White Flag from a Tired FanStephen Ground
To the players, management, and ownership of my beloved Toronto Maple Leaf Hockey Club,
You century old beast of scarred knuckles and cheeks. I’ve unabashedly supported and adored you since before I could conceive of that thing called memory, for which you’ve done very little but fling mounds of disappointment and your aloof contempt at for most of our wretchedly one-sided relationship. Little flecks of inescapable dook baked into the delicate blue-and-white tapestry of my life – hopes, dreams, the ups and downs and waves of my fragile mental health. I’ve worn you on toques, tees, socks, pants, jackets, gitch, sweaters, onesies. On blankets in bed and memorabilia on walls. Decals and little flapping flags on cars. To say nothing of the jerseys. A new design every year or three, and always a new promising prospect or sturdy vet acquisition to stitch on the back [who’s no sooner traded or dumped like lame livestock, adding another $300 anachronism to the mound in the back of my closet]. I’d probably have you tattooed into my flesh if you’d given me a single thing to celebrate. Yet no amount of royal blue or pristine white can hide the pain you repeatedly inflict, burning like smiles lining the stage of a questionable beauty pageant for abandoned kids.
Every autumn I make my annual migration to the couch, smile meekly, and await my reward for unflinching loyalty: winters of recycled hope and trust slowly re-established through streaks of flashy goals, piles of points in the standings, and the weekly sunshine of Saturday night at seven pm EST, coast to coast. It dissipates like a backyard rink each spring, though, when you coolly and unsurprisingly choose to jam your collective fist inside Leaf Nation’s collective chest, grip our throbbing heart that’s dying for a taste of success yet aching with terror that you’ll just do what you always do, and the league and its fans will laugh joyously in our faces yet again:
Can you believe it? They really thought the Make Ya Laffs had a shot this year. Sad.
And to comfort us in our yearly rite of hoping/loving you/hating you/hating ourselves? Cue card excuses. Lessons learned from this and come back better next year.
Or, maybe, for once – you won’t disappoint. We might have recently surpassed the Big Apple and Windy City in the ranks of historical supremacy for professional hockey misery, but don’t let us become the Red Sox or the Cubs. I’m begging you. Don’t let my fate unfurl towards a back page footnote in the local paper:
Ancient, Stubborn Man Flabbergasted They Actually Did It,
Immediately Dies From Exhaustion
I want to love you, but I need love in return. Yet we both know you’re nothing but consistent. Even when you’re bigger, stronger, faster, smarter, and more talented than the half-broken speed bump in your way? You crumble, just the same.
To paraphrase a famous physicist, The Maple Leafs find a way.
This is all to say that this season, I won’t be around. Not to start, anyways. I can’t support another mirror setup to blow my hopes up, or my friends’, loved ones’, and the rest of the honest, hardworking, too-loyal-for-you folks victimized by the last fifty-four horrendous years. It’s already January and I haven’t given you the satisfaction of my eyeballs yet, and I won’t until you bless your Gatorade to expel April ghosts and prove May [or god forbid, June] hockey is not a mass hallucination that only benefits teams and fans in other markets. Until it feels like the Blue and White lifting the Cup in my lifetime isn’t entirely fucking unlikely.
My heart has no more aches for the boys in blue. I’ve sobbed my frustrations dry, met too many dawns thanks to the sleeplessness of disappointments I didn’t earn and don’t deserve. See you in May, or maybe not. The puck’s in your corner.
A tired fan
P.S. It’d be totally great if you could at least get those four wins in the first round this year, though. Even if the Bolts sweep us in the second. I know it’s been a long time, but I think I can probably wait up to five more years [after this one] for the Cup. That’s it, though. I mean it. Do you think six decades will be enough to get the job done? Please? I’m not unreasonable. I’m really not. Please. God damn it. Please!