By Anne T. Donahue
Let’s get one thing clear: 98% of the time, I don’t care about hockey. It’s my problem, my issue, and because I reserve most of my sports enthusiasm for baseball or basketball (if and when the Raptors make the playoffs), I just don’t have it in me to commit to another brand of athleticism. Bless us everyone, I have the attention span of a gnat, and this is my cross to bear.
But this time, I understand that we’re making history. And as a student of history, I’m not going to turn my back on the chance to watch the Toronto Maple Leafs bring the Stanley Cup to a city absolutely thirsting for it. I’m not above the bandwagon, and I’m not cool enough to pretend I’m not paying attention. I know the Leafs won last night. I know they did not win the three games before. And I know that fans deserve to have their hope vindicated. It’s not easy business being a fan (shout-out to the torch I carry for a full Spice Girls reunion), and if you’re committed enough to buy merch and pay money to attend a game, goddamn it: you deserve to watch your wee sons bring home their trophy.
So this is my contribution. In my soul, I believe I would make an excellent sports coach. I would be the cold, unfeeling mother figure no team thought they wanted (but certainly needed), and their need to impress me would fuel a fire to win at any cost. They would return to the bench after scoring eight goals and I would respond with “Well, a lot of people score goals” before returning to my crossword. The results would be stupendous. Their spirits would be broken, but in the end, it would be worth it. So this, as that mother figure the Leafs are in desperate need of, is my plea.
If you are a Toronto Leaf reading this, congratulations: you have lived to play another day, and for that an entire country is breathing a little easier. Everything is terrible and a Stanley Cup win would not make life any better, but it certainly wouldn’t make it any worse.
But yet, you have tested us. Us, a people so starved of hope that we’ve tuned in on our free evenings to watch you play a game we know you can play so well and then sometimes do not. Why? Why do you do this? Do you like to cause us pain? Do you like to bring us to the edge of emotional combustion just to wield your power and remind us who’s in charge?
Well, guess what; now I’m in charge. Me, a woman currently listening to Big Shiny Tunes 3 and wearing a Spice Girls t-shirt. Me, a woman who cares not for your sport as a whole, but understands that it is beloved by most people, and who am I to diminish that. As Lucas in Empire Records said when he quoted The Doors: the time to hesitate is through. Win the rest of your games. Then win some more. And know that with every win, we – people who are watching you – expect more and more, and soon you will understand that the tables have turned and I am the captain now.
Play well enough to make me care. Play well enough for me to know more than three players on the team, and for me to stop referring to Morgan Reilley as “Tessa Virtue’s Boyfriend.” Play like you’re trying to win a kiss from daddy. (In this scenario, I am also daddy.) Play like you’re Kendall Roy, certain you deserve a place at the top, but filled with so much self-loathing that you’ll do whatever it takes to get there because deep down, you doubt that certainty. Play like you’re afraid I (and any other person you’re playing to impress) will stop talking to you if you fail. Play like I will personally confiscate your earnings for the season should you lose and spend them on Taylor Swift merchandise I don’t even want. Play like it’s your job, but not a job that’s also fun, a job that you must toil at and cry about like the rest of us do. Play like you are Julia Stiles in Save the Last Dance and you are auditioning for Julliard. Play, goddamn it. Play well.
I don’t mean to be harsh, but I am harsh as a default setting, and I believe tough love from an authoritarian (me, who is the authority on everything, in my mind) can be the catalyst for positive change. Don’t you want me to care? Don’t you want me to admit how wrong I was not to care all season and now do? Don’t you want a parade like when the Raptors won the championship in 2019? Don’t you want to be showered in praise and gifts and accolades and to kiss the large trophy so intensely we, the viewers, come to question whether you are romantically involved? Don’t you want this? Then act like it. Be serious people.
Of course, you can just ignore me. Who am I, but a person on the internet, driving a bandwagon and asserting her opinion as though I’m a sports commentator? But also: you know I’m right. You know that I have the guts to look at you all in your wee, childlike faces (to me, I am a 100 and you are all just starting college – don’t you dare correct me), and tell you to smarten up. Get it together. Act your age. Play like you mean it.
And then thank me when you take it all, hoisting that Stanley Cup on your shoulders in the way you wish you could hoist me, the person you, deep down, are playing for. Godspeed.
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