Wanderings – Friendly wagers only please

I am not a gambler, not any more that is. The last time I went to a casino was 25 years ago, I walked out with $1,600 in winnings after 90 minutes and figured my luck was about to run out. That said, I do still place friendly wagers on games, just never for money.

I have been a Buffalo Sabres fan for decades. This is fueled by rebellion against my Leafs/Habs/Bruins cheering family, and also by cheering for the plucky underdog.

For the past few years there has been a standing bet between myself and a friend who is a Leafs fan. Whosever team wins the season series between these rival hockey clubs, the losing person must wear the winning person’s jersey at their workplace for the day.

Oh the humiliation of having to walk around The Leader office with a Leafs jersey on. I am sure my Leaf-fan coworkers would arrange for photographic evidence of this – maybe even the front page on a slow news week.

The first year of our bet was a two-two draw between Buffalo and Toronto, meaning the bet was off. The “pandemic bubble” season meant our teams had no chance of facing each other until the Stanley Cup semi-finals – no hope for either of our teams for that one. This season marked the first year there was a winner. The Sabres won three of the four games in the season series in 2021-22. A win for the Sabres is a win for me!

Lucky for me I have numbers on my side to support the favourable betting odds. In the 51 year history of my hockey team, Buffalo and Toronto have played 222 times. The Sabres have won 120 games, lost 74, tied 18 and had 10 overtime losses. That’s a 54 per cent win percentage. Over 51 years there is only a 100 goal difference between the Sabres and Leafs. Close games for a close hockey rivalry – as it should be.

Despite having the odds being in my favour, and now a win, I’m trying not to be too arrogant. Of course who doesn’t like to win? Given my team’s 10 year playoff drought, multiple-tank seasons, and draft-pick washouts (enjoy Vegas Jack), having a small victory like beating the Leafs lifts this discontented Sabres hope for brighter days when we can beat other teams.

Having a few wins under your belt, it’s easy to get overconfident, cocky even. Piling on the wins without some humility leads to that first loss really hurting.

Years ago, one of my sons was on a competitive soccer team and played to a 14-0 season. As great as it was to have that perfect season, winning 14 straight leads to… youthful hubris. A loss or two might have done well to keep the egos in check. I remember my losses well, so my ego mostly(!) remains in check.

There is a saying, play every game like you are behind one goal. In theory, it means you and your team will always work harder, leave nothing on the ice/pitch/field, and give 110 per cent because you are always on. In practice, it can be an often-flogged and tired cliché – used for appearances. Style and flare, rather than substance. Selfie rather than selfless. More sizzle than steak. I like steak.

Sports and politics have these tropes in common, except in politics you have two, three, or four-way races. I prefer friendly wagers on sports. Much simpler when there are only two teams to deal with. Maybe political races would be better with such choices again.

My friend donned the blue, white, and gold colours of my beloved Buffalo Sabres in what is likely the hottest May on record. She is a good sport and I appreciate the questioning looks she received from her students and coworkers.

Maybe my luck will run out next season? I hope not! Perhaps others luck will run out too. Who knows? What I do know is that each time the Leafs lose is a win for the underdog. And I like cheering for the underdog. Go Sabres go!