I happened to be watching the Leafs on Hockey Night in Canada while milling about more or less aimlessly in a “live” game thread on the Pension Plan Puppets site. Basically, I hung out in a virtual basement (I don’t know if it was Chemmy’s or P3’s house) with a bunch of my fellow Leaf fans and we watched the game together. None of us knew what was about to unfold: after a spirited but unlucky opening two stanzas, and trailing 2-0 going in to the third, Toronto seemed more or less resigned to their fate throughout the first ten minutes of the period. Then, boosted by a terrific performance by rookie John Mitchell, they scored five goals in five minutes and twenty-two seconds to win the game 5-2.
Folks in the virtual rec room were pretty excited, and I could see on TV that the fans at the Air Canada Centre were stoked too; they gave the Leafs an enthusiastic standing ovation in the final minute of play. It was great to see the folks in the building – which is often a monument to corporate reserve, especially in the platinum seating area close to the ice surface – get up and wave their arms, pound their hands together, and generally scream their fool heads off because they were excited by their team’s performance.
The events of last night, along with the official commencement of the Revolution of the Barilkosphere earlier this week, have gotten me thinking a little bit about the nature of fan-dom. The Revolution was provoked by the most recent cut-and-paste, written-with-a-crayon-and-little-or-no-forethought, blame-the-fans for the hockey team’s problems article. Here’s a sampling of Berger’s most recent instantiation of this “argument”:
Arguably the worst team in the National Hockey League since the lockout continues to be the most lucrative commodity on skates. Even the tall foreheads at Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment have seemingly thrown in the towel on their annual dissing of Forbes Magazines’ NHL value rankings. Normally, by the evening of the announcement, CEO Richard Peddie is on record suggesting that no person outside the hallowed halls of the Air Canada Centre could possibly have a line on the Leafs’ monetary worth. This is either an effort to keep the tax people at bay, or to avoid laughing out loud at the sheep that form the lifeblood of the company.
Yes, that is YOU, Leafs Nation.
An insatiable willingness to accept whatever garbage is tossed your way each year lines the pockets of the executives you purportedly “hate” [I see that word a lot in my e-mails]. No form of indignity is powerful enough to dissuade you from the uncontrollable love of your Blue & White. You bitch… and moan… and go insane over the always-accurate appraisals of the team in the media. Depending on the hour of day, you either castigate or lionize members of the hockey club — often the same player. The familiar disappointment of missing the playoffs on April 8th is washed away with delusional fantasies by April 9th. And, always, you are there to buy every ticket; purchase every jersey; watch every game on TV; lose your mind over every word written and spoken about the team [the part I like best], and generally cradle the habit you have no power to temper, let alone break. You are, by any measure, the most easily placated fans in all of sport — rivaled only by the zombie-like baseball fanatics on the north side of Chicago.
This line of thinking (is there such a thing as a “line of ranting”? That seems to me a more apt comparison) suffers from a fundamentally flawed premise in terms of its economic reasoning – as Sean at Down Goes Brown has ably pointed out. It also attributes certain behaviours to Leaf fans that don’t bear any resemblance to reality; to say that anybody who follows the team this year is having “delusional fantasies” is itself (ironically) a delusional fantasy; to say that expectations for this year’s team are low even among Leaf fans is a massive understatement. Heck, even the Leaf-o-centric media gadflys at Cox Bloc picked them to finish “at or near the bottom” of the entire league. I haven’t heard a single person of any persuasion opine that the Leafs would challenge for the Cup. I can’t even think of anyone I personally know who’s been willing to wager that they’d make the playoffs. Quite the contrary, I think the general perception – at least around the Barilkosphere – was that the Leafs would lose a LOT of games this year; this would happen because the team was thought not to have much talent, and what talent it possessed was believed to be trade bait for prospects and draft picks as part of a quest to rebuild, and maybe to draft John Tavares next June.