Six decades of Leaf addiction
2012/04/26 1 Comment
By: Robert C. Henry
A public apology by Lawrence Tanenbaum, Chairman of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment has convinced me that I am a weak, foolish Leaf addict in desperate need of rehabilitation.
Yes, as embarrassed as I am to say this, I’m a Toronto Maple Leaf fan and have been since childhood. My excuse, as feeble as it may sound, is parallel to an old Jesuit motto: Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man.
My earliest recollection of the Maple Leafs came when I joined my father and grandfather to listen while Foster Hewitt described games over a crackling radio. I was little more than a rug rat and there was no TV in our household at the time. Yes, I’m no spring chicken!
In public school one of my classmates, whose full name I’ve since forgotten, was a member of the Conn Smythe family.
“Clear the track” Eddie Shack lived a block from my west-end Toronto home and he would roar through the neighbourhood in a sports car, scattering my road hockey friends and I as he whizzed by.
In high school I found myself in the same class as Bill Ballard, son of the now deceased, unapologetic and pugnacious Harold Ballard who some will remember spent time in Muskoka at a federal resort known as Beaver Creek.
Not far from that high school lived Johnny Bower, the Leaf’s legendary, ageless goalie. Some mornings he would drive by the school in his station wagon, looking much like an accountant heading to the office. All heads would turn and all would cheer and wave. His attention to the road never wavered. He was off, we presumed, to practice.
And seared into my not-so-young brain are visions of Keon dancing around opponents, Kelly making perfect passes, Baun thumping players to the ice and Mahovilich winding up for an end to end rush.
And to further cement my credentials as a Maple Leaf fan I attended the Gardens (nosebleed section) the night Darryl Sittler scored six goals with four assists for a record ten points.
And I couldn’t help but be inspired and captivated by the tenacity and courage of Wendel Clark and Doug Gilmour. I keep hoping a player will come along someday soon that can emulate both their style and passion for the game.
None of these somewhat obscure connections equate to Leaf loyalty, but the constant exposure to all things blue and white were contributing factors leading to my overwhelming addiction.
Intellectually I am fully aware that allegiance to any professional sports team is truly mindless. The only interest team owners have in me is the almighty dollar – nothing less and nothing more.
But I, like many others, am either conditioned or addicted in my allegiance to the blue and white. I can’t seem to let go. My rational side says find another team to cheer for, give up completely on NHL hockey or find some other sport. But I can’t. I’m too weak to let go.
Tanenbaum’s open letter apology just doesn’t cut it. Teams that were not even in the NHL in 1967 have won the Stanley Cup. They build from scratch and scratched to win. On the other hand my team, the Leafs, have simply been scratched every year since 1967.
I have concluded that I must find ways to deal with my addiction knowing full well that my body cannot continue to deal with the enormous stress created by cheering a team that loses in seeming perpetuity.
Consequently I am determined that in September I will not pay any attention to the sports pages or any TV program that so much as whispers about the Toronto Maple Leafs.
This summer please don’t talk to me about next season. I won’t listen, I won’t engage but I just may start foaming at the mouth.
I’ve got to kick this horrible addiction and recognize that the first step to rehabilitation has to be a recognition that my condition is real and the onus is on me to get clean. My commitment is such that I will even refuse to wear anything blue or white.
Under no circumstances will I buy or consume products advertised during hockey games. Don’t even think about offering me the wrong beverage. I’ll be forced to refuse.
Tanenbaum’s apology and promise of making the playoffs next year rings hollow and flies in the face of historical reality. It’s just not good enough.
I may be an addict but I’m not delusional.