Being a fan of a sports team is like being in a relationship. It’s exactly like being in a relationship. It is a relationship. In a healthy relationship, both individuals give and receive graciously, communicate often and with sincerity, and treat each other with the utmost respect. Bad relationships are often due to the shortcomings of one of the two partners.
I’ve been in a bad relationship with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and I’m getting a divorce. You might think it’s because of their winless start this year, but the ink on those divorce papers actually dried a couple of years ago (I don’t care if you don’t believe me). The timing right now is perfect for everyone else in this lousy relationship to wake up and realize they should get out and find a better team to cheer for. Like Chicago Cub fans, Leaf fans are like a pathetic spouse who keeps coming home to a partner who takes full advantage of them, and gives virtually nothing in return. Leaf fans have, for over 40 years, been subsisting on stingy droplets of hope, and they’ve been too numb to realize that those droplets contain no nutrients in them.
Scan any of the lists relationship gurus put together and you’ll find that it’s really easy to road-test this relationship metaphor on the Leafs. Here is a crude attempt at showing how being a fan of the Maple Leafs exhibits every one of ‘the top five signs of a bad relationship’:
- Negative, Divisive, Sarcastic Comments – Every time fans show their frustration and ask for some accountability, they’re told to “breathe, relax” – Maurice did it last year and Wilson did it this year. Those two guys had decent reputations going into their tenure at that place. That attitude is clearly a product of a smug, uncaring culture over there.
- Only one partner’s needs are being met – The Leafs have enjoyed sellouts in the seats, suites and rinkboard space, have steadily increased prices to the point of leading the NHL in that department. They are literally printing money for their Ontario Teachers’ Pension ownership group. In return, fans at this year’s home opener got told by the PA announcer that they get to be the star national anthem singers, as a patronizing gesture to convince them they matter.
- Not living up to promises – This team has been promising to turn it around every year, and over forty-plus years, have been uncompetitive most of the time. Brian Burke promised to make a major deal last summer and failed to do so. Paul Maurice guaranteed to make the playoffs a couple of years ago too and we know how that ended up. The team itself makes no promises publicly. They throw superficial taglines around like “Spirit is Everything”, but if you look on their website, they don’t say anything about the team and their mission in the hockey world. Why should anyone follow them?
- The Thrill is Gone and You’re Sleeping in Separate Rooms – This is a tough one to put into a hockey context. Ask any Leaf fan and they’ll tell you that the romance is long gone, but they will also admit to getting thoroughly fucked every time they buy a ticket these days.
- You Start Dreaming About Other Partners – You should see how many Ovechkin and Crosby jerseys people in Toronto are wearing these days. Fantasy pools are another great way to escape the leveraged stranglehold the Leafs have on the Toronto market. The Leafs may be able to keep Balsillie or any other suitor out of their market, but hockey fans in Toronto will find a way to love another.
There are no fun rituals at Leaf games. People in suits shoot you dirty looks when you make noise. Sometimes people sitting in the cheap $100 seats start a “Go Leafs Go” cheer, but as one of the more unoriginal, uninspiring chants in pro sports, this does little more than elicit a yawn. The whole experience is a bore and is solely dependent on winning and losing.
So this is the tale of my nasty breakup with the Toronto Maple Leafs. I’ve found someone else in the meantime. Someone who makes me laugh. Someone who’s sincere and genuine. Someone who’s got a great track record, an authentic personality, and, win or lose, always shows me a good time at the game. I wish I had the courage to do this sooner. While I’m a bit frustrated with all the time I wasted, the future looks great! Am I gushing?