Leafs fans bleed blue

STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:37 AM ET

A couple of years ago I was sitting with a colleague from another Toronto newspaper at a Raptors game somewhere in the midwest when the PA guy asked everyone to stand for the American anthem.

The atmosphere inside the arena suddenly became unusually solemn as our American friends clutched their chests and belted out the Star Spangled Banner.

Partway through, as I looked around the arena for odd looking people (a hobby of mine at basketball games, at least until the fourth quarter when I have to start paying attention), I noticed a couple of gentlemen actually shedding tears.

Not being a huge fan of men blubbering, I muttered to my colleague something alone the lines of, "what a bunch of wimps."

To my surprise, she turned to me and asked: "What, you never cry?"

"Not that I can remember," I replied, feeling like a big man.

"Yeah, well what would happen if the Leafs won the Stanley Cup?" she demanded.

Damn, I had nothing.

"You'd cry, wouldn't you?"

This is professional suicide for a guy in my position, but I admit, here and now, on the eve of tomorrow's NHL season opening, that I am one of those pathetic, blue-blood-bleeding, lifelong Leaf fans.

How could I not be a Leafs fan? I am a born-and-bred Toronto boy, who grew up playing both classic forms of hockey, ice and road, with a little bit of floor thrown in for good measure.

I was very much alive and kicking the last time the Leafs won the Stanley Cup. The year was 1967 and I watched the final game on TV with my older brother Mike.

Most of my friends and I grew up adoring the Leafs. Our love for the blue and white had nothing to do with winning Stanley Cups. For sure, the Leafs never have won another Cup, and as the Harold Ballard years took hold, they stunk.

But we didn't care. Unlike Canadiens fans, we didn't need our team winning championships every few years.

I remember there were a certain number of Habs fans in my school, all smug and self-assured. We hated them. Good-time Charlies. Frontrunners.

My favourite player, pre-high school, was Davey Keon. Like me, he wasn't a big guy, and he played both sides of the ice incredibly well. As I got older, however, I developed an huge admiration for Borge Salming.

To us, the Swede could do no wrong. I realize now that if old Borje used his body a little more, taking his man out along the boards the odd time instead of flopping around in front of the the net and trying to poke-check everyone, he would have been a much sounder defenceman. But he was just so flashy and so brave. Yes, this "chicken Swede" was the bravest guy on the ice.

KEPT ON GOING

I don't remember what playoff series it was, but I remember the time when Philadelphia forward Mel Bridgeman beat the crap out of poor Borje. Almost killed him, but Borje kept on going.

Borje was a perennial all-star, but he never won the Norris Trophy as the NHL's top defenceman. More times than not, it went to Montreal's Larry Robinson. To my friends and me, that an annual miscarriage of justice.

Montreal won Stanley Cups. We had Jimmy Jones and Pat Boutette and an owner who watched colour TV and ate steaks in the penitentiary.

But we kept the faith, baby. And we still do.


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