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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Lifting the Leafs Curse

As I watched the Toronto Maple Leafs stumble around the ice, choke on the open net and skate around with such timidity it looked like the Glee club playing against a prison team during last nights 6-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks, I thought to myself this is how it must be to be living under a curse. It was like Wizards of Waverly place or any of those kid shows that are like broad slapstick humour and a laugh track. That's how bad it looked at times. A lot of "you gotta be kidding" type plays. But what is it a curse? If we can't even recognize the curse that must be broken how can we ever hope to cure it. Through out sports history we needed to first identify the curse before we could find the cure. First the curse then the cures.
The New York Rangers broke the curse of 1940 when Mark Messier brought the Stanley Cup back to New York in 1994. The Boston Red Sox finally overcame the Curse of the Bambino, when the Red Sox were said to be cursed in 1918 for selling Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees. Despite fielding a top notch, high priced team year after year, The Boston baseball team did not win the World Series until 2004.
In Chicago the Cubs have been trying to overcome the Curse of the Goat which was laid on them in 1945 by a bar owner who liked to attend games with his pet goat. When he and his goat were given the boot the bar owner cursed the team. The Cubs had already been in a championship drought since 1908 and that continues to this year 104 years and counting. And this is from a guy with a pet goat.
Sports is an incredibly superstitious pastime. Players have rituals small and large that they are convinced have an impact on how they or their team performs. Recently, the Leafs were playing a game in which their goaltender was under two minutes from securing a third shutout in five games. The announcers said exactly that. To those who have been involved in hockey at any level it is one of the oldest and widely held superstitions in the game. When a goalie is nearing a shutout you never say the word. Shutout. Within a matter of seconds of saying that which shall not be named, the shutout was broken. Two games later the Montreal Canadians goaltender was also looking at a shutout with just over a minute left in the game. The same announcing team was doing the play by play and the announcer stated that he had been lit up on twitter and other forms of social media for speaking that which shall not be named and ruining a perfectly good shutout for the Leafs. He boldly states that there are no tvs near and no live feed anywhere that Montreal goalie Carey Price can see or hear but he is moments away from securing a shutout. Within seconds the shutout is broken. As I told someone once when talking about signs, I'm not telling you what is going to happen, I am telling you what happened.
Which brings us to the question of what is cursing the Leafs and what can be done to lift it. The Leafs are cursed with one thing that most agree is the worst thing to complain about. They have too much money and are way too popular. They are like the New York Yankees without the success. Money and unwarranted success make anyone lazy and make any organization weak. I have seen an organization with way too much money operate up close and all I could think was, "money makes you stupid. You don't have to solve the problem. You don't have to stop the bleeding because you can plug the hole with bags of money."
The most successful franchise in hockey was also granted the top viewing radio and television coverage ever since the technologies were invented. Overfead, de-sensitized, whatever, I don't nnow. During a home game, Leaf fans sit on their hands. While the fan who might see one game in their lives is cheering in homes, and towns and cities all over the country. Corporate weasals they say buy the best seats and give them in graft. In a town like Winnipeg the fans tear the roof off, the vast majority knowing that they can afford this luxury only a couple times a year at the most and once a year for many. And they scream their hearts out in appreciation. And a corporate weasal in Winnipeg is going to be cheering right along. Is it the Curse of Entitlement?
The Leafs last won the cup in 1967, since then the most notably shocking event in modern hockey history is Darryl Sittler ripping off the captain's C during a game. Sittler who would one day be enshrined in the Hall of Fame was the most beloved Maple Leaf at the time, perhaps of all time. The Leafs had the most talented team since the glory days of the 1960's. If any team was going to bring the cup home it was this one. But bad management, disrespect, disputes and internal battle rotted the team from the inside out. Sittler felt he was being disrespected in numerous ways. His personal war with the management at the time hit the apex when Lanny McDonald, Sittler's linemate and good friend was traded away. In protest, Sittler ripped off the C. The action has all the symbolism of a curse. Is it the Curse of the ripped "C"?
The last time the Leafs got close it was in the 1993 when the team was one game away from going to the Cup finals. Hockey Golden Boy, Wayne Gretzky blatantly high sticks the Leaf's Doug Gilmour. Everyone sees it and awaits the inevitable call. There is no penalty on the play. Gretzky scores on the next play. Is it the Curse of Gretzky's Slash?
Is that what it is? Is that how it works. Sports is the place where magic, superstition and reality collide, quantum physics alive before our eyes. I cannot believe what I just saw. I cannot believe what just happened. That much is true.
The curse excuse is just a ruse. Another first excuse. The Curse of Entitlement. They have the talent to make a hard run but they don't to play like it. They didn't play with any pride on Saturday night, just like they did on Mats night. Play with pride. What's that you say? Once you get paid it's no longer play. They,ve got to play like they played when they loved to play when they first started to hit and you were hoping that someone would come your way. When you never wanted to come off the ice? When you never wanted to hear your mom or your dad calling you off the ice and all you thought about was getting on the ice again. Put that with everything you know and you go.
Champions and challengers are men standing together shoulder to shoulder will to will trust to trust heart to heart a unit a team. Carried hard with heart. This is what is done. The will of the many is the will of the one. And a miracle. I've seen it done.