For those who follow my blog on a regular basis or perused our website, may think what I’m about to say is very self-serving, well your right, but hear me out.
I’ve been very fortunate to accumulate what is considered the largest collection of Toronto Maple Leaf artifacts in existence. That may or may not be true.
ESPN labeled me “The Ultimate Leafs Fan” and it seems to have stuck which I’m fine with, but I like to think of myself as much more. I consider myself a preserver of historical treasures and the ability to explain their significance.
We live in a world of hope and promise, daring people to dream things will get better and even produce victorious results. The financial world that I’ve been a part of most of my life lives by that mantra and in fact “bad news” can mean “good news” for markets. Why would you invest in a company that’s successful and already peaked instead of trying to find one that could be a success?
Sports teams are similar in that analogy and in fact, teams try to copycat successful competitors.
When ex players visit “The Room”, the reaction is usually one of admiration and as I have said several times before, this I could never get tired of hearing. The reminders of how things were, then and now is the immediate reaction, followed by inspiring stories from the era either experienced by the player or witnessed at that moment.
I just acquired a set of Maple Leaf 1936-37 O-Pee-Chee proof; die cut cards in fantastic condition and is probably the only one of its kind in the collecting world. With this recent purchase, my mind flashes back in time thinking of kids opening packs of these cards and stuffing them innocently in their front pocket. I also wonder about that period in time and upon further investigation in the year 1936, did you know that it was the third playing of the Masters Golf Tournament but 71st British Open? The Sarnia Imperials defeated the Ottawa Rough Riders in the 24th Grey Cup? Jesse Owens wins four gold medals at the Berlin Olympic Games? That the Hoover Dam was completed? The world’s first superhero appeared in a cartoon strip, The Phantom? How did people react to these events or did they just slough them off as we would similar happenings today? But for our argument it all comes back to the Leafs of that era and how they still stand out above everything else that was occurring at the time. They only won the Stanley Cup once in that decade and Smythe was forever tinkering with the lineup, never settling at second best. It’s this desire to win that has been instilled in Leaf fans and passed through the generations to today.
When families come see “The Room”, they can all recite stories or events centered on growing up with the Leafs. It could be just the sound of Foster Hewitt’s voice listening to the radio broadcasts, a grandparent who saved newspapers, a ticket stub, program, puck, an old magazine or anything that can connect to the period. It doesn’t matter but it all fits together as the history unfolds and the bond between the two eras are forever cemented.
It’s no coincidence that the most successful franchises in sports, have the most glorified past and endlessly talk about it. Our thirst for knowledge as sports fans comes as a result of our historic past whether good or bad. Look at a team like the Chicago Cubs that haven’t won a World Series in over 100 years, yet the pride of the team is carried year after year with tradition preserved by the historic field they play on at Wrigley. Walking through the gates it’s more about what the moment represents rather than the game itself. Sitting in the seats of this cathedral of ball parks today lets the mind wander back in time as an example, to game 3 of the 1932 World Series and Babe Ruth’s home run, immortalized as the “called shot.” The New York Yankees with 27 World Series victories honour past stars with monuments in center field at Yankee Stadium. Here are two teams that are polar opposites, yet when referring to the history of baseball more often than not, both come up in the same sentence.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are one of the most iconic franchises in the history of sports, yet outside of small mentions at the Hockey Hall of Fame the past is not on display. The Leafs in fact are the only major team in North America that do not have its’ history on display in the form of a museum and that is unacceptable. The recent honouring of past Leafs with “Legends Row” is a start.
Conn Smythe bought the St. Pats partially with money won gambling on hockey and football games. Pete Rose is banned for life from baseball for betting on the game. Smythe also built the Gardens in less than 6 months during the depression topping that monumental feat with the purchase of King Clancy from the Ottawa Senators for an unheard sum of $35,000, using part of the money won betting on a horse named Rare Jewel.
In 1971 John Bassett Sr. had Harold Ballard and Stafford Smythe removed from the Board of the Leafs, but if only he had made them sell their shares, what may have become of the team during that tenure instead of the bumbling ways of Pal Hal?
In 1992 when Pat Burns opted out his contract with Montreal and signed with the Leafs instead of LA, he cited the history as the reason. He took the team to the best playoff run since 1967 after finishing last the year before he arrived.
Pat Quinn took over the reins as Leaf coach before the 1998-99 season, having played for the Leafs in the late 60’s was aware of the tradition and history of the franchise leading the team to one of the best runs in recent memory.
Brendan Shanahan appointed head of hockey operations constantly refers to the history and glorious past of the Toronto Maple Leafs. And worth repeating he was quoted as saying touring “The Room” he found it inspirational and motivating.
Brian Burke gushes speaking about the past of Maple Leaf years calling the job as head of the organization the best job in hockey and one of the best in sports.
Why are all these examples worth remembering?
It’s the walk through time, the evolution of the game and the Leafs contribution to it. The hold the team has on personal lives growing up and fathers passing along not only the tradition but history. This is also what resonates the fire that burns within each of us holding true to the team that now enters what maybe the darkest period in Maple Leaf history.
Through all the turbulent times including ownership battles, incompetent management and players just not good enough, there has been just enough emotion as a result of the past to ignite the passion to keep the hope alive and we must never lose that.