The 2013-2014 National Hockey League regular season came to a close on 13 April, 2014 with the playoffs set to begin within the week. And unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past month, you’ve already heard the news: the Toronto Maple Leafs did not make the playoffs.
As a Leafs fan, the past year has been disappointing to say the least. Everyone still remembers last year’s infamous playoff run when the Leafs led the Boston Bruins 4-1 in the deciding game of their first-round playoff matchup before ultimately losing 5-4. The Leafs were a mess this season, from the team’s constant possession woes, to the pathetic performance put forth by free agent signing and media-proclaimed saviour David Clarkson, to the puzzling and usually crippling roster decisions made by head coach Randy Carlyle. All of this culminated in the Maple Leafs’ missing the playoffs for the eighth time in nine seasons. It’s been a rough run for Leafs fans – which means that it’s been a great season for everybody else.
The Maple Leafs have been the target of jokes for as long as I can remember. We’ve all heard the same comments over and over again. Yes, that joke is funny–the leaves fall in autumn, but the Leafs fall in spring. I get it.
But my problem isn’t with those who make jokes about the Leafs. Irritating as it may be, they’re entitled to their fun. Rather, my issue is with people who can’t seem to make up their minds as to whether or not they’re fans.
Toronto was a transformed city during last year’s playoff run. I saw more Leafs flags pinned onto cars in those two weeks than I’ve seen in my entire life. Judging from the avalanche of social media posts, I’ve been friends with more lifelong Leafs fans than I previously thought. I probably should’ve been ecstatic to see the entire city rallying around my favourite team, but I wasn’t. Instead, I hated it.
We’ve all heard of the bandwagon effect, which can be summarized as a form of groupthink where people are more prone to support things that are currently popular. As something becomes increasingly popular, more and more people tend to support it. There are many who will only cheer for a sports team when it is both popular and successful. When the team is less successful, and thus less popular, they distance themselves. By doing this, they increase the likelihood that they are supporting a winner. But shifting allegiances are as despicable in sports as anywhere else in life. There is no character in those who can only support what is popular.
I remember walking into class on the morning after the Maple Leafs were eliminated from playoff contention, and overhearing one classmate ask, “When will Leafs’ fans ever learn?” In that question lies the crux of this entire issue. Being a fan of a team is something that’s intended to be irrational. We don’t calculate our support based on wins and losses or popularity. There’s no magical mathematical formula that tells you whether or not to cheer for a team. Instead, we stick with our teams through both the good times and the bad, even if the bad always seems to outweigh the good.