Sunday, September 13, 2009

being a Leafs fan

I take a lot of stick for a number of different things (including my profession), but not for anything as much as being a Toronto Maple Leafs fan. Admittedly, because the Leafs are the biggest punchline in the NHL (and don't think I won't admit it, because I often do) this is deserved. However, I know that if I were to suddenly switch allegiances after all these years as a result of how badly they stink, I'd hear about it even more. I have a number of friends who are Canuck fans and who always tell me that the Canucks are a "real" team (see note below). The thing is, my body would really pay the price if I switched allegiances and became a hard-core Vancouver fan--Canucks supporters have really really bad knee and leg problems from jumping on and off the bandwagon so many times...

My connection to the Leafs is pretty much down to one person. His real first name is Norman, but he goes by a shortened form of his middle name (William): Bill. He is also known as my father. My dad has always loved the Leafs and he passed on that love to me, a love that grew in my teens to what it is now at age 30. Because I didn't live with my father, the Leafs are a real bonding thing for us and thus a team on which I am still not willing to fully give up. My dad and I are real Leafs fans, not the pie-in-the-sky, uncritical type that a lot of so-called fans are. As Dave Feschuk and Michael Grange point out in their brilliant new book Leafs AbomiNation, the problem is that Leafs fans don't love their team too much, they love them too little. They are willing to settle for whatever mediocre crap is thrown on the ice season after season and treat the players like heroes just because they wear the Blue & White. My father and I do not really fit that mold and we would be the first people to lambast the Leafs' torturously poor decision making in the post-1967 era. Many a phone call have we shared where my father and I have derided the team and there have been times where they've been so bad (pretty constantly) that we've essentially ignored them and focused on other sporting loves (I am a passionate Liverpool FC supporter and thus have another club to focus on that is far more successful while my father loves the CFL's Hamilton Tiger Cats and the Toronto Blue Jays). My dad remembers 1967, remembers when the Leafs were great. I know the stories and have studied the history: from Barilko to Baun, Keon to Sittler, from the agony of "the Ballard Years" to the corporate B.S. of the MLSE era, I know all about it. Which brings us to the concept of loyalty...

I love you Dave Keon:


There is something to be said for loyalty, though I consider my/our loyalty to be "loyalty with discernment". I am willing to admit to being a Leafs fan, will sport my jersey or t-shirt, but I refuse to make excuses to others for a team that has missed the playoffs for the last four years, has made incredibly bad trade decisions (you readers don't have three hours to hear the post-67 list--it would make you cry), rewarded mediocrity with ridiculous contracts (Brian McCabe??? Lord helps us, he had a good one-timer and that's IT), drafted like Helen Keller, and generally put profits ahead of winning (are you listening, Richard Peddie!?), just to mention a few symptoms of general malaise. Garbage management (i.e. John Ferguson Jr.???), poor scouting, bad ownership, blind fans, and a number of other factors have contributed to making the team the laughingstock it is today; I, for one, would love to see it end because it's tiring. However, there is a glimmer of hope...

Say what you will about Brian Burke, but love him or hate him, he knows how to get results and he has a long-term vision for the team, something the organization has lacked for....well, a hell of a long time. The Leafs are starting to scout far better, draft better, and not trade away picks under the Burke regime. Is he perfect? No, not at all and he will probably make mistakes in the fishbowl that is the Toronto hockey market. However, he knows the symptoms of what Feschuk and Grange call 'Blue & White Disease', as does his hardass coach Ron Wilson, and I don't see this malady continuing--in fact, the vaccine is being continually developed. I am so pleased they picked up Jonas Gustavsson ("The Monster") to challenge Vesa Toskala ("The Tepid Finn") for the top goaltending job, hopefully shoring up what Burke calls 'hockey's most important position'. Nazim Kadri looks like he could be a very good NHLer if he continues to develop, and Burke's other additions make him look very smart and savvy, including the scouting and signing of college players such as Tyler Bozak and Christian Hanson. Add Francois Beauchemin, Colton Orr, and Mike Komisarek (to name but a few) and no other team is going to want play the Leafs this season for fear of being steamrolled! I hope the message Burke is sending is "Enough of the no-trade clauses and cushy treatment. If you want a spot on this team, you earn it through your play!" We'll see what the 2009-10 season brings...

