There are sometimes debates in the hockey world (and specifically in Leafland) about fan loyalty and what it means to be a "real" fan. For example, the claim is made at times that someone’s not a “real” Leaf fan if they also cheer for someone else—even as kind of a “back-up” favourite.
Hey, when I was young in the late 1950s and early ‘60s and even into my young adult years in the 1970s and ‘80s, I admit that the notion of “liking” another team—even a little bit—other than the Leafs would have struck me as not so much disloyal as, well, just something I wasn’t capable of. While I may have grudgingly admired (and did) a number of players like Jean Beliveau, Gordie Howe and Bobby Hull from opposing teams, I largely loathed teams that did not wear the blue and white Leaf crest. When I fell in love with Keon, Bower, Duff, Ellis, Mike Walton, Brian Spencer, Jim Harrison, Darryl Sittler, Lanny McDonald and those other gritty and talented Leafs from the ‘60s and ‘70s, I couldn’t even imagine cheering for another team.
The only exception was when Montreal in the playoffs. Then, I cheered for whoever was playing against them. Next on my hit list was Boston (when they were the "Big Bad Bruins") and Philadelphia's Broad Street Bullies. Anyone other than those teams I could accept as Cup champions, if it couldn’t be the Maple Leafs.
For me, it was pretty cut and dried.
Over time, I have always been a Leaf guy, but my loathing for certain organizations (Boston, Montreal, Philadelphia) has eased quite a bit, for a variety of reasons. I won’t get into all that now.
I can’t say I have a second favourite NHL team, but again, I am probably less hate-filled (in the sports sense, I mean) than I was years ago toward other NHL organizations. However, I do hear people debate whether you can cheer for the Leafs and somebody else, or whether it’s “OK”, for example, to cheer for someone after the Leafs are knocked out of the playoffs—or fail to get into the playoffs.
In those circumstances some people cheer for another Canadian team. Others may cheer for a particular player that they like from another (non-Leaf) team.
We’re all different and I certainly would not question anyone’s loyalty as a Leaf fan. We all arrived here for different reasons. Someone who attends 20 games a year may be a great fan, just as someone else who doesn’t get down to the ACC but follows the team in their own way, wherever they live in the world, can be a true-blue Leaf fan. For me, blind loyalty is not the issue, either. I think fans can criticize management—before and after the fact. It’s a fan’s prerogative. Similarly, if you choose to see things with rose-coloured glasses, that’s fine, too. Again, we’re all in a different place in life—and in our sporting passion.
Let’s get away from the divisive CBA talk that I myself have spent far too much time on in the last month or more. So, I would love to hear from readers on this subject: is there a team you actually kind of like, other than the Leafs? Maybe you are usually reluctant to admit it, for fear of being labeled “not loyal” or not a “true” fan. Maybe there is a player you just love to watch, or that you secretly root for, who isn’t named Kessel, Phaneuf, Bozak, etc.?
Let’s get away from the depressing CBA talk and enjoy a fun conversation…