It has been a long damn time since any team I cared about made the playoffs.
But that changes tomorrow, because tomorrow, finally, after nine years of agony and horrible hockey, the Toronto Maple Leafs are going to be participating in a playoff game. And so I want to take this opportunity to write about what this means for me as a fan and as a human creature with feelings. (I’ve wanted to write something like this for a long time, but I never had the time and never knew where to post it. So yeah, I made a new blog. hi.)
I was born a Leafs fan, to a father who bleeds blue and white and a mother who has learned to cope with it. I remember watching Leafs playoff games as a kid, cheering heartily against the Ottawa “Sent-a-tors” (as I called them) and whatever other teams the Leafs happened to be playing. I don’t remember much about the Leafs’ last playoff game, but I do remember sitting in a row on the couch with my parents when Jeremy Roenick’s overtime game-winner crossed the goal line. My dad whacked the armrest, and my mom told him “there’s always next year.” I believed her, but she was wrong.
The next year was the lockout, of course, but that didn’t really concern me. My eleven-year-old brain was filled up with middle school drama and eventually with worries about my family’s financial situation, after my dad lost his job when I was in seventh grade.
After nine months of unemployment (and worrying. A lot of worrying), my dad found a job in Calgary, Alberta, and my family packed up and moved right after I graduated from middle school. When we arrived that summer I had no friends, and I was too shy and self-conscious to bother with making an effort to get any. Instead, I went to the library with my mom during the day, and I watched baseball with my dad at night.
I hated baseball. I didn’t understand it, and I really care to try. But I had nothing else to do, and there was no way my dad was relinquishing control of the remote, so I watched the 2007 baseball season right through to the end. I hated the Red Sox because everyone else seemed to like them (yes, I have always been this way).
Anyway, school started that fall and I continued to not make friends (until I had to make baguettes for French class, but that’s a story for another day), so watching sports in the basement with dad continued into the fall. I experienced my first sports heartbreak when the New England Patriots (upon whose bandwagon I had jumped) lost the Super Bowl to the New York Giants, and I went on my first Emotional Sports Roller Coaster when there was talk of Leafs’ legend Mats Sundin being traded.
It wasn’t long after that that I discovered the Leafs’ blogosphere, followed by that of the Blue Jays, and I’ll always be grateful that I did. Watching, reading, and eventually writing about sports has been a really fantastic outlet for me, and a distraction on those (sometimes frequent) days when life just feels like a thing I have to slog through. I’ve met some really great people, too (too many to list here) including one of my very best friends.
But in those six years since I had started caring, not one of my teams managed to claw their way into the playoffs. Instead they dragged me through what was probably the worst season the Leafs have ever had (29th with no first rounder. ow.), followed by a free fall through the standings that makes one think of lemmings jumping off a cliff (or an eighteen wheeler. Choose whatever metaphor you like!). The Blue Jays are trying, but so far they haven’t provided me with any more joy than the Leafs have.
But now it’s different. Now, finally, the Leafs have made the playoffs.
You might think it silly for something as inconsequential as how successful 20-something millionaires are at slapping a piece of rubber around a sheet of ice to have such a positive impact on my mood, but, well, it has. And living in a world full of shootings, bombings, explosions, wars, and intolerance, I think it’s good for us to have something to turn to that will give us that little bit of joy that we so desperately need sometimes. And that’s what the playoffs provide.
So what do the playoffs mean to me? They mean that for a few hours every night, I don’t have to worry about anything except the Toronto Maple Leafs scoring more goals than the Boston Bruins. They mean I can be ten years old again, eating chips with my dad and celebrating every Blue and White goal. They mean that we can forget about the bad stuff, for just a little while. They mean hope, and friendships, and Having A Good Time.
Go Leafs Go.