I love the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey club and the reason I am still a fan is because of a yearning to see respectability and glory returned to what was once a proud franchise with a tradition of winning. Conn Smythe would roll over in his grave if he knew what the Buds had become since their last Cup in 1967 (FYI, the Blackhawks have been waiting even longer for a Cup, their last win being 1961 when Mikita and Hull were their big guns!). For me and my father, it's about seeing some dignity and a winning tradition restored to a franchise that he remembers and I dream about. My father and I don't care about profit margins, corporate sponsorship, good branding or any of that crap. Like the real fans we want to see winning, a team that has guts, passion, and a never-say-die attitude rather than the whiny, spoiled, Muskoka Five-type attitude prevalent of late, where you love being a Leaf because of the social perks and treatment by myopic fans who do not care enough about seeing the Cup return to the Leafs. And if it happens in my lifetime, a Cup win for the Leafs will make it all that much sweeter because I will have stuck it out rather than giving up. I hope my dad gets to see it too!


* To my friends who are Canucks fans: Your team is by far my favourite team in the league outside of the Leafs; I always sincerely hope for their best and love to see them succeed. However, please stop comparing the Leafs and Canucks based on playoff performance (the most common comparison you bring up): if you examine the stats, the Canucks have really had little better playoff success than the Leafs in the the last 20 years or so, not withstanding the miracle run in 1994. In the last two decades the Leafs have made it to the Conference Finals four times and Vancouver has made it...once, where they beat the Leafs in five games. Yes, in general, the Canuckleheads have had more success in the regular season, but what counts is how you do when you're not playing for a salary anymore. And based on that measure we've shown more stones than you have in the last couple of decades, in my humble opinion. We've missed the playoffs for four straight years now, a fact you never stop reminding me of, but funnily, so did YOU between 1996 and 2000 (not to mention 2005-06 and 2007-08). Have your teams been better than the Leafs in general? Absolutely. Do you have some of the most hot and cold fans in professional sports? Heck, yes. Have you wilted like violets in the playoffs? Yup. Is the Luongo-Sedins axis getting it done for you? Not in a million years and it's not looking likely in the future either, despite Luongo's long-term deal. So, please cut the mockery, because when it comes to playoff performance comparisons, you don't have a leg to stand on. End of rant. Bing Man out.

5 comments:

dlc said...

2 comments/observations :

i) did you imply your #2 team is NOT the Avalanche of Colorado? checking.

ii) are you implying you and MrsB will probably NOT name your 1st born son anything close to Rich or Peddie?

Seriously, great post Matt, thx. Since I grew up less than 2 hrs from Maple Leaf Gardens I remember ...

Anonymous said...

Just recently I overheard a Leaf's fan closing his prayer with this ...

"and we pray this in Burke's name, amen."

I wonder who you will be picking for your next Messiah?

Randy

The Renegade Librarian said...

Still sore about your supposed playoff "achievements"? Burke's a smart boy, whether you like him or not. I said he may make mistakes, but I said there's reason for HOPE, not complete rescue. My my, dear Randle, make sure you read CAREFULLY... ;)

DP said...

There's only one hope for complete rescue! And we all know who that is!

Seriously though.
Awesome post.

I loathe the maple leafs. (More than you could ever understand Matty.) But all the best hockey fans I know are Bud fans. I'm not saying all leaf fans are good fans - cuz as you pointed out, most aren't. But you are an example of prime fandom! I love my team, but I don't know if I could survive the abuse you endure! So Kudos to you...

Really though... Fantastic Post. I really hope we meet you in the Post-Season this year (cuz you will make it) You do realize if that happens you'll have to come to van or I'm gonna have to go back to Vic...

on another note, What are your thoughts on your vacant Captaincy?

Go SENS go!

SVZ said...

you are going to be waiting a LOOOOONG TIME sucka!