Nearly every day I write about the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Not today. Today, I write about you.
There are 20 or so Maple Leafs and countless thousands, hundreds of thousands, of you.
It is impossible, absolutely impossible to fathom not just your number but the ardour you bring for the Leafs.
Many, many of the teams have not deserved you. And yet you came or you followed. You read the papers, listened to the game, watched on television or tuned in on your car radio. When I live chat a Leafs game, I get questions by the hundreds. At best, I manage to answer half.
Yours is an insatiable appetite.
The last playoff game at Air Canada Centre ended late on the night on May 4, 2004, when Jeremy Roenick rocketed a shot past Curtis Joseph. It doesn’t seem to matter. For Leaf fans, there is no statute of limitations hope.
You have forgiven the Leafs for Aki Berg, Larry Murphy, Jonas Hoglund and Kyle Wellwood.
You have endured more abuse from friends and family and workmates than can be measured.
You have been forced to look to the past, to relive Doug Gilmour and Wendel Clark. You have seen managers and coaches shuffled to no apparent affect.
Oh, there have been moments: Mats Sundin’s triumphant, tear-stained return. Curtis Joseph mustering his withering resources to stone the Washington Capitals in overtime.
I think I can guess why you stay. The Leafs are home, wherever home is. They are generational, the team of your parents or your sibling or your best frend. Theirs is the noble struggle, to fight for a championship that few, if any remember. What could seem more futile and more ultimately rewarding than winning a championship that is the stuff of dreams and not memories.
Truth is, even though I grew up a Leafs fan, I have no easy explanation for you. Maybe it’s as simple as habit. Maybe you are a unique demographic, a whole community of people willing to endure what is for what may someday be. Maybe you are romantics or fatalists, clinging doggedly to the steering wheel as the car goes over the cliff. Maybe there is something deep in human nature. Woody Allen told a joke about two dowagers eating in a restaurant, “Terrible food,” sniffs the first. “Yes,” answers the second. “And such small portions.”
Which brings us to the present, and my wish for you.
I hope Jonas Gustavsson
looks like the goalie who will guide your team into the next decade and that Phil Kessel
continues in his quest to be a top 10 player.
I hope that they one day talk about Mike Komisarek
for the Norris Trophy. I hope Francois Beauchemin proves his worth by playing in the Olympics. I hope Nikolai Kulemin
rounds into a player who can shine as a 20-goal scorer and a defensive conscience and that Luke Schenn
ascends to stardom and the captaincy.
I hope Viktor Stalberg becomes a star. Same with Tyler Bozak
, Nazem Kadri
and Christian Hanson.
While all these things seem possible, no one is expecting Brian Burke to run the table.
And when failure revisits, I’ll figure it my job to tell you why.
My hope is I won’t have to.
It has become a tired cliché to label one fan base the most loyal, the most deserving.
I don’t care. It’s you.