Something happened when the Toronto Maple Leafs hired Brian Burke on November 29, 2008, that went beyond the change in organizational philosophy that typically accompanies a new front-office regime in professional sports. Burke, whose abilities to articulate are well matched with his impulse to express himself, became the fabled face of the franchise.
The face of the franchise. It’s a funny phrase that’s probably more frequently used by sports talk radio shows than anyone with anything to do with a professional team, but it suggests that fans are prone to assigning someone from the ranks with the role as the representative of the entire club. This isn’t usually a conscious decision, and it’s exceedingly rare for a fan base to anoint a general manager with such a potentially hazardous oil. We’re far more likely to pick a player – someone on the field, court or rink of play – as the person through whom we live out our sports-based fantasies.
However, Burke’s justified extroverted tendencies combined with an exceedingly engaged group of supporters and a roster that – let’s be honest – didn’t have a lot of players with whom fans would naturally choose to identify, placed the head of the Maple Leafs front office in a position which few professional sports executives find themselves. Even after making notable acquisitions to that roster, it was largely thought of as Burke’s team. Even as fans mocked terms like truculence, there was an implicit understanding that Burke was the figurehead most closely identified with the organization that they supported through so many years in the wilderness.
After four more, even as a version of the promised land appeared on the horizon, Burke’s status as president, general manager and face of the franchise ceased to be.
Spending all day – every day – immersed in sports is a bit like working at Pizza Hut and eating nothing but pizza. If one is unburdened by such matters as personal health and waistline size, pizza is a wonderful thing. Unfortunately, too much of a wonderful thing is likely to leave one no longer believing the wonderful thing to be all that wonderful.
Sports are really, really great. However, the more time you spend reading and writing about a topic, the greater the chance that its ugliness will be realized. This is why our focus often becomes embittered by all of the negative aspects present in sports. We forget why sports are so great to begin with. And so, that’s where The Week In Sports Happiness comes into play.
Every week, I’ll present the ten things that are making me happy from the world of sports. It might be a particular article, it could be a winning streak, it may even be an animated GIF. No matter what, it’s from sports, it made me feel good inside, and I hope it does the same for you.
Shannon Sharpe of CBS Sports was shocked and appalled that New England Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick would dare to avoid his network’s sideline reporters following the team’s AFC Championship Game loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday night.
There’s something to be said about being gracious in defeat. We’ve seen the New England Patriots five times in the last 12 years be victorious [in the AFC championship game). We've seen the opposing coaches who lost come out and talk to our Steve Tasker. Coach [Bill] Cowher did it when they lost to them, we saw this last week. Bill Belichick makes it real easy for you to root against the Patriots. You can’t be a poor sport all the time. You’re not going to win all the time, and he does this every time he loses. It’s unacceptable.
Sharpe’s comments might have carried more weight if even a single viewer of Sunday evening’s NFL coverage noticed that Belichick wasn’t interviewed. Or if, for once – just once – something of any interest to anyone was to be asked of a head coach following a football game. Instead, Belichick revealed himself to be one of the 7 billion people on earth who don’t enjoy talking about their failures, and for this Sharpe, in the parlance of our times, called him out.
If we are to be judged, it’s likely best that we’re judged by the decisions that we make. However, some people’s decisions, and the process by which they make them, are a little more accessible than others. So, it makes sense that the decisions that these unfortunate people make receive a greater amount of scrutiny than what is typical.
The Toronto Maple Leafs fired General Manager Brian Burke this past week, and while the termination likely has to do with factors beyond the decisions that the head of the team made during his tenure in charge, such matters were only hinted at during a press conference on Saturday afternoon at the Air Canada Centre. There was a moment during the question and answer period though where it appeared as though Burke’s manicured and restrained response to his dismissal might break down. It came on a question from Paul Hendrick of Leafs TV. He asked, “How disappointing is it that you’re not going to be able to stay here and finish the job.”
Burke started with a stock answer, “Well, I think. I think you can make the case …” He paused. Looked away. Looked back at the reporter. “I think I can make the case that ….” Pause. He looked down. Silence. It promised to be a President Bartlett moment, but then, gathered and collected, he resumed, “I think that’s a case that I’ll let the media make.”
There was little doubt that in this moment, Burke’s honesty was being kept in check by either a sense of honor or desire to find another job. Both motivators would play a role in causing one to carefully consider one’s actions. He decided on the restrained approach. Moments later, Burke’s path along the high road took a slight detour.