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On suffering, and waiting, and hanging on, and why

June 15, 2012

A few minutes after Patrick Kane scored the Chicago Blackhawks’ drought-ending goal in 2010, a lone sentence made its way onto many a computer screen.

“This one’s for you, Dad.”

Out of the blur of the celebrations and excitement and trolls tripping all over themselves in their mad rush to point out that the Leafs’ Cup drought was now officially the longest booyah suckers, this single line stood out in sharp focus for a few moments.

Nobody asked, but I don’t think anyone really needed to.

Two years later and I can still remember something someone I’ve never met typed into his computer or smartphone and sent out into the ether.

“This one’s for you, Dad.”

For the vast majority of us, sports are just sports, in the grand scheme of things. We play them for fun, and we watch them for fun. And to the detriment of our health. Unless you’re lucky enough to be employed in the sports industry or a related one, chances are, what your favourite team does has no real bearing on your life.

Damn, does it do a number on your emotions, though.

It unites them all, and now it’s uniting us with them, too

If you’ve encountered a Toronto Maple Leafs fan recently, you will almost certainly have caught them wondering whether they can take one more year of, you know, the Leafs.

They can. They can, because they will. That’s not a knock on Leafs Nation. That’s just the nature of (most) sports fandom: it’s all about pain and suffering.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the pain and suffering part lately. I watched somewhere between 75 and 80 Montreal Canadiens games this past season, and my secret, deepest, darkest sports fan fear is that Canadiens fans will have to endure year upon year of the same awful, terrible, hideous hockey. I wonder if we’ll be able to handle it – as a group, we’re pretty volatile. I’d like to think I will love my team for more than 40 years if they don’t win the Cup, but I don’t want to find out for sure.

My fellow Habs fans love to reassure me that what happened to the Leafs won’t happen to us.

“We won’t go seven years without a playoff appearance. No way.”

Five or six years ago, Leafs fans were telling each other the same thing.

“There’s a new regime in place.”

Three or four years ago, Leafs fans were telling each other the same thing.

You have to wonder what Chicago Cubs fans must tell each other.

The only curse is your love for your team

In the last five or six years I’ve grown to hate the part of me that likes baseball. The person that used to hope against hope that the Cubs would somehow pull out enough wins to get to the playoffs. [...] And now here I am bitter and angry. One hundred percent convinced that the Cubs will not only fail this year but next year. And the year after that. I don’t expect that I’ll change my mind. I expect failure and I’ll protect myself from it the way I always do. Even if the Cubs are improbably leading the division in August or September. Even if they make the playoffs. I will set myself staunchly against success and expect the worst to happen. If they did win, part of me wonders if I’d even be able to enjoy it.

-Excerpted from this (pre-Theo) post written by Cubs fan friend Andrew Cieslak. Here is a Theo-era post in which he struggles with whether or not to be excited about the Theo Epstein hiring.

                                                       It’s not the same, but it is                                        

Cubs fan, Leafs fan, NY Jets fan

Sports fan pain comes in every colour you can make a jersey in. If you love a team, you hurt in one way or another.

Maybe you’re a fan of D.C.-area sports teams, looking over at the city of Boston. Maybe you lost your team to another city. Maybe you’re even watching the city that stole your team enjoy a championship series right now. Maybe you still have your team and want to keep it but it’s causing people to lose their jobs.

Maybe you’re the odd Philadelphia Flyers fan whose pain is just years of more of the same (that post absolutely broke my heart by the way).

Or maybe you love the Vancouver Canucks. ‘Close, but no cigar’ fandom has got to be a special kind of suck.

 The day after Canucks are eliminated from the postseason is the worst day of every year of my life. Every year it means the same thing, it means I’m one year closer to dying without getting to see the Canucks lift the cup. I’m practiced at watching the Canucks lose, but that has never made it any easier. My primary worry doesn’t even stem from the fact that the Canucks have often done worse than “lose” in their history: they’ve lost in ways without precedent, they’ve lost memorably, and they’ve lost spectacularly…

 –Canucks bloggerThomas Drance, in this excellent piece he wrote for TAS.

Another Canucks fan friend, Semi, described his experience in a fantastic metaphor involving video games and bald jerks (three guesses, everyone) which I’ve posted here. Both these posts are non-negotiable must-reads, by the way.

Sometimes the absence of suffering defines your experience as a sports fan.

I am a Boston Red Sox fan. The kind that Hasn’t Suffered Enough. When I get asked how I became a Red Sox fan, I wonder which is worse—starting  the story with the words “Well, back in 2004…” or starting it with “So there was this guy…” I usually opt for a combination of the two—might as well, right? The real story is that it took me a few years to fall in love with the Red Sox, and it’s still ongoing. As a fairly new baseball fan, I’m finding it impossible to suffer. Everything about the game is still exciting and beautiful and wondrous to me.

