Thursday, June 12, 2008

A Plea for Pity

Okay, I'll admit it. I'm a fan of the Leafs. Those of you who know me might wonder why. I'm university educated, well-read, I rarely have something alcoholic for what's my problem? Why do I count myself among the mouth-breathers who call in to radio shows screaming for the Leafs to trade Andrew Raycroft for Alex Ovechkin? The truth is, I don't count myself among them. To be clear, I called myself a "fan of the Leafs". I'm not a "Leafs fan." Leafs fans are nuts.

"Leafs fans" are the ones who call in to sports shows to make fun claims like "the Leafs are best team in the league, they just
need to win more games," or "I really think that Crosby would take a pay-cut to play here, let's offer the Pens Steen and Stajan, and re-negotiate his contract to save cap space." They also seem to get outraged when a Canadian player, or god forbid, one from the GTA, dares signing with another team and passes up the privilege of playing in the centre of the hockey universe. "Shanahan, that jerk! Why didn't he sign here! He has millions, why not come here to help his boyhood team out? What's his problem, doesn't he like Toronto?" Chances are, he liked Toronto just fine, which is why he played a large portion of his career just down the 401. What he, and the plenty of other players who avoid Toronto, probably doesn't like is the mass of nut-jobs he'd have to have dealt with had he played here.

That said, I have to admit that I don't understand the vitriol directed at the Leafs and their fans from the fans of other teams, especially Canadian ones. With every move they make, even one as positive as signing a great coach in Ron Wilson, and message boards are filled with fans of other teams slagging the "Laffs" and the fans who follow them. I don't get it. Here's a team that hasn't won in 41 years. They had a huge payroll with (very) modest success in the late 90s and early 00s, and are now seeing themselves screwed in the salary-cap era with big contracts and no-movement clauses. Despite their mediocrity, they have no big prospects coming through the pipe, and with big cap space going to mediocre aging players, they don't have much room to make big changes anytime soon. Even buying out those no-trade guys still puts them on the hook for big money against the cap. This is a fanbase that is to be pitied, if anything. Red Sox fans were pitied, Knicks fans are in the process of being pitied, and Leafs fans are in a very similar position as the Knicks at the moment. They're both one of the biggest, if not the biggest, market in their respective sport, they've suffered through apathetic, if not dismissive ownership groups, and the people in charge of the sports decisions have put both teams in dire, restricted straits.

Leafs fans suffered, (and sold out the Gardens) through the Harold Ballard years. Shouldn't we get credit for that? Isn't that a badge of honour? No wonder they take to the streets when the Leafs win a playoff series(seriously, they've won playoff series, I looked it up). What have Senators fans suffered through? Calgary fans? Edmonton fans? Montreal fans? Not much, all have had some measure of success in the last 40 years. Montreal has a billion cups and a young exciting team. Calgary went to the finals a few years ago, and has Dion Phaneuf. Edmonton is still paying off it's deal with the devil for the 80s, and they still made the finals a couple years ago. The Sens are still a newish team, and their fans are annoying like a yipping puppy-dog who sees the mailman for the first time. "We're gonna get you Toronto," they say, "We hate you, we're your big rivals, grrrr," while Leafs fans(and fans of the Leafs) over the age of twelve yawn, toss a dog treat, pat the thing on the head, (maybe fake fear or something to encourage the little guy) while casting their eyes to the next house, an old-money mansion in Montreal, with a big old snarling pit bull out front.

As much as I like to malign those crazies who used to honk their horns outside our apartment window after a win over Florida in January, I do feel sorry for them. They might be delusional, they might be obnoxious, and they might all be incredibly dumb, but that's probably not all their fault. 40 years of emotional abuse can cause such things.