How The Leafs Broke The Unbreakable Man

As Leafs fans, we can easily identify that this season has been one of the worst in a long time. It has quite often recently been compared to the Leafs of the 1980’s – something that I cannot speak to first-hand, because of my age.

I offered up the word “despair” one morning speaking to Jeremy Taggart on Macko And Cauz, and he replied back with a telling phrase: “Leafs fans get Christmas cards from despair.” I knew Jeremy was right, and I unfortunately only had a brief moment to speak with him.

Shortly thereafter, I was prompted to delve deeper into the psyche of a normal, long-time fan. I decided that I wanted to speak with someone that I knew personally. Someone in my life that I respected, and that could explain to me the terror of a first-hand account of the atrocity that was the 1980’s Leafs – something I realistically could only read stats on. I didn’t have to search farther than my own family tree.

I could easily describe my grandfather in one word, but as a tenured Leafs fan, and as someone who taught me almost everything of value that I needed in life after my father left, I’d rather take the nepotism route, because I owe it to him.

“It was bad. I feel worse now than I did then though. The 1980’s was like a soap opera. A really bad soap opera, except the Leafs actually made you sad for real, and being sad and disappointed lasted years. It really hurt your heart to be THAT into something that failed year after year.

He is your typical, tough, no-nonsense, no BS kind of guy. A veteran, and a tattooed-to-the-nines Harley rider, with a soft side for only 3 things: his family, animals, and Toronto sports. He is 69 years young, and has been a Leafs fan since he was 8; a solid 6 decades of Leafs fandom lies under his studded, badass leather belt.

I remember him saying to me before the start of this season, when both positivity and the feeling of impending doom fight each other in your mind:

“Leafs fans are a dying breed, Chels. Growing up playing shinny, every kid had a Leafs jersey. I see the kids playing outside now and I don’t see ONE. If that organization doesn’t do SOMEthing…” he trailed off with a sigh.

He didn’t need to finish his sentence – I knew where he was going with it, but he continued. “Remember when we used to play Go Fish? You hated to lose. Kids hate to lose. That’s why you hardly see kids wearing Leafs jerseys anymore. Kids want to cheer for winners, not a legacy of loss.”

“What do you remember about watching the Leafs in the 80’s?” I asked him.

I could hear him contemplating as he took a drag of his cigarette and then exhaled slowly.

“It was bad. I feel worse now than I did then though. The 1980’s was like a soap opera. A really bad soap opera, except the Leafs actually made you sad for real, and being sad and disappointed lasted years. It really hurt your heart to be THAT into something that failed year after year. To be THAT into something and have it not amount to much. Then there were bad GM’s. Imlach and his replacement. And then there’s Ballard…he was a whole different story. He was just a dingbat, and that’s puttin’ it lightly.”

“But…all of that is how I feel about the Leafs NOW.” I said.

“That’s because it’s worse NOW.” He replied. “At least I think it is. It’s a different time now though.”

I laughed as I thought to myself that I should be proud that I was at least experiencing the Leafs making history. Even if it WAS making history as having the worst season ever.

“There was a little sliver of hope towards the middle-end of that decade though. Wendel Clark.” he said.

Now, one more thing you should know, is that my grandpa and I are very much alike. I contribute this to the fact that for the most part, he was, as I said before, the male influence in my life. Friends of mine that finally meet my grandpa get the “A-Ha!” moment when they see us together. I’m literally just a younger, female, miniature version of him (sans Harley, because those things are bloody expensive, but maybe one day I’ll get to own one). He and I will always both find a shining moment (the way he did with Wendel) because as Leafs fans, those shining moments are what we live off of, until the next one. The ultimate point is, we seldom differ – especially when it comes to the Leafs.
We do differ though. On one thing and one thing only: our stances on #TankNation (yes I hash-tagged it).

“That’s ridiculous!” he said to me the very first time I brought up tanking.

“That’s borderline unpatriotic. How the HELL do you cheer for your team to lose? How do you even enjoy a goddamn game if you do that? You’re just cheering for the other friggin’ team at that point.”

“That’s borderline unpatriotic. How the HELL do you cheer for your team to lose? How do you even enjoy a goddamn game if you do that? You’re just cheering for the other friggin’ team at that point.”

“But realistically, Opa–“ I started.

On the other end of the line, I could hear him de-recline his 25 year old La-Z-boy with a slam. I knew I had struck a nerve.

“No. You don’t cheer for your team to lose.” he said angrily.

I tried again. “If you get a better draft pick though…”

“No. It’s wrong.”

I tried to argue my point faster so that he would be able to hear everything I said, and not have a chance to interrupt. “But the better draft pick is something that could help in the fut–“

“I will never cheer for my team to lose Chelsi. Never.”

And that’s the way it has always been.

Until recently.

I called my grandparents a couple weeks ago to speak with them after finding out their little dog Maggie was gravely ill, and would have to be euthanized. As per the normal routine, I spoke with my grandma first, and she then passed off the phone so that I could talk to my grandpa about anything new and of course, Toronto sports. How the Raptors might do in the post-season, how the Jays were doing in spring training, (“Injured by a sneeze? If the Jays didn’t have bad luck, they’d have no luck at all!” He exclaimed), and of course, the obligatory, mutual wallowing in the disappointment that is the Leafs.

After mentioning the recent Leafs loss (which in all honesty I can’t even remember which team it was against because it’s all a losing blur) I thought about mentioning how happy I was that they had lost (which had now become a sort of good-natured ribbing that I could give him), when he said something that made me almost fall out of my chair.

“Yeah I suppose it’s good in a way that they lost. I was watching TSN and they were goin’ through the draft players’ stats. Might be good to lose to get one of those kids…I guess. Still feels shitty and wrong though, to be happy that they’re losing.”

I was torn between being happy and being sad.

I was happy to finally share this one big thing in common with him, but sad to hear the defeat in his voice. To see that he had been broken down so much by a team that was (for the most part) so disappointing for almost all of his adult life, that he ended up losing that strong resilience that made us differ so fiercely.

Yep. The Leafs had done it.

The Leafs had finally broken the unbreakable man.


 

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