Rivalries guide us whether we admit it or not
The storied rivalry between the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs got its start on Christmas Day 1917. The game was contested at the Arena Gardens, the precursor to the venerable Maple Leaf Gardens, in Toronto.
A game featuring the likes of Georges Vezina, Reg Noble, Hap Holmes, Joe Malone, Newsy Lalonde and Didier Pitre, Toronto, who were then alternately called the Toronto Arenas or Torontos, defeated their Montreal opponents 7-5 in what was surely a barn burner.
Three days later on the 29th, the Canadiens exacted a small measure of revenge with a 9-2 victory. That was just the start however.
Over the next 98 years, the Maple Leafs and Canadiens have met 725 times, as per the website Hockey Reference. Toronto have won 293 of those contests, with Montreal capturing 334 victories. There have been 88 ties and 10 overtime losses mixed in there to balance things out.
The rivalry was different back then. Then it was the English speaking Protestants of Toronto vs. the Roman Catholic French citizens who resided in Montreal. With city versus city, religion versus religion, the games were an early version of the Hunger Games played out on ice.
For many years, they were the only two Canadian teams in the league, which only served to intensify the hatred fans felt towards the other franchise.
This isn’t the only rivalry that exists in hockey. One cannot discount Boston-Montreal, DetroitToronto, Chicago-New York, Calgary-Edmonton or ColoradoDetroit.
They too have rabid fan bases that hold a strong dislike for each other. And, that is only hockey. There are countless other rivalries in sports that offer the same intense hatred for the other team.
Think the Green Bay PackersChicago Bears (NFL), New York Yankees-Boston Red Sox (MLB) and Boston Celtics-Los Angeles Lakers (NBA).
These rivalries are more than that for the fans of these teams. They become a way of life and a beacon for them to hold onto during difficult times.
Fans of these teams fly their flags with pride. They wear the gear of their favourite teams and automatically find the bad in a stranger when they’re wearing the gear of a rival team.
The more fanatical ones will form bonds with people who share their love for the team. They struggle with accepting fans of rival organizations into their flock.
Sure they’ll do it, but with great trepidation. There will be not-sogentle barbs lofted at each other when together.
I think that’s what makes the connection between sports, people and society such an interesting mixture.
Often, our ties to an athletic group dictate how we live our lives and spend our money. They play a part in our relationships and how we interact with people.
They mold our dreams and a successful run by your favourite team can bring fans back from the brink of despair.
There is something invigorating about taunting a rival fan about their team’s elimination from the playoffs game.
At a personal level, these teams become a part of you. Teams are no longer referred to as ‘they,’ but ‘we’ instead. You place yourself on the team. Everything takes on a bigger meaning.
A loss means you can’t watch the morning highlights for fear of reliving the pain of losing, while a win puts a smile on your face and some pep in your step.
There’s also that eternal hope that keeps you believing.
‘Next year, we’ll be better’ – the personal mantra of Maple Leafs fans everywhere.
Nicholas Mercer is a reporter/photographer with The Compass. A Maple Leafs fan, he knows what it’s like to continually hope for a winning season and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org