He was 14 and his mom was ill. It was “her last good day.”
Written by Luke Mullins | Published on
Johnson and his mom, Mary Lue, when he was about eight. She had MS, but that didn’t keep her from encouraging his love of sports, from baseball to basketball to soccer. Photograph courtesy of Dave Johnson.
This past fall, Dave Johnson ended nearly 30 years as play-by-play announcer for DC United. Though he continues broadcasting Wizards games on the radio, soccer fans will no longer hear his goal-scoring trademark: “It’s in the net!” When he was growing up in Anne Arundel County, attending sporting events like the Orioles and Capitals was the highlight of his childhood. In March 1979, 14-year-old Johnson and his parents decided to check out the city’s newest sports franchise, traveling to RFK to watch the now-defunct Washington Diplomats soccer team play the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. (DC won.) For his mother, who’d battled multiple sclerosis all her son’s life, it would be her last game. Johnson recalls what that day meant to him—and how it shaped his life.
“I couldn’t wait to get in the stadium. We had a bit of delay because we had to get the wheelchair out of the trunk and get my mom ready. There were, like, 12,000 people at that game. That was a good crowd.
“I was so much my mom’s world. When I was six, seven, eight, she’d listen intently in her wheelchair as I cut lineups out of the paper and broadcast [imaginary] basketball or baseball games. She was my audience of one.
“MS had ravaged her body and life, but it couldn’t take away being a mother—and part of being a mother is making your child’s dreams come true. And this was a day I certainly wanted. I remember her happiness watching the game. It was just a wonderful day of togetherness.
“Over the summer, she got worse. I’d have to perform the Heimlich maneuver almost every meal because she choked on her food. She died in October.
“The next year, my dad and I got season tickets to the Diplomats. It became a beacon of hope, having this team to follow. I always felt a special connection to pro soccer because it kind of saved my life. It kept me going in a positive direction when it was hard to find positive directions.
“That game that day crystallized how I choose to live my life—spending time in arenas trying to create moments of joy. I don’t discount any game, because I remember a game that turned out to be my mom’s last good day.”
This article appears in the March 2023 issue of Washingtonian.
Luke Mullins is a senior writer at Washingtonian magazine focusing on the people and institutions that control the city’s levers of power. He has written about the Koch Brothers’ attempt to take over The Cato Institute, David Gregory’s ouster as moderator of NBC’s Meet the Press, the collapse of Washington’s Metro system, and the conflict that split apart the founders of Politico.