Custom Search

Leaf fans: why we still care

A few days ago I posted here about the current edition Maple Leafs heading into the 2011-’12 season.  (Click here to see that post.)  My assessment is that, on the basic 1-5 scale that I constructed, the team had the characteristics, at this moment, at least (subject to change, of course) of a squad that is a low 3.  That is to say, a team with playoff hopes, with emphasis on the word “hopes”.

No, not a surefire playoff team (though they may get there) or a serious Cup contender (that would make them a 4 or a 5, in my breakdown), but a team in the midst of a facelift that will hopefully see them become serious competitors year in and year out, as they were in the late 1990s and into the 2000s.

I also penned a column about why we all became Leaf fans in the first place.  I so enjoyed the memories and comments that readers shared.  (It's worth checking out the responses from readers...)  It provided a small window, a bit of insight, into why people, young and old, became hockey/Leaf fans at some point in their lives.  The reasons are as many as there are fans.

This got me thinking about why, even on a sunny summer day, the Leafs still matter? About why so many of us still care about a team that has let us down so many times before, about an organization that, while surely more respectable than it was in the bad old days of the Ballard era, still is owned by suits who, despite their protestations, clearly love money more than they care about winning.  (If that wasn’t the case, surely we would have found a way to win by now, and before organizations like Tampa and, goodness, the Carolina Hurricanes.)

It’s not just about money, of course.  The Rangers have proven that for years.  But smart management, coaching, and drafting and developing players is surely the mix.  Somehow, under the current ownership, we haven’t “got it done”. 

Yet we, at least many of us, still care.  Oh, there are hopeful Leaf fans and cynical Leaf supporters.  But deep down, if the Leafs win a couple in a row, they’re on the bandwagon.  It’s in their blood.

Is it because the Leafs are like the Chicago Cubs, just  lovable losers?  I mean, the south side of Chicago loves its Cubs, and because WGN TV is everywhere, there are Cub fans everywhere.  But they lose, and haven’t won a World Series since well before I was born in 1953.  In fact, I’m not sure if anyone who follows this site, regardless of age, was born when they last won a championship.  I‘d have to actually look it up.

But I don’t really accept that comparison.  I don’t think Leaf fans look at themselves, or their team, as simply lovable losers—guys we will follow no matter what.  It may seem that way to the outside world, but the fact is the Leafs have a remarkable tradition.  I mean, some of the biggest names in hockey history played for the blue and white—Clancy, Conacher, Pratt, Apps, Kennedy, Broda, Bentley and of course the ‘60s crew with Bower, Horton, Stanley, Baun, Duff, Mahovlich, Pulford and Armstrong, among others.  All household hockey names.

Heck, Darryl Sittler and Lanny McDonald were legitimate Hall-of-Famers.  So was the courageous Borje Salming.  Didn’t ex-Leaf center Doug Gilmour just get elected to the Hall of Fame?  Were it not for his time in Toronto, there is no way he earns that honor.  (No knock on Doug.  But he made his name here, and justifiably so.)

Mats Sundin was our distinguished captain for years.  And what about Wendel, one of the most popular Leafs of all time?

I realize it’s not enough to have individual players who shine.  The team has to win at some point, too.  But I think we care anyway because we know the Leafs are bigger than one player, no matter how much we may love them or dislike them.  They are bigger than the Teachers’ Pension Plan, bigger than Maple Leaf Sports& (sometimes) Entertainment.

They are bigger than Brian Burke and Ron Wilson, or any coach, or GM, past or present.  Yes, those individuals are all part of our very cherished tradition, and many have built on that great heritage. 

And yes, the Leafs are even bigger than the ghosts of Conn Smythe and the hundreds of individuals who built the old Gardens with their sweat in Depression times.  The Leafs have become something that is more than just another “club”.  They are about history but they are somehow more than that.

