I admit that I went to Boston with an attitude. As a fan of Toronto Maple Leafs, I do not think kind thoughts of anything Bruin, and so donned my Leafs cap to represent the true blue and white. I didn’t have to wait long for a reaction. “You guys have been losers since 1967.” The guy stared at me deadpan at the bus station.
My comeback wasn’t a classic. “At least I don’t live in Boston.”
It was going to be a long weekend, but I was up to it, and went straight into a bar called The Tam to watch the Bruins-Canadiens game, now in overtime. I received a few glares and just one muttered comment – “I think this guy is messing up my karma” – but that was it. I almost felt bad when the Bruins lost the game.
The startling silence continued over the next day – perhaps because I was at a writer’s conference? It wasn’t until I arrived in Cambridge that things picked up again. A square-jawed, almost pleasant-looking man leaned out from an alley. “Leafs are the only Original Six team that didn’t make the playoffs. Did you know that?”
I wasn’t sure if he was right. It took me a couple of blocks to think it through and another few to think of my comeback. “Now I know I’m in fucking Harvard.”
I continued on to The Sinclair, preparing for the next attack.
“Love the hat, man.”
I wanted to detect a tone but couldn’t find one.
“Got to wear your colors,” said another. “I respect that.” It wasn’t until I ran into an old friend at the show that the antagonism returned. “I looked up, saw the Leafs hat, and thought what an asshole. I knew it must be you.”
The heathen fanbase of teams across the continent – be they in Montreal, Boston, Detroit, Los Angeles or Chicago – simply do not understand. They think it is about winning, hugging and celebrating in a crass display, that this is the point of the game. And I feel sorry for them.They don’t understand that it isn’t this at all, but, as Camus wrote in The Plague, instead is a reminder of our “never-ending defeat.”The Toronto Maple Leafs are only for those who can take it, not the world as we dream, but as it truly is: empty and unrelenting.
Leaf goaltender Drew McIntyre
Yes, the Leafs are only for pure existentialists. Their recent travails – an eight-game losing streak – has even brought The New York Times on the Being and Nothingness train, citing the “disturbing situation”, “devastating slump”, and Leaf coach Carlyle’s catch phrase, “Just breathe. Take it easy. Breathe.” But they don’t understand. They use these words devastating and disturbing like they’re a bad thing, like they aren’t needed, like they can be avoided. They don’t see the wall behind us, the epidemic that’s surrounds. No. All they see is putting the puck in the net. And it’s just so sad.
I must admit to feeling pain and distress in regards to my Toronto Maple Leafs. They didn’t just lose; they had a collapse. Ahead by two goals with 90 seconds left, the Leafs surrendered twice and another in overtime…all of this after I had received congratulatory texts with minutes to go – why was I receiving congratulatory texts? – after the Leafs were on the verge of their own great comeback. I watched the customary end-of-game handshakes with bitterness and resentment. I had to counter the vitriol from hyper-active friends, impaired supporters of the Canucks, Canadiens and Bruins. I had nightmares. I couldn’t sleep.A dreadful malaise descended. I couldn’t write anything. The only idea I had was a lengthy story on the ennui of a Leafs fan. I was lost in those final minutes, reviewing each mistake, thinking how it might have – should have – been. I knew I had to focus on the things that mattered, the real problems of the world. And yet it persisted. After being out of the playoffs for nine years – not winning the cup since 1967 – the Leafs should have won. It was as simple as that. It hung like a cloud, threatening and oppressive. The sports headlines milked the angst. The players were interviewed as they cleaned out their lockers. The reporters poked and prodded: “How does it feel to fail?” The players stared back and gave their answers. They acknowledged the pain, the despair. They said that they had learned and wanted to make it right. I watched a few highlights after that. And Canadian superstar-astronaut Chris Hadfield. Then I reflected on an answer from James van Reimsdyk: “We were picked to finish 14th (at the) start of the season. We made the playoffs and pushed a really good team right to the brink. Obviously it’s a step in the right direction.” “But now we got to come back and do it all again next year.”
I was good with that. I thought about writing a treatment for a documentary on the upcoming season, from every point of view, minute to minute, cinema verite of the magnificent climb back. Yes, that was something. I even had a title Go Leafs. That really could work.