When a man wanders the desert without food or water, the first time he comes across a drink, he touches his lips with it. After a few minutes, he begins to drink it slowly; if he drinks too fast, it will make him sick.

Washington sports fans have been wandering the desert for decades -- Redskins fans for 20 years, baseball fans for nearly 80 years, Wizards/Bullets fans for more than three decades and Capitals fans since the first Caps fan stepped forward.

Oh, there have been what might have passed for sips of replenishment here and there. The Redskins have had three accidental playoff appearances since their last Super Bowl championship. Wizards fans had the golden age of general manager Ernie Grunfeld and four illusionary playoff seasons with quick departures. The Caps annually enter and exit the Stanley Cup playoffs in quick succession.

Baseball? It was a mirage for 33 years.

For a long time, none of them did anything to quench the thirst of this city.

Fans were ready, though, to take a deep drink of the Nats, winners of the National League East, and their star boy wonder, Bryce Harper. And then were primed to chug down the Redskins, winners of the NFC East, and bathe in the warm waters of Robert Griffin III.

But maybe they tried to drink too much too fast.

That's what has happened in just three short months here in Washington. Fans were ready to imbibe an era of excellence and instead found themselves feeling sick after the Nats' meltdown in Game 5 of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park and RGIII's one-legged performance Sunday in the Redskins' 24-14 playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks at FedEx Field.

This was no mirage. The Nats seemed poised for an extended playoff run for years to come with loaded talent, and the Redskins appeared to have found not just a star quarterback -- but the star quarterback.

This was a dry town for sports excellence for years, and suddenly it had become a Big Gulp.

No matter where you stood on the debate involving the Nats' shutdown of Stephen Strasburg -- and I was behind it -- the question of what might have been for that team will loom over them until they raise a World Series trophy.

And now the remarkable "shock and awe" season by RGIII and the Redskins' resurgence are overshadowed by the questions surrounding coach Mike Shanahan and his decision to keep a hurting RGIII on the field -- if you can call FedEx a field.

"This is just a taste of it," Redskins linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said. "We won the NFC East, got to the playoffs. But we want more. I definitely want more."

After not having anything to taste for a while, it remains a bitter, bitter one.

Examiner columnist Thom Loverro is the co-host of "The Sports Fix" from noon to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on ESPN980 and espn980.com. Contact him at tloverro@washingtonexaminer.com.