The September collapse was not so exciting, nor was it particularly beautiful or wondrous, but I was so happily surprised at how much it hurt that I forgot how much it hurt.

I love the Red Sox more than I love the Habs on some days, blasphemous as that may be, but the absence of suffering sometimes makes me feel like less of a legitimate fan. Not because anyone has ever made me feel that way, but because crushing disappointment is such an integral part of your relationship with your sports team.

Hope

The only thing more tied-in to your identity as a sports fan is hope. Here’s my friend Steve, who you may know better as Ace (SuicidePass), on hanging on:

How am I still a Leafs fan? I don’t know how to be anything else. I cling dumb-headedly to notions of pride and resiliency and the blind hope that somehow, someday, they’ll hoist the Cup again. If the 1992-93 Leafs playoff run hadn’t happened, who knows who I’d be cheering for right now. I might’ve chucked hockey aside with all the other childish things I love, and grown up.

 But now I’m in the middle of things, between my dad and my daughter. I want them to win so we’ll all have witnessed something grand, something extraordinary, something we never thought we’d see.

 Loving the Leafs is hard; they always fail, always disappoint. I can’t imagine life with them not being defined this way. They’ve taught me that the things you love and believe in can–and usually will–let you down, but that’s okay. There’s always time to try again. The Leafs are my metaphor for life; sure, it may not be perfect, but you keep striving. Someday, you’ll get yours.

 Some Leaf fans will say we’re hopeless. I say hope is all we have. It’s all any of us really have. The Leafs remind me to keep hope alive.

The payoff

I started writing this post over a month ago. I had asked Red Sox fans (Who Have Suffered) and Blackhawks fans all over the place to tell me what it was like to watch their teams end their championships droughts. I had expected descriptions of joy, euphoria, elation, which I did get, but every single person initially responded with some variation of… “relief.”

I think the only way I can describe it is was that it felt like an 84lbs boulder lifted from my heart. I truly had never felt so light and free than I did that night. It was so surreal.

- Marissa, of Twitter fabulosity fame, on the Red Sox.

Relief. We all had a feeling after the ALCS against the Yankees, but it felt like a giant weight had been lifted.

- Sarah Connors, on the Red Sox.

Relief.

– Everybody else I asked, on both.

But where is the crazy-jumping-up-and-down joy, I wanted to know. I went looking on YouTube, and all I found was a bunch of drunk idiots.

And then the Los Angeles Kings won their first-ever Stanley Cup, and the incomparable Wil Wheaton brought the crazy-jumping-up-and-down joy.

Matt is an LA Kings fan

Nobody needs to tell a sports fan to hang in there because they’re going to anyway, no matter how well they’re acquainted with disappointment.

The happiest thing about being a sports fan is the belief that all your anguish will be worth it and you’ll get moments like the Blackhawks fans and the Red Sox fans and Wil Wheaton got.

In fact, Leafs fans, the more you suffer now, the sweeter the eventual 14th Toronto Maple Leafs Stanley Cup win will be. It is coming, just not next year, and probably not in the next few years, either. But it will happen. And because I love you, and in the interest of making that moment all the more meaningful, all the more euphoric, and all the more worth it for you, I hope the Canadiens win five or six more Cups before that happens.

“This one’s for you, Dad.”

That was probably one of thousands of times that’s been said after a sports team’s championship win. Sports are just sports, in the grand scheme of things. But in the moment when your team ends a drought or breaks a curse, sports are everything.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. CorneliusMH permalink
    June 15, 2012 7:51 am

    Great read, interesting timing.

    Happy 1-year Anniversary of:
    Get the duckboats ready!
    Get the duckboats ready!
    After 39 long years the Cup is back home!
    The Bruins are the 2011 Stanley Cup Champions!

    Which means its over 2 years since the flyers won games 4,5,6,7 of the 2010 ECSF. Sports!

  2. June 15, 2012 8:56 am

    Hope is the tiny speck of light that keeps you moving forward with your team, because no matter how small or how distant, it is still there, beckoning.

    One day…

  3. June 15, 2012 10:19 am

    I think the truth of all sports is that victory is rare and fleeting and loss and disappointment are the norm. It’s why sport is such a good parallel for life, in some ways. Ultimately, I think sports fandom is about the journey and all the neat little stops along the way. It kind of has to be, because we might never reach the destination. Leagues with lots of teams guarantee long droughts. It’s just how it is.

    I was mucking about in this same sort of space a few days ago: http://wp.me/p1bvRx-bp

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