Mike Ulmer has worked for seven news organizations including the National Post and, most recently, the Toronto Sun. Mike has written about the Leafs for 10 years and wrote Captains, a book about the club's greatest leaders.
August 21, 2006
(TORONTO) -- I got it, really got it, on a blindingly bright February day in 1999.
|Many people have Conn Smythe to thank for being fans of the Maple Leafs |
The Leafs, past and present, were moving, from Maple Leaf Gardens to Air Canada Centre via motorcade.
They brought their 11 championship banners and for the first time since 1967, the Stanley Cup was there for all to see.
Office workers pried the few windows that could be opened.
The street was full of people who had begged off work for a glimpse. Some had pulled their kids out of school and when the Cup and Maple Leafs were ferried by those same kids were hoisted on their parent's shoulders, often with portable cameras in their hands.
It couldn't have happened in any other city. Where else would men and women, rich and poor and in between, step out into the chill to salute a franchise that hadn't returned a championship in more than three decades?
Affection for the Toronto Maple Leafs isn't limited by geography (Leaf fans routinely outshoot local fans in the other five Canadian cities) or by the club's inability to gain a spot in the Stanley Cup finals since their championship year. The Leafs are one of a very few North American sporting franchises with a profile bigger than the sport they play. Along with the Montreal Canadiens, New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, Dallas Cowboys, Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers, Conn Smythe's Toronto Maple Leafs matter most to the most people.
You wondered, as you saw the people pressed against the cars and heard the shouts tumble down the canyon of concrete, what if this happened for real? What would these people do if Mats Sundin accepted the Stanley Cup for real?
In six years as a columnist at the Toronto Sun and at the National Post and Hockey News before that, I learned that it was impossible, absolutely impossible, to overestimate the love, and there is no other word that quite works, held by so many for the Toronto Maple Leafs. That truth was driven home forever on that afternoon in February.
The Leafs are an inter-generational phenomenon. So many people retain a fondness for the Maple Leafs because the club was the choice of their father or mother or grandfather.
The Leafs drive radio and television ratings. They sell papers in a city with four dailies and they are subject of this website, devoted to the Leafs fan.
They call it the worldwide web for a reason. For many Leafs fans, scattered about the globe, this site is as close as they will get to the ACC. It's my job to deliver to Leaf followers everywhere what they want, what they have never been able to get enough of, Leaf coverage that's informative and entertaining.
I come to the job with 25 years of print experience and have written about the Leafs for the last 10 years. But I cannot tell you whether they will make the playoffs (I'm guessing yes), whether Nik Antropov breaks through or Ian White makes the lineup.
Will Jeff O'Neill and Andrew Raycroft bounce back from difficult seasons? Are the Leafs deep enough up front? Will new acquisitions Hal Gill and Pavel Kubina anchor the defence behind Tomas Kaberle and Bryan McCabe. Can Darcy Tucker improve on a career year? Those are all good questions and I'd be a liar if I told you I knew the definitive truth.
Here's what I do know and here's what I will remember: how much you want to find out.