Fans the culprit

BILL LANKHOF -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:46 AM ET

Memo to John Ferguson Jr. -- it's not your fault.

The Toronto Maple Leafs went to their beds last night in 11th place. But don't blame management. And, don't blame the players. Ferguson's namesake with soccer club Manchester United, Sir Alex Ferguson, has come up with a fail-proof scapegoat for all under-achieving teams.

It's the fans' fault.

Insert pause here to allow readers to recover from spitting morning coffee through their noses ....

Yep, if we follow Sir Alex's reasoning, the Maple Leafs haven't won the Stanley Cup since Noah was an up-and-coming sailor because fans have been spending too much time at the concession stands and not enough time exhorting their team to victory.

Let us explain: When his team on New Year's Day turned in a desultory effort and emerged with an unsavoury 1-0 decision over lowly Birmingham, Sir Alex charged the homeside with being disinterested and pampered. And, no, he wasn't talking about the players. He was talking about the fans.

"The crowd was dead," Ferguson told the club's television channel MUTV. "We need the supporters to create a good atmosphere because the players respond to that.

"At times it was like a funeral. That was the quietest I've heard our crowd."

Evidently silence like that hasn't been heard anywhere outside of a Leafs' game at the Air Canada Centre where nothing gets in the way of the opening faceoff except the sushi or setting up the next day's business lunch.

If Sir Alex is correct, then when Bryan McCabe puts the puck in his own net -- it's not his fault. It's the guy with the foam finger's fault for going for beers when he should've been cheering.

So what if Kyle Wellwood couldn't complete a pass and Jason Blake couldn't score if Britney Spears was giving them the come-hither look from the goal crease? Not their fault. Never woulda happened if that maroon in the reds hadn't had that hot dog stuck in his face.

And, if Toronto's most notorious red-light district ends up being at whichever end of the ice Andrew Raycroft is playing? Not his fault. Never would've happened if the fans had sung 'Go Leafs Go' with a little more gusto.

Some people believe that the Maple Leafs couldn't beat an egg without getting it all over their face. Which would explain Pavel Kubina, or making trades two consecutive years for a starting goaltender and still ending up with Scott Clemmensen.

No offence intended but Clemmensen in the role of team saviour is like expecting Jim Nabors to play Superman. But, no. Don't blame Fergy that it has all turned out this way.

And, if the power play clicks on all cylinders like something Fred Flintstone drives, well, don't be pointing that middle finger at Paul Maurice. By Sir Alex's standards, it's not their fault. And he's far from alone. Seems every season a player or coach comes up with the: "If only the fans made more noise ... yadda, yadda" line.

It may be the dumbest excuse in the world of sports.

Manchester United is to England and soccer what the Maple Leafs are to Canada and hockey.

The only difference is that United fans -- judging from the championship pennants -- have something to cheer about and choose not. Maple Leafs fans? They have eight wins in 20 home games, a general manager who thinks that works out to .500 and a team that goes into its game tonight in Pittsburgh in 11th place.

This from a team that promised at training camp it would be a Stanley Cup challenger.

That's management's fault. It's the players' fault -- and it has absolutely nothing to do with that beer I have in my (burp) hand.

So, let's not even go there. OK, Alex.


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