Wanderings – Championing the hopeless causes

It is that time of year again. The time when the sports fan in me takes a deep dive into the pit of despair. To wallow in the pool of woe that is cheering for my hopeless sports teams.

The major professional sports leagues I follow are wrapping up their regular seasons. By major I mean the European pro soccer leagues and the NHL. I am most woeful for my hockey team.

Over 13 years ago there was much to celebrate. A new owner. New leadership. A new direction. Even the new owner said the right things.

“Starting today, the Buffalo Sabres’ reason for existence will be to win a Stanley Cup,” said then-new owner Terry Pegula in February 2011.

Thirteen years later, still no playoff hockey. Hope, promises, solid drafting, talent that other teams would make superstars in a heartbeat – and failure. In the case of my team, the whole is not greater than the sum of its parts.

Things just aren’t working. The wheels on the Sabres bus fell off mid-season. The pièce de résistance of this failure was last weekend. No matter how bad the Sabres have played; no matter the lack of success on the ice; the team always played its A-Game against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Buffalo has a lifetime winning record against Toronto. Going into the weekend, the Sabres had beaten the Leafs in 60 per cent of all games played. But they didn’t do so this past weekend, losing 3-0. The rule is, you have to beat the Leafs. Sabres fans will call this a winning season if we beat the Leafs, and lose all other games.

Nearing the end of the regular season, Buffalo’s sob story of being on the “cusp” of the playoff wildcard is offering false hope to us lifelong fans. We only need seven points in 10 games to make the playoffs. Those points have to come against mostly teams also in that same fight so its not a challenge at all. Easy peasy – dream on.

The only positive from the weekend is my annual jersey bet with a Leafs fan has ended in a 2-2 draw meaning I will not have to wear a Toronto jersey this year.

Turning from hockey to soccer, it wasn’t much better. The club I support, West Ham United blew a 3-1 lead in the last 10 minutes of the game to lose 4-3. Unlike hockey, there are no playoffs in soccer. The regular season counts for everything and where you finish in the standings matters. My team has been able to finish high enough to qualify to play in European leagues the last three seasons, but I doubt it will happen this year. Seventh place is good enough for a ticket to the sidelines and a chance to try your luck next year.

There are other sports but I haven’t cared much about them. Professional baseball has been off my radar since Montréal was robbed of the Expos. Each year I find I am less, and less, interested in the NFL even though the Bills do make the post season now. I haven’t watched the NBA much this year, despite the dominance of the Celtics.

Readers here may be wondering why I am lamenting about my teams and sports. Escapism. Sports is one of my escapes from the reporting world and all the seriousness that occurs. Reporting on government, court, and all the general “wonderfulness” of news, needs an outlet. In my case, one of those outlets is yelling at my TV when the manager of my favourite soccer club makes a bone-headed substitution which costs a two goal lead. Or when the coach of my favourite hockey club states that they “didn’t show enough effort on the ice today but will try to do better next time.” What?

It is getting to the point however that my love of professional sports is not helping with my escapism, because the issues are mirroring that of the news of real life.

My hockey team has all the right players – scoring, defence, and goaltending – just poor leadership and an inability to get out of their own way in finding success. This sounds like an analogy for a certain government. Soccer team fumbles the ball in the last 10 minutes by putting the wrong player on the pitch, and the team concedes three unanswered goals to lose the game. Again, the parallels to certain governments and their inability to get qualified people into the right places is uncanny.

I know I shouldn’t take this so seriously. Sports are supposed to be fun to watch. Some have suggested cheering for other teams. Not that I would give them the satisfaction of being called a bandwagon jumper.

Instead, all I ask is that my teams genuinely try their best to do better than the season before. I’m not asking for the Stanley Cup or the Europa League – just a chance – a shot – at playing for something meaningful, instead of hopeless causes. I don’t think it’s much to ask? Is it?

This column was originally published in the April 3, 2024 print edition of the Morrisburg Leader.