And we are all, somehow again, a small part of what it means to be a Maple Leaf—because without the very particular, non-stop passion of the Leaf fans, there is no team, eh?  There is no special pride in playing for the Leafs if the fans don’t make it special.  And the fans make it so because they do in fact care so much, so deeply, day after day,  twelve months of the year, year after year.

I haven’t expressed it clearly enough, and certainly not well enough.  But there is, and there will always be, something important about being a Leaf, and about being a Leaf fan.  Maybe it was Foster Hewitt on the radio 80 years ago.  I can’t put my finger on it because I don’t think it is any one thing.

It's not like we care about the Leafs in the same way we care about our families, our loved ones, or values or issues that are close to our heart.  Yet I won't say that the Leafs aren't important in a kind of serious way, because I think for many people, they are.  When you cheer for the Leafs you are cheering for something that matters.

Perhaps some players didn’t even realize or appreciate it fully until their playing career was over.  Maybe fans don’t always see it, through their frustration when the team misses the mark again.

But someday this team will win a Cup again, for the first time in, well, now going on 50 years (45 in the spring, right?). And if and when the team does, things won’t change much.  Oh, there will be a sense of relief, sure.  Exhilaration, absolutely.  But fans won’t take their foot off the pedal.  The enthusiasm won’t diminish.  The interest will always be there.

Because again, being part of the Toronto Maple Leafs, as a player, owner,  executive or “simply” as a fan, means something.  Always has.  Always will.


  1. We're not just bigger than all the great individuals you've named, Michael. Almost more importantly, we're bigger than Harold Ballard and his long phase of trying to destroy the team and our collective dream. We're bigger than the abuse that happened to trusting employees/fans. We're bigger than JFJ, his gross ineptitude and his terrible relationship with the board. We're bigger than the long line of hockey ass-kissers like Peddie and their ignorant and interfering ways. We're bigger than all the individuals and forces that hate us for good reason, specious reason or no reason at all. We'll all be standing with the Leafs long after they've run out of breath.
    Most importantly, we're bigger and more loyal than any other hockey fan base in the world.

  2. Actually I live in Chicago, and I like the comparison. One minor correction, Cubs are on the North-Side of Chicago (I don't go near the South Side out of fear for my life).

    The Cubs haven't won the world series since 1908, but they have had tremendous players in the last 103 years. Guys like Ron Santo, Billy Williams, Sammy Sosa, and many more all played for the Cubs without winning a championship. Despite that, I was at a game in 95 degree heat last weekend for the 2nd to last place in their division Cubs, and the attendance was 40,000.

    In my mind the Cubs and Leafs share a lot in common, and I will cheer for both regardless of their win/loss records year in and year out

  3. Great thought, as always, KidK. Well said.

    And thanks for the clarification Matt. (One of my sons went to a game at Wrigley not that long ago...I should know North from South...). I know the Cubs have a great history, for sure, Ernie Banks was a personal favorite of mine, along with the guys you mentioned and Canadian Fergie Jenkins...)and fans want to see a winner there, too.

    Thanks for taking the time to post here.

  4. I concur with Matt, if only to say that you must visit Wrigley Field at least once in your lifetime. Even if you hate the Cubs. And sit in the bleachers, too- it's one of baseball's gritty, hilarious, and sublime events. Oh, and while you're in Chicago anyways, find the nearest Aurelio's pizza and order a spinach calabrese and a sausage and mushroom calabrese. You can thank me later.
    And I don't want to hear about "deep dish this and Gino's East that", Matt- Aurelio's is my favorite pizza in the world. ;)

  5. I got into a heated debate with a friend who is a Habs fan and I said to him, its about loyalty. It doesn't count for much if you cheer for a team only because they're a winner. The Leafs have given me many great memories over the 19-odd years I have been a fan, and that is worth staying loyal to.

    I am glad I have no memory of the Ballard era because if the organization lost all class that would truly be difficult for me, but I think some spark of decency will always remain.