Tag Archives: fan support

Frozen Passion Stokes Nationalist Flame

By Jason Menard

The Olympics are fast approaching and people all around are working on their calf-strengthening exercises – you know how hard it can be on your legs jumping on and off the bandwagon. But while the alleged thrill of international competition does nothing for more in general, I have to admit that the upcoming Olympic hockey tournament has stoked my nationalistic fires.

I watch the Olympics just like everyone else – how can you not, it’s on pretty much all day every day – but that spark that ignites the rabid sports fan in even the most anti-athlete continues to elude me. As proud as I am of my country, I can’t seem to get stoked about winning a medal in ice dance. Nor am I despondent about a poor showing in skeleton (as cool as that sport is.)

Simply put, these are sports that I don’t care about for the intervening three years of my life, so why should I suddenly live and die with their fortunes once every four years? I find that somewhat hypocritical, but who am I to sit in judgment. If other people care (and they do, judging by the sudden rise in and sheer volume of arm-chair experts who can go on about the inequities in figure skating judging for the Eastern European bloc, despite not knowing the difference between a Salchow from a Lutz) then that’s their prerogative.

If you can gain enjoyment from this type of mercenary sports enthusiasm, then I say more power to you. But it’s really too bad that Olympic fever is such an acute disease. It would be nice if the infection that people get when the stakes are highest would stick around after the Olympic flame is doused. Our athletes, in large part, toil before empty houses dotted only with the odd friend or family member. While 21,000+ will sell out the Bell Centre in Montreal, ski jumpers, bobsledders, and biathletes toil in relative obscurity. Their efforts only mattering – and being unfairly scrutinized – once every four years.

However, before I douse the Olympic flame totally, let me say there is one event that stokes the fires of my competitive heart. One event that prompts me to stand up (OK, sit up forcefully on my couch) and proclaim my pride in my nation. And that sport is hockey. Already, with the various national squads announcing their teams, the thrill of anticipation is rising in me. I scan the rosters, plan out match-ups, and look for potential road blocks on the way to gold. Make no mistake, I’m excited – and I’m not alone.

I grew up in the Canada Cup era. Born slightly after the Canada-Russian Summit Series, I grew up being regaled with the stories of that epic tournament. Those implanted memories stuck with me as I became a hockey fan in my own right. And, growing up during the Cold War, those Canada-Russia games were the epitome of athletic and social competition.

As a proud Canadian, my heart sailed and sunk with the on-ice exploits of our national hockey teams. From the Canada Cup to the World Cup tournament, from the World Juniors to the World Championships (also known as the consolation prize for good players on crappy NHL teams who can’t get to the playoffs), and now to the epitome of competition – the Olympics.

Sure, these aren’t amateurs and, as such, aren’t competing in the spirit of the Olympics. But, come on, this is the best of the best competing at their peak in mid-season form. The world’s best players returning to their home countries to don their national colours and take to the ice with more than just gold, silver, or bronze on the line. They face off with the goal of earning, protecting, or restoring national pride.

What makes this even better is that I care about these people and this sport. I watch hockey in the intervening three years and am familiar with the players. I watch the junior and national programs, so I feel like I have an investment in the program. Try as I might, I couldn’t care who’s representing Canada in curling, and I will feel no joy or pride in winning gold in that event.

But if Canada comes home with gold in hockey, that’s a celebration I can legitimately feel a part of. I’ve supported the program not only in two-week Olympic intervals, so I feel justified that I’ve made enough of an investment to earn a return!

I liken it to an experience I had in high school. I won an award for top German student in grade 10 (ask me if I remember anything now), and I took little pleasure in it. However my friend, who worked his butt off and legitimately strove for this recognition, was legitimately upset when he lost. He cared, I didn’t. How much more would winning that award have meant to him? And that’s the way I feel about most Olympic sports. If I win, fine – but don’t ask me to get excited.

