Hapless, not hopeless
The plight of pulling for perennial basement dwellers
Todd Colin Vaughan
I’m a loser. Call it guilty by association.
There are only two instances in 24 years of life where I was proud to be a fan.
Tragically, they were also my very first two experiences.
The first came when I was just seven years old.
It was Christmas morning and I was at my grandparents’ house in Edmonton. Amongst all the lame presents was one gift perking my boyish curiosity.
It was a white envelope marked “To Todd, From Grandma and Grandpa Vaughan.” The envelope contained a blue front-row ticket reading “Edmonton Oilers vs. New Jersey Devils, Edmonton Coliseum.”
It was the key to my first NHL hockey game, which would ultimately provide an answer as to why so many family photographs from the ‘80s consisted of my father holding baby-me in front of the TV.
I still remember how the earth shook when those giants rattled into the boards. I cheered for my Oilers the entire game, despite the game ending in a 5-1 loss, which also featured an own-goal on a delayed penalty.
The Edmonton Oilers would forever be my team.
The second life-changing moment came in 1995 when I heard a new NBA franchise was coming to Toronto. Being a young basketball player, my eight-year-old mind was rocked by the thought of adding two Canadian teams.
I never watched the NBA until that season, but I instantly fell in love. The highlight of that 1995-96 season was the winter jacket my mother bought me — the one featuring a massive purple dinosaur on the back and a huge pouch in the front. Never mind that the lowly Raptors had a win-loss record of 21-61 that season.
The Toronto Raptors would forever be my team.
Needless to say, my experience as a fan didn’t come from winning records and championship banners. Being born in 1987 meant the Oilers glory years with Messier and Gretzky were long gone by the time I was able to form meaningful thoughts.
How things have changed since then.
The Raptors, or perennial basement dwellers as I’m sure their referred to by any other fan, have never broken the seal of success.
The team’s one and only chance to make it came during the much-maligned era of Vince Carter. The superstar captured the hearts of Canadians and had many American pundits whispering he could be the next Michael Jordan.
Predictably, following a missed shot that would’ve put Toronto in the Eastern Conference finals, “Vinsanity” quickly dwindled and he eventually demanded a trade. The Raptors and Carter’s career never recovered from the messy divorce.
On the other hand, the Oilers have had to deal with following the ‘80s dream team. After winning five Stanley Cups, the “Oilers nation” of fans rightfully feel entitled to that same level of success.
Considering that the old team featured several of the greatest players ever to play the game, you can see why it would be difficult to replicate that success. Well actually two straight years (going on three) of last place finishes is a little excessive.
There has been only four seasons above mediocrity between my two favourite teams. To be fully honest, those seasons should be considered accidents and the universe quickly worked to correct itself.
I never did expect my teams to win the traditional way. You know, like hard work and talent.
You’re probably thinking, “Why the hell would this guy continue cheering for losers?”
It’s a question I ask myself all the time. But, there’s something special in cheering for last place. I can appreciate sports at its best after suffering through its worst everyday.
When I see a good play I’m more enthralled then a fan who has the luxury of seeing it everyday. When I see a good draft pick I am overly excited compared to those with pristine draft records.
My appreciation for good sport has improved from suffering through missed layups, blown defensive assignments, mental lapses, fanned shots, bad penalties, technical fouls, player fights, coaching changes, bad draft picks, bad trades and everything else that made my stomach wretch over the last 17 years.
In fact, maybe I’m the one per cent of fans. The disillusioned and stupidly hopeful fan who loves his team, despite their obvious and ongoing shortcomings.
Watching my Oil’ and Raps feels like I’m hanging out with a life-long friend — that I’m committed to hate.
It‘s an obligation, but a morbidly enjoyable one.
So while fat-cat fans enjoy watching their teams sip champagne from Lord Stanley’s Cup or applaud as their favorite stars go to Disneyland with championship rings on their fingers — I’ll continue rooting for losers and hoping one day my teams may make a mildly better choice in the next year’s draft.