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Some rights reserved - Scott Gummerson

This Team is Ruining My Life

By: GianPaul Delle Donne

I have grown up my entire life admiring the Toronto Maple Leafs. As a kid I made sure I was in front of the television at 7 PM every Saturday evening to hear the Hockey Night in Canada theme song, and to sit for 5 minutes after each 1st period to listen attentively to Coach’s Corner with Ron MacLean and Don Cherry bicker about God knows what. To me, the Toronto Maple Leafs are a religion. They are a defining piece of who I am. Like many other passionate sports fans, we Toronto Maple Leafs fans live for the (rare) triumph, we live for the disappointment, and we live hoping to witness that moment when the near-impossible becomes possible.

The last time I witnessed the Toronto Maple Leafs have any remote success was in the early 2000's, when the teams led by Mats Sundin and Curtis Joseph would step onto the ice with vigour, tenacity, and the heart of Canada's largest city on their shoulders. In the almost 20 year span since, I still revere the Leafs as if they are gods. I place my jersey on my chair before a playoff game hoping I'll be able to bestow some sort of good fortune on them. I place my hat on the coffee table in the perfect spot, I wear my good luck socks, get my hair cut like I'm about to go to the rink myself, and suit up. Superstitious, perhaps, but if these rituals work and the team wins? Well, you can bet I am setting things up the exact same way for the next game. This is the level of stupidity things have gotten to, because the Leafs don't just lose, they constantly lose in the most dramatic, ridiculous fashion. I feel like a dream weaver trying desperately to ward off bad spirits every game, just to get this team to finally give their fans what they deserve.

You are probably either completely relating to my experience or thinking I am completely out of my mind. But try to understand someone who has been a lifelong fan, who works their daily schedule around a game, or takes an entire weekend off to drive into the city to witness one in person. Think of what it might be like to be that person, and what the last 20 years of Toronto Maple Leafs disappointment might feel like. As Steve Dangle likes to scream "this team is ruining my life!" The disappointment and futility was so bad at one point that I resorted to having a back-up team. I opted for the Detroit Red Wings, because I had been so accustomed to being disappointed by my own team that I picked the most steady, consistent team I could think of. Up until recently Detroit had made the playoffs 25 straight years. So in my mind, I knew if (and let's not kid ourselves, when) the Leafs screwed things up, at least I still had a team I could count on to keep my fandom alive. So, after all of this nonsense, I pose the question: what would it take to make a fan so loyal to consider changing their allegiance?

For me, quite a lot. Would you have to go 10 of 11 years without making the playoffs? No, not quite. Would it take losing a game 7 being up 4-1 in the last 10 minutes of the 3rd period, only to lose 5-4 in overtime? Tough. But still no. How about going through a complete rebuild, having that rebuild be relatively successful, and then losing in the first round each of the last 4 years? Keep trying. What about being the first seed with countless superstars and a clear path out of the division, being up 3-1 in a first round series, and losing in seven games to your far inferior arch-rivals? Maybe.

That's where I'm at right now. Why do people stay loyal to their sports clubs? Boston Red Sox fans, are you telling me in the 100 years without a championship, you really thought it was worth the wait to be rewarded as a fan? Chicago Cubs fans, same question to you? I used to argue with my dad not too long ago about why he would get so upset when the Leafs were knocked out of the first round. I would sit there and say "Dad they're a young team, you have got to let them keep building and structuring the team so next year they can make a deep run." He would have none of it, and would always say to myself and my brother "You guys have been waiting for 20 years? I've been waiting my whole life for them to win something! If you have waited for close to 60 years for a championship you would be just as frustrated and irate as I am."

After watching the Leafs blow a 3-1 series lead to the Montreal Canadiens of all teams, I finally agree with my dad. How could you possibly have hope in this organisation? They have done nothing but disappoint their fan base for over half a century. What's the reward for that disappointment? Well, how about increased ticket prices, $20 beers, $10 slices of pizza, and a packed house? The last time I saw the Leafs play at Scotiabank Arena, I dropped nearly $700 for 2 decent tickets, dinner, and parking. Does that seem fair for a team that can't seem to reward its fans when it counts? If this was the Raptors or the Blue Jays or any other Toronto-based sports team that didn't perform, fans would disappear at games, season tickets would start drying up, sponsors would leave, and people would just flat out stop tuning in. There is no greater example than the Toronto Blue Jays, where only 4-5 years ago you could barely find a ticket in a 50,000 seat stadium. Fast forward to 2019 when the team was in the midst of a painful rebuild, they would be lucky to get 20,000 fans on a weekend. Why? Because they were awful and painful to watch. Somehow though, the Leafs continue to have a 20+ year waitlist for season tickets, and half the people in there are just looking to secure a business deal. Maybe the character of this team has disappeared because the character of the people in the building could largely care less if they win or lose. I'll reach for anything right now to try and explain it.

So where do us Leaf fans go from here? I have no clue. I'm just trying to focus on making this article clean and not littered with every swear word known to man because that's how I truly feel. You're probably like me, sitting there thinking to yourself what trades need to happen, what management personnel need to be fired, and debating with some idiot on Twitter why the core should or shouldn't be broken up. Psychiatrists, counsellors, and therapists have your phone lines open today, because there's a new cohort of clients that are going to need your help - distressed and disappointed Leaf fans. Lord knows I'm considering that call, and maybe I can finally get the closure I need on this relationship or some insight on why it's worth continuing to cheer for mediocrity. Maybe someone reading can push me in the right direction. But let me tell you this, Detroit is starting to look more and more attractive every year. I already have a Datsyuk jersey, why not make it official?

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