While many will be living vicariously through the exploits of our undeservedly anonymous speed skaters, bobsledders, and lugers, I’ll be saving my enthusiasm for when the puck drops. Winning is good, but winning at something you’ve invested in makes it all the better. If I’m going to live and die with something, it has to be something that I actually care about.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Time for Raptors to Evolve

By Jason Menard

Is it too late to pick up the “loveable losers” tag from the Chicago Cubs because the 2005-2006 edition of the Toronto Raptors certainly need something to hang their hat on?

Alas, following a November that left the team 1-15 on the season is just pitifully bad. The eminently likeable head coach Sam Mitchell appears before the media’s cameras resembling Nero more and more, fiddling while the franchise burns behind him.

There are only so many times you can say your team is playing hard, working hard, learning well, developing in practice, or whatever other excuse Mitchell’s been using to deflect the fans from the hard and fast truth. This is a bad team.

Hope for the future is great and all, but we live in an instant gratification society. It’s easier to appreciate the aging of a fine wine when you’ve been able to taste a couple of batches along the way to test its progress. However, if you make that same wine aficionado abstain until the vintage is ready, chances are you’re going to have some cranky days along the way.

It’s fine and dandy to promise wins that will come one day, but the fans need the odd reminder of what a W looks and feels like.

Compounding this is the natural inferiority we, as Canadians, feel about our professional sports franchises. Whether or not we like to admit it out loud there’s always a feeling that these professional leagues, based south of the border, look at Canadian franchises as nothing more than annoyances better to be relocated to a more favourable environment. And it’s not a fear based on paranoia as NBA fans in Vancouver, MLB fans in Montreal, and NHL fans in Quebec City and Winnipeg will attest to.

Winning is the only way to ensure long-term financial security. The Toronto Blue Jays have started to figure it out, investing money into a franchise that’s not even a contender in its big-money game, but has a little potential for success. Remember, we Canadians support our teams win or tie!

But beyond fan support, the other aspect that we as Canadians have to deal with is American ignorance. Getting players to relocate north of the 49 th is as difficult as pulling teeth at times. So, once they’re here we want them to stay. Make ‘em happy, keep ‘em smiling and maybe more will come. Take a look at the World Series-winning Jays for example – they were a franchise that people wanted to play for, not a destination to be avoided at all costs.

Which brings us to the NBA’s Raptors. Blessed with the rights to a talented cornerstone upon which the franchise can be built in Chris Bosh, already the concerns are starting to rise. Will he stay once his rookie deal’s done? Can we keep him? Do we have the right management to build a contender before he bolts south of the border?

It’s not a lot of fun in Raptorland, either for the players or the fans. Despite the ever-gracious Bosh and fan-favourite Matt Bonner the team hasn’t been able to capture the fans’ imaginations as loveable losers – they’re just losers, and that has to stop.

It’s time for a complete overhaul of the franchise, only a decade into its existence. The team is burdened with a dinosaur-sized weight of past burdens left malcontents like Damon Stoudamire, Tracy McGrady, and Vince Carter, dismal seasons, and lost hope. The 2005-2006 Raptors have been crafted with the idea of starting from scratch and building together for a bright new future powered by Bosh and fuelled by rookies like Charlie Villaneuva, Joey Graham, and Jose Calderon. Why hamper their development by fitting them with ill-fitting clothes?

It’s time to finally make the Raptor extinct and create a new attitude and culture of winning. It’s not enough to just rearrange the furniture if the exterior looks the same. Open the concept of a new team name to the fans and let them feel some sort of ownership for the franchise. Choose a colour scheme and logo that kids can be proud to wear. And wipe the slate clean of the history of losing that the Raptors name carries with it.

The team has tried everything else: new managers, new upper management, new ownership, and new players. So why not start a new era with a new attitude and new mentality, prominently displayed by a new logo.

After all, the Toronto Loveable Losers doesn’t sound any worse than what they are now, does it?

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved