Stephen Marche: "Leafs Fan"


Grantland is a proposition that probably won't entice most people. A common reaction to the long form essay site started by Bill Simmons is to wonder why people would read a site glorifying Boston more than ESPN already does. It's even more confusing when you consider that most people in Boston don't like Bill Simmons either.

This morning Grantland put up a piece by A REAL CANADIAN about how Toronto is the "Worst Sports City in the World". The worst? Really? You could live in Oklahoma City and admire your empty new rink you paid for or any number of factory cities formed in the past three days in China where you can't play sports due to air pollution but no, Toronto is the "worst sports city in the world". Maybe Mr. Marche will at least give us a fresh take on why Toronto is so lousy.

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. - Stephen Marche

So much for that theory. Praytell what are these great players? Should Toronto have spent big money on Jay Bouwmeester and Brian Campbell? Wade Redden and Scott Gomez were big UFAs would they have carried Toronto to the playoffs?

What about Ilya Kovalchuk? If Toronto had taken their piggy bank of prospects and smashed it wide open never to be filled again to trade for his rights and then given him the exorbitant contract that included throwing a first round pick in the garbage would media critical of the Burke regime brush it off as they have with New Jersey?

What about when all of those players listed weren't any good. Maybe Kovalchuk gets back on track but if he had the season he had last year in Toronto after paying that price Brian Burke would find himself lynched in Nathan Phillips Sq.

The truly funny part about this piece, and about this quote, is it's the same short sighted lack of perspective that got us here in the first place. Despite every sign saying it would happen JFJ didn't see the lockout coming. Despite a salary cap coming in JFJ thought the Leafs would build by signing big name UFAs. When it became apparent that big name UFAs only sign in markets that are contenders JFJ was unceremoniously dumped.

If Stephen Marche followed hockey in any way (this isn't a requirement to write about hockey for Grantland; yesterday they ran a piece about Andrew Marchand's terrific playoffs for the Bruins) he'd know that truly elite talent never hits the open market. Sidney Crosby will never negotiate as a UFA. Alexander Ovechkin and Drew Doughty will never be up for the taking.

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. Would they even be welcome in Toronto? - Stephen Marche

Extravagantly ordinary players like Darcy Tucker? In 06-07, the year before he re-upped in Toronto, Darcy Tucker scored 21 goals and had 43 points in 56 games. In 05-06 he scored 28 goals and 61 points. Ignore the truculent aspects of Tucker's game and pretend he was a "run of the mill" sniper. If you wouldn't pay $3M for 61 points you're a dope.

Similarly the year before Bryan McCabe re-upped for $5.75M (not $5.5M as claimed) he scored 68 points in 73 games. Yes sir in Toronto we like to pay for ordinary guys like point per game defensemen.

What would Toronto do with the Sedin twins? We'd cheer for every one of their combined 200 points a year. Historically Toronto has been the more workmanlike team as compared to Montreal but only because Montreal was filled with so much unobtainable talent year after year.

It's not that Toronto fans like goons or hate skill; it's that everyone likes winning. The teams in Toronto that have been successful and captured the heart of the city have been teams that play with a chip on their shoulder. Toronto loves Doug Gilmour. Toronto loves Mats Sundin. Toronto loves Wendel Clark. Toronto loves Borje Salming. Toronto loves skill players who back down from nothing.

Toronto loses not despite our love for the game, but because of our love for the game. The truism is by now well established, a local media commonplace. "Each man kills the thing he loves," as Oscar Wilde put it. The teams lose because they don't have to win. The Leafs have so many people on the waiting list for season tickets that they don't take new names anymore; no matter what happens they have a 99 percent renewal rate. Torontonians line up to pay tens of thousands of dollars to watch some of the most dreadful hockey played at a professional level. - Stephen Marche

This is an extremely common insult tossed at the city of Toronto: that somehow because fans are here through thick and thin that we're deserving of mockery. Should fans of the Leafs collectively throw up their hands and let out one final scream of exasperation before leaving the ACC completely empty every night?

When would we be allowed to go watch the team again? The Leafs started 4-0 last year and clearly you'd be an idiot to go pay for a ticket to a game at that point because Stephen Marche said so. Maybe he should put up a website or a call in line to advise us when we can watch our hockey team again.

Or maybe Stephen Marche can go back to Bleacher Report or whatever hole he crawled out of to write yet another article letting us know Toronto likes hockey too much and they don't win the Stanley Cup every year because the city is full of morons who hate winning.

In the meantime, we deserve to lose. We deserve our pain. The pain is the only hope that we'll ever learn to win again.


Stephen Marche is a novelist and a columnist at Esquire magazine. His most recent book is How Shakespeare Changed Everything.

There's no "we" here. Stephen Marche isn't a Leafs fan any more than I'm an expert on William Shakespeare. Actual Leafs fans suffer through endless Tuesday night losses to bottom feeders and support our team despite their crummy record. The next time he needs to write something I hope Mr. Marche leaves "us" out of it.

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