(Pre-script: When writing this, I used indentations to seperate paragraphs. When previewing this, it looked like a block of text. It's a crapshoot what will happen when I post it, so just know while it does messy, it is written relatively coherently.)
I became a Sens fan around the end of the 05/06 season, or, the year before they went to the Stanley Cup Finals. I started following the Sens because on my way to school, I'd buy an Ottawa Sun to pass the time on the OC Transpo, thus following how they were doing. Because of this, I was spoiled. The Ottawa Senators
had the second longest active playoff streak in the league, after Detroit. Not only was I never aware of a season in which my team didn't make the playoffs, but I didn't even have to consider that possibility for a few years to come.
Because of this, I also missed the real Battle of Ontario days. The playoff battles. The Darcy Tucker days. The Alfie boarding non-call. Patrick Lalime
crapping the bed in Game 7. The hate, the heat, the animosity. It passed me by. This puts me in a position unique to most Sens fans: I don't hate the Leafs.
I hated the Penguins
because they'd knock us out of the playoffs seemingly every year. I hated the Ducks
for taking away Alfie's chance at a Stanley Cup. I hated Heatley for being a little bitch. I didn't hate the Leafs, because they weren't relevant enough. They'd come in to our rink, boo our captain, drown out our fans, and usually lose in a usually uneventful game. Big deal.
Yet, being a Sens fan, I've heard "it" from Leafs fans. If you already know what I mean, you know why I'm writing this, and if you don't already know what I mean, then you don't need to read this. "Alfredsson is the dirties player in the league". "The Sens haven't won the cup since the 1920s". I've never been interested in the pissing match between the fans, and so I've gained something that no other Sens fan I know has: empathy.
This is going to sound quaint to most of you, but bear with me: When the Sens were shitty, it fucking sucked. Seriously. Winning two playoff games over three seasons was horrible. Missing the playoffs was so upsetting. Watching my team plateauing (or getting worse) sucked the wind out of me. So what did I do? I made it interesting.
I'd cheer on the other teams. Not any specific team, but any team that was playing against my Sens. I'd mock the players, the coaching, the management, and anyone else involved in the shit show. Now, back to empathy.
I can't imagine what it's like to be a Leafs fan. It must be very difficult. You guys have put up with shitty teams, shitty effort, bad coaching and worse management. I had to put up with this for two years with a first-round exit in-between, and it killed me. I sometimes wonder whether I'd still even be a Sens fan if I had to put up with such consistent mediocrity for such a long time.
I want things for you guys. When Reimer got hot late in the season a few years ago, I was happy you'd found a goalie. When Burke made the Kessel trade, I was happy you found a superstar. When Burke made the Phaneuf deal, I picked my jaw off the floor, and then I was happy for you. When it looked like you guys were FINALLY going to make the playoffs however many times in the past few years, I was happy for you each time. If the Leafs make the playoffs this year, I'll be happy for you guys.
I'm writing this to let you know that you don't have to be the kid in school who bullys the geeks because his parents abandoned him. You don't have to tear other's down to build yourself up. You don't have to mock others to hide your own inadequacies.
I think Leafs fans are the greatest fans in the NHL. I really do. I wish we had half of your passion, or dedication. Some of you have been Leaf fans for decades, and had to be accept another lost season, every year, for all those years. That's not something to be ashamed of; that's something to wear on your sleeve like a fucking badge of honour.
You know this. You also know that your fanbase is the laughing stock of the league. Why? Because the thing about obnoxious Leafs fans is there's one in every crowd. You don't need me to tell you what the prejudice against you is because of the team you support. The fanbase whose biggest causes for celebration are when they travel down a highway, face another team, and boo their captain. (I should meantion I don't mind when they do that) You like being the shit-disturbers, I get that. But that's not what you really are.
You're not rude people. You're not obnoxious people. You're not bad people. You're passionate hockey fans. Pretty soon your team is going to be good again for the first time in a long time. Pretty soon you won't need to put down others to make yourself feel big. Pretty soon, I hope you realise that fact, and pretty soon, I hope when you have something to celebrate, I hope you love it because it's something good for you and your team, and not just something bad for someone else and their team.
With equal parts timidity, temerity, reverence and respect, Shawn.
(Post-script: It occured to me that there are times when it may come across like I'm being some combination of flippant, sarcastic, or condescending. If that comes across in anything I've written here, know with certainty that I'm genuine in my intent and my respect.)
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