So Stephen Marche has offended the people of Toronto. Today on Grantland.com he posted an article calling Toronto “The Worst Sports City in the World.” That’s not the first time that a phrase along those lines has been uttered in regards to “the Centre of the Universe.” In June ESPN The Magazine considered Toronto “the worst city in North America for pro sports.”
Of course Grantland.com is run by Bill Simmons of ESPN.com. So apparently ESPN isn’t too fond of Toronto. Torontonians are used to that. A lot of people hate Toronto.
But why is Toronto such a bad sports city, according to Marche?
As it stands, the Argonauts are 2 and 6 3 and 9. The Blue Jays this year aren’t completely terrible, but when you’ve said that, you’ve said everything. They may be a rising power in the East, as many claim, but they sure haven’t risen yet. The Raptors are still in their post-Bosh wilderness (not that the Bosh period was a golden age), and Toronto FC currently rests at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. The Leafs, who matter to Torontonians more than all the other teams combined, have not won the Stanley Cup since 1967, and they haven’t made the playoffs in a franchise-record six seasons. The only team with a longer dry spell is the Florida Panthers.
Okay… when you look at it that way it’s pretty sad. Most Torontonians would agree that the city isn’t exactly successful in the professional sports realm. There are probably people reading this right now who weren’t alive when the Blue Jays won the World Series in 1993.
No one would disagree with the downright futility that is the Toronto sports scene. However, that isn’t the only reason why Toronto is considered the worst sports city in the world. Marche continues:
The tragedy of the Maple Leafs runs much deeper.
The problem with hockey in Toronto is the nostalgia that dominates how the game is played and consumed here. More than winning, Torontonians love the style of old-time hockey, a spirit of straightforwardness, brotherly violence, and what for lack of a better word I will call “not-fancyness.” Hockey commentators here love nothing more than explaining how hockey games are won by cycling the puck, driving at the net, ugly goals. “They don’t look pretty, but they win games.” They love saying that.
Despite having more money than any other hockey team in the league, the Leafs have not purchased any brilliant players in an era overflowing with brilliant players. What the Leafs specialize in is the great bush-league heroes — this is not an accident nor is it the fault of the suits. They know what their audience wants and they give it to them.
Apparently Toronto Maple Leaf fans don’t want talented players. They want grinders. To a certain extent, that’s true. Brian Burke loves to talk about “pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence,” but he isn’t the only general manager who thinks that way. The Boston Bruins just won the Stanley Cup with a pretty “truculent” team. Besides, how do you “purchase” a brilliant player anyway? Don’t free agents have a say in where they play?
They do and they’re not choosing to come to Toronto.
But are Toronto Maple Leafs fans somehow responsible for this? Do they want the “wrong” type of players on their team and that’s what is holding the Leafs back?
Cathal Kelly of the Toronto Star has his own viewpoint on Marche’s assessment:
Toronto fans, there’s a reason why the Brad Richards’ of the world won’t come here — it’s because they’re afraid of disappointing you. That’s a healthy fear. As soon as that fear fades, we’re on the path to becoming Nashville or the Islanders.
Kelly disagrees that Toronto sports fans are bad or that the city is somehow become used to losing, but he does make a good point: Why would a talented NHL player come to play in Toronto (and likely struggle) in front of a now angry fan base?
“Being a Leafs fan right now isn’t some sort of hippy celebration of ineptitude. It’s about raging against their faults,” writes Kelly.
“It’s gotten past the point where whining about how bad things are feels cathartic. It just feels like whining.”
Clearly Leaf fans aren’t happy with losing. They’re not satisfied with a group of “bush-league heroes.” They want their team to win hockey games. However, since they’re so vocal and so passionate when the team is losing, could they be scaring off high-profile free agents?
More from Marche:
Toronto fans like extravagantly ordinary players. How else to explain paying $3 million for Darcy Tucker? Or $5.5 million for Bryan McCabe? Sometimes I wonder if Toronto would even know what to do with the Sedin twins, who are less like quick-fisted farm boys and more like magical changelings conceived by elves in the Scandinavian forest.
I recently overheard a conversation in a bar about whether Sidney Crosby would ever return to hockey, and one guy said, “I told you he was made of glass.” That’s typical; Toronto wouldn’t take Sidney Crosby even if he were on offer. Not tough enough.
It’s easy to cheer for “character guys.” No one boos a player who works hard every night, fights every battle and stands up for his teammates. But people do boo elite talent when that talent isn’t scoring goals and the team isn’t winning.
Is it better to stop attending games when a team is losing than to go to the game and jeer your own team? Stephen Marche thinks so.
Marche was right when he said that the Leafs have very few marquee players in their line-up, but it’s not because management hasn’t tried to “purchase” them. It’s not even, despite how it looks, because Leaf fans don’t want those types of players. Leaf fans desperately want players like the Sedins and Crosby, but when the team struggles those are the players who will feel the vocal wrath of Leaf Nation.
And now, for whatever reason, the league’s elite do not want to play in Toronto. Is it because those players would rather join a “sure thing” and compete for the Cup or is it because they don’t want to face an angry Leafs fan base?