. United. How much vibe do you get from them in the booth when you’re covering D.C. United games?

Dave: It is like having a hard rock band behind you. You cannot be at RFK Stadium and not feel their energy and passion. They have created a real sense of community with the club. It is a family.
Pat: Just as Nationals Park has become a jewel of a ballpark for the Nationals, how much of a difference do you think it will be for D.C. United, both on and off the field, if and when they get their new stadium built at Buzzard Point?

Dave: The stadium will be built, and the fans richly deserve to have the best. There is a lot to love about RFK Stadium, and United supporters are so true and genuine they would support the club regardless of the stadium’s age. Still, it is going to mean so much to them and the team to have a home.

Pat: What’s your most favorite stadium or arena that you’ve been to?

Dave: The thrill of entering a stadium or arena still has not gotten old. I am still like an eight-year-old kid. I am excited by it all no matter what city we are in.
Pat: What advice would you tell someone looking to get into the business of covering sports?

Dave: Be ready to say yes. Embrace challenges and figure out how you can make an impact on whomever you are working for and not what can someone else do for you. Make the sacrifice first and the benefits will follow.

Pat: What has been your most favorite experience covering collegiate sports?

Dave: Spending three years broadcasting play-by-play of sports at the Naval Academy when I was Sports Director at WNAV Radio in Annapolis. It is an amazing place, and it was an honor to be around the midshipmen. They are truly special people.

Pat: With your schedule, covering sports for WTOP, how often do you get a chance to think back to when you first started in the business, and how much has it changed, over the years?
Dave: The biggest change has been technology. I can broadcast from hotel rooms, and it sounds like I am in the studio. When I first started traveling with the Wizards, while doing morning at WTOP, I would have to call the morning editor to find out scores, etc. Now we have laptops. On the radio we can do so much more with sound because of digital editing. So technology has had a dramatic impact, but the heart of broadcasting remains the same. It is my intent to make a connection with the listener or viewer.

Pat: What’s your favorite song from Frank Sinatra’s extensive repertoire?

Dave: Summer Wind

Pat: My personal Sinatra favorite is ‘New York, New York’, but then again that’s because I’m a die-hard Yankees fan.

Dave: Thanks, Pat. I’m heading over to Verizon to talk to Ernie Grunfeld (General Manager of the Washington Wizards).

Pat: You’re welcome, Dave, and thanks for helping me kick off my very first ‘Sports Talk’ column for Zebra. I’ll see you soon.

(Pat Malone is Alexandria’s ‘everyman’s everyman’, a good friend to many around town, Air Force veteran, baseball entrepreneur, sports-lover, and life-long raconteur, who seemingly knows everyone, everywhere he goes. Pat was a Contributing Writer and Editor-In-Chief of the ‘Baltimore Football Weekly’, a very successful Robert L. Smith-owned tabloid which extensively covered the Baltimore CFLs/Stallions’ 1995 championship-winning season, where the ‘Charm City’ expansion franchise became the first, last, and only American team to ever win a highly-coveted Canadian Football League Grey Cup; and Pat was a Contributing Writer, Marketing Director, and Circulation Director for ‘SportsFan Magazine’, published by legendary rock musician, successful author, and very close friend, James J. Patterson, of Bethesda, Maryland.)

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