This may come as a shock to some of you, but I am a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs. It’s been mentioned on the podcast once or twice. In the weird, twisted, nonsensical world of sports fandom, I am dug deep in my love of this team. However, this year I’ve started to feel something more for my team. Something kindred, if you will. Perhaps it’s just where I am at in my life but I’m starting to feel a connection with this Leafs team I’ve not felt for a sports team, well, ever. As I said on today’s show, this is a team for people who are bad at life. And that’s a good thing. This Maple Leafs team is pretty much everything I dislike about hockey – they play way too many goons for way too many minutes and said goons drum up fights and trouble for no real reason outside of the fact it’s all they know how to do – but I can’t help but love them. They’re losers. I am a loser. We lose together and, to steal a phrase from my favorite TV show, we lose well.
But what does that say about me? And what does that say about fandom in general? How do we justify cheering for teams that we know are bad but are forced to live with because of geographic predisposition? Cheering for a bad team is tough. So is life. Let’s get through both together. I am a disaster of a human being and I cheer for a disaster of a hockey team and it’s pretty helpful. (yeah, that probably doesn’t say great things about my mental health but it’s true). So, here are some steps for cheering for a team that should make you feel crazy but, instead, makes you feel sane.
1. Know What You’re Getting Into
I make no qualms about the fact that the Maple Leafs are a pretty bad hockey team. Yeah, they’re sitting in 5th right now but, come on, we know how this is going to end. If you’re an Islanders fan or, God forbid, a Blue Jackets fan, you know how your season is going to go pretty much from day one. Being swept out of the first round seems like the best case. I get it, I’ve been there. I am there. To have expectations of home ice or a Cup run is just going to doom you before the season even begins. I suggest tempering expectations – accept the fact that thinking up a Stanley Cup parade route in your city is likely just poor planning. If something great were to happen, all the better, but it likely won’t and it’ll make loving your team much easier.
2. Get To Know Your Team
This seems like an obvious one but I’ll qualify it by saying you need to get to know everyone on your team. Yeah, even guys like Matt Calvert (who? I don’t know. Google). Having a faceless team is actually more beneficial to getting some therapeutic love out of your team and it makes you work a little harder to get to know your guys. Mikhail Grabovski is your best player? Learn about how Mikhail Grabovski is an insane person and then love him forever. Because he’s weird and you’re weird so let’s just embrace that fact. A team of loveable losers is fun to root for. If you made a list of sports movies made about a team of loveable losers, you’d have a list of every sports movie ever made. Colton Orr is not a good hockey player but, you know, I kind of like rooting for him. Yeah, be useless and everything that’s wrong with hockey and fight three guys at once. Why not? Yeah, it’s dumb but so was Jobu but he could make you hit a fastball very far. Everyone has their uses.
3. Don’t Take It Seriously
This is advice I extend to all sports fans. What we love is not a serious thing. It’s sports. Sports has maybe one or two transcendent, important moments a decade. Maybe. This is supposed to be fun so let’s make it that way. Throw your emotions into it, live and die with your team, let a bad loss ruin your day, sure. But, end of the day, don’t get into fights because someone says your team sucks. I get daily attacks in The Score offices about being a Leaf fan, it’s fun. Be self-depricating, make fun of your team, make fun of other teams. Just don’t make it your end-all, be-all. Accept your team’s limitations and then make fun of said limitations. But always love them.
Far be it from me to encourage alcoholism but, come on. Not a requirement by any means but, from personal experience, it’s not NOT a good idea.
5. Appreciate The Little Things
A nice goal from Matt Moulson can go a long way for an Islanders fan. An article about how your team could be a bit of a surprise this season can go a long way for a Blue Jackets fan. Mikhail Grabovski biting Max Pacioretty can go a long way for a Leafs fan. The big moments likely aren’t going to happen to a bad team. If they did, then they’d probably be a good team. Take what you can get and cherish it.
6. Find Yourself In The Team
Life is hard, guys, and silly, little things like sports can be a very, very good escape from that fact. But don’t limit that escape to just losing yourself watching a game. Find something to relate to in your team. Your team is primed to fail spectacularly? Awesome, you’re a human being so you’re probably going to fail spectacularly more than once in your life. Fail spectacularly together. Your team is made up of a bunch of idiots that have randomly found success where they shouldn’t? Awesome, that’s the story of, like, 87% of successful people. No matter how irritating and frustrating things get, we’re all losing together. Our problems in both sports and life aren’t unique and that’s what makes them weirdly great. Flames, Islanders, and Jackets fans – I get you. We’re all in this together.
Except for all of you who cheer for good teams. You guys kinda suck.