I remember the days when I couldn’t wait for the clock to hit 7PM. I’d run upstairs, put on my Curtis Joseph jersey, and plant myself in front of the television with my family. The Toronto Maple Leafs were on and nothing else mattered. If it was a school night, I’d watch the first period, sometimes the second as well, and then go to bed with the voice of Joe Bowen booming through my radio. It was fun. I was 8-years-old and loved every minute of it. This is how I grew up.
I didn’t hate any of the players. I didn’t question why someone was a healthy scratch. I didn’t watch the game and wonder why we couldn’t penetrate through a neutral zone trap. I just watched the game. I watched my heroes. I watched Mats Sundin put the team on his back when he needed to. I watched Curtis Joseph “tackle” a referee in Ottawa. I watched Garry Valk score a game-winning goal in overtime in Pittsburgh. I watched Mario Lemieux’s banner lowered when he returned to the NHL, right before he lit up the Leafs in his first game back. I was in awe with all of it. Wow, this is hockey. I love this game!
As I grew up, I consumed more hockey. I listened to the analysts on TV and the radio until I could predict what they were going to say. I learned about the business side of the game. I also learned about the dark side of the game. The side that isn’t about watching and cheering. But rather, the side of the game that is about watching and criticizing.
All of a sudden, I found myself immune from cheering for specific players. I can’t even remember the last time I had a favourite player on the Leafs. Sure, I own a Nazem Kadri jersey and his picture is my cover photo on my Facebook page, but is he my favourite player on the team? No. I don’t have a favourite player on the team.
I know too much. The game isn’t innocent anymore. I can spot bad players now. I can notice when Phaneuf is skating in quicksand, yet still receives the most ice time. I recognize that our 4th line is pretty much non-existent.
Not only do I witness this on my own, but I’m constantly reminded of it by the analysts on TV. The same analysts I grew up watching and made sure I never missed a word they said. Now, I couldn’t care less what they have to say. I change the channel at intermissions. I unfollow some of them on Twitter. I simply can’t take it anymore.
I’ve never heard people talk about “shots on goal” so much in my life. One more time and I may just vomit for half an hour. I’m tired of all the backhanded jokes the media make on Twitter that poke fun at the Leafs. No wonder everyone hates the Leafs, we’ve become a punchline to every joke. Leafs fans even hate the Leafs.
I wish I didn’t know this side of the game. I enjoyed watching the Leafs much more when I was a kid and had no idea there were people that criticized and over-analyzed everything.
I hate going on social media and seeing “fans” overreact to everything they see. Everyone has an opinion, I get it, and I’m not saying mine is any more right than others. But, it’s tiresome.
Listen, I know our team defence is terrible. I know that we have goalie problems. I know that we aren’t playing to our potential. I know all of this. I’ve watched over 1000 Leafs games in my life, believe me, I know.
It’s simply not fun to watch a Leafs game anymore. I find myself watching the Toronto Raptors on nights when both teams play. Call me a “fake fan” or a “bandwagoner” all you want, but I can assure you I am neither of those things.
I still care about this team. I’m just tired of the way I have to watch them. I watch them in fear, thinking that every shot is going to get deflected and find its way to the back of our net. I watch them and recognize everything that people will criticize them for. I listen to the commentators talk about every negative thing they possibly can.
I haven’t heard one analyst, all year, say that it was wise to bring back Tyler Bozak and get rid of Mikhail Grabovski, even though this is true. I guess that is too much of a positive.
I don’t want to hate the team I grew up loving. That is not an option. I just don’t want to know more than I need to about this team. I just want to watch and enjoy a hockey game. If they suck, then they suck.
But the game has become more than just what they do on the ice. It’s about what the coach says to the media. What the goalies say to the media. What people are, unfortunately, saying to Reimer’s wife on Twitter. All this baggage that has nothing to do with putting a puck in the net. This extra noise is deafening and nauseating.
I’ll always be a Leafs fan, and I’ll never quit on this team. Heck, I’ll be the first one on Yonge Street if they win a Stanley Cup in my lifetime. I just wish I could enjoy the games like my 8-year-old self did, Curtis Joseph jersey and all. The games were fun back then. Now, not so much.