Bleeding Blue

Moving from Band Wagoner to Leafs’ Fandom -  One artery at a time.

I am the quintessential band wagoner.

For me the Sports section doesn’t exist until April, and then only if the Leafs are up there in the headlines. Then I scrutinize every article, stat, and list. I listen to jock radio and arrange my life around the playoff games. It’s like I’ve been at their side all along.

But my brother knows better. My brother is a Leafs’ diehard. My brother has stood by them for the past 35 years. He knows how agonizingly close they have come time and again, how easily that team can break your heart, tear it into smaller pieces, sauté it, and toss it onto a burning rubbish heap.  He is all too aware of how often his beloved Leafs’ have been robbed, pilloried, sidelined, and overlooked. He has suffered through the Ballard years and hung in through the umpteen first-round draft choices that never panned out. He even bought into Red Kelly’s pyramid power in the’70’s.

Yet despite the dashed dreams and gnashing of teeth, he knows how predictably he is sucked back in at this time of year with visions of the Cup dancing yet again in his head.

So when I come along with a sudden, impassioned interest at about the same time every year, i.e. two games into the quarter finals, asking bush-league questions like “What exactly is cross checking?” and “Who’s this guy Mogilny?” he may have the right to scoff. He compares it to sneaking into line at the movies when the people behind you have been there for two hours.  Only bandwagoning is worse, he says.

“All of a sudden you want to know the minutiae about my team: Where were you in January?” he protests.

Admittedly, I have some making up to do. When the hockey season starts I am oblivious to it. I could care less about their draft picks, salary negotiations, management shuffles, or general team goings-on.  Traditionally, watching regular season Leafs’ games before Christmas has held for me roughly the appeal of eye surgery without anesthetic. But I have changed. People do.

I am now a woman, quite simply, who is Leafs-obsessed.

I’ve watched every game unfailingly for the past seven weeks, including the between-period filler.  I wear my lucky Leafs’ jersey during games. (OK, it’s slightly fitted and has shoulder pads, but it is blue.) And don’t try sitting in my special chair: it’s the playoffs!

I can correctly spell Hoglund. I know it’s Mats Sundin and not Matt and that Pat Quinn still harbors resentment toward certain referees for a bad offside call that goes back some 25 years. (Might we move on, Pat?) I know all about Gary Roberts’ injuries in the ‘90’s and his long road back. I am up on the Bud’s best defensive pairings, their most punishing power forwards, and Cujo’s save percentages.  Putting me squarely into classic fan territory, I submit, is the fact that I can reel off stats of our possible future opponents.

So when does a fan wannabe like myself cross that invisible, undefined, but all too real chasm and enter the sanctified corridors of fandom? Does it require my signing a promissory note that every morning I will flip to the Sports pages before the movie reviews, that I will log on to ESPN before the New Yorker?

Should I patronize only those bars with TV screens the size of Jackson Pollack canvasses? Have I to walk into Tim Horton’s tomorrow with fist raised and shout out “Go Leafs Go” before ordering my double-double? In line at the bank, must I accost the fellow behind me with the query: “So, is Mats back tonight?”

I’m ready to comply. To further prove my worth as genuine Leafs’ fan material I’m willing to impart my more obscure Leafs’ data and back stories, stuff I’ve amassed unwittingly as a result of my years of living under the same roof as a Leafs’ devotee.

I can tell in detail about Lanny McDonald’s overtime winner against the Islanders in ’78, about how Gretzy high-sticked Doug Gilmour with no penalty in ’93, and even how that rogue Ken Hodge scored overtime goals two years in a row to put the Leafs out in the early ‘70’s.  I can give you chapter and verse about the Mike Allison debacle of  ‘87 when he scored in double overtime to beat Detroit and give us a 3-1 lead, only to see Detroit come back and win the next three.

I’ve saved the best factoid for last: In the late ‘70’s Roger Nielson was fired as Leafs’ coach and two days later got rehired. Ballard suggested as a publicity grabber that Nielson put a bag on his head, walk to the bench, and then remove the bag. Nielson fortunately refused.

I admit I am asking a lot. I want to share in all the glory now, when the stalwart fans were slogging it out in the trenches back in the fall.  But I think I qualify. To press my case further, what band wagoner out there can claim to have been on an almost first-name basis with Eddie Shack during the 1970’s when he sold Christmas trees on St. Clair Avenue, just down the street from my apartment building?

I want to be a full-fledged bona fide Maple Leafs fan. I yearn for recognition that I’ll be there for them, long before talk of any silver cup.

If I’m cut, do I not bleed blue?

Where exactly do I apply?

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