On Watching Game 7 in Toronto

By Mark McConaghy

The Scene

Monday Night. 7:30 pm. The pub in the tony part of Toronto, the neighborhood known as Rosedale, was packed with people young and old. They were there to cheer on the Toronto Maple Leafs in a deciding game 7 in their playoff series against the Boston Bruins. After having been outside of playoff contention for 9 long years, the home town boys had gotten farther than many critics had assumed possible. And now, a long playoff run seemed to be coming into being. What awaited was going to be marvelous: a spring full of raucous watching parties, civic pride, and the tremulous thrill of nail-biting games.

Then the leafs lost. In spectacular fashion. They blew a 4-1 lead with 11 minutes to play in the third period, only to lose amidst desperate panic in overtime. It was a stunning turn of events by any measure.

I will not here provide our readers with an analysis of how the Leafs lost that game, as incredible as the collapse was. Such an analysis has already been done in far more detailed fashion by others who understand the on-ice product more thoroughly than myself.

Rather, I’d like to take a moment to analyze the spectacle that was game 7, at least as it played out in the small corner of Toronto in which I took it in.

It was truly a sight to behold. Inside the tiny pub was a cross section of bourgeois Toronto in all of its vexed glory. There were the obligatory Bay Street warriors, made noticeable by the black suits they continued to wear amidst a sea of blue. These men were on their way home to North Toronto after a long day, catching the first period at the local pub. Grizzled after the strenuous hours at the office, they had a certain modest privacy about them.

The same could not be said for the younger men next to them, clad in stylish grey spring suits with flamboyant green and orange accoutrements. These are the grunts of the corporate classes, for whom after work drinks on a monday night is a fairly regular occurrence. They were only half watching the game, the rest of the time spent nervously thumbing their blackberries- they were checking in with work or at least trying to tell us they were doing so. The first rule of the corporate youth is that they must always appear to be busy in public- a symbol of the rarefied importance of the professional world they inhabit.

The rest of the time they spent scanning the room looking at the young women in the bar, letting every who cared to look know that they were interested. Their self-satisfied smiles bespoke their confidence: here were young men of wealth and privilege, those who would drive the Canadian economy forward, the next generation of decision makers, the one class above the fray of corporate downsizing and outsourced anxiety: the lean and hungry alumni of the private school, the law faculty, and the commerce department.

Their imagistic posing become tiresome after a while. My gaze curtly moved on, landing on the exuberant joys of youth: the teenagers. Dozens of them, occupying long tables in the center of the room, looking as if they couldn’t have been more than a month or two over eighteen. Maybe many of them were younger than that, but they were ordering hearty amounts of alcohol and food, and I’m sure the owner of the bar wasn’t carding on this night. The young faces absolutely glowed, sparked by the excitement of their upcoming graduation from high school, with the promise of a summer of sexed-up adventure before them. They were not ready to begin the long-slog towards university-tunneled adulthood just yet.

They cheered and whooped at the big hits and the early goals, belting out barely comprehensible jibes at one another. How many of these kids had ever tasted real heartache? Or the disappointment of a failed career? The shame of losing their job in a brutally competitive market? No, these kids were not full-fledged members of the market economy yet. They had not yet been turned into laboring bodies that had to go out and sell themselves on the basis of their degrees.

The drumming anxiety of adult responsibility had not yet touched their sweet faces. And so they watched the game with glee, the young men holding the hands of their high school sweethearts, the latter all done up in low-cut jeans, taught tank tops, and far far too much makeup. And here was the real drama within the drama: who was texting who, would would hook up with who, who was shooting amorous glances at which potential mate. The soap-opera would go on all summer, no doubt.

The rest of the room was made up with a panoply of social figures: middle-aged parents sat at tables with their kids, hundreds of dollars of food and drink in front of them. Apparently family dinner was preempted by the parents’ need to watch the game. What an innovation, I think to myself: taking your kids to the pub with you to drink and watch hockey. The kids sat in rapture in front of their Ipads, making good use of a coloring app. I make a mental note of this: if I ever am saddled with parental responsibility, the den of the pub is still open to me.

In another part of the bar groups of women, mid or late 30s, huddled together sipping wine. They possessed neither the shining youth of the teenagers nor the self-possessed egotism of the parents. A quick scan of their fingers: some had rings, some didn’t. How many of them had endured the stinging disappointment that comes when one’s investment in love, when one’s very heart, is broken? Judging from the all too familiar way they clutched their glasses, we were kindred spirits on that front.

Before I could ponder these questions for too long I found myself gravitating towards the back of the pub. Clumps of men in their fifties stood against a balustrade with pints in their hands, totally consumed by the game before them. Wrinkled, weathered, in jeans and simple denims shirts, these were clearly the real fans, the ones who have been with the team for decades. The watched in tense rapture. This was not a viewing party for them. It was not a place to be seen with friends, to show off one’s ego, to court your newest love. This was a lecture hall for the dissection of each play. This was a ritual of faith that the team would not let them down.

Suddenly, a long pitched scream fills my ears: “Luupulll I love you….!” A young woman standing next to me belts out the refrain as Joffrey Lupul dashes across the screen. And yet, not a second later: “Don’t fuck it up, honey, or I wont marry you…” She screams at the TV as if Lupul can hear her, her eyes all spirit and fire. Feeling my gaze, she snaps her head towards me: “You think my man can score tonight…”

Before I have a chance to answer, a red-headed jock dressed in a Phaneuf jersey steps between us. “Hell yeah, Lupul’s the man.” The two of them high five, their hands lingering a moment too long as their cheeks glow with common purpose. Later, I hear them laughing together over the fact that she is absolutely, positively going to marry Joffrey. I wonder if the jock will be telling this anecdote at their wedding reception in two years time.

I continue to wander around the room, struck by the characters around me, the sheer dazzling humanity of it all. The drama of the game seems minute in comparison to the joy of watching all the little micro-politics to be found in this pub.

What’s fascinating about events like the hockey playoffs is that it brings people out of their homes and into public venues. Strangers, foreign bodies, people I would normally never have cause to interact with, stand huddled next to me, clapping, screaming, cheering, celebrating the team that has now, momentarily, linked us.

It is a charged atmosphere, full of all kinds of subtle desires, crystallized moments of crisis and exuberance that are displayed in the flash of a smile across the room, the hang-dog ordering of another round, the sadness of a put-on smile while the pain of days whittles around your mind.

These are our people. All these men and women, old and young, full of the disappointment of heartache and the ambition of blind optimism, hooting and hollering and whipping up a storm before the the game that they love.

There is no doubt that they invest in the spectacle as a form of profound displacement. One can only imagine the unctuous anxieties, the bruised traumas, the subtle little sadnesses that investing in the game allows them to not think about at this moment.

It is an unconscious process, to be sure. If asked, they would just say they love their Maple Leafs. But there’s no doubt that those beloved Leafs are a means of turning those drives of anger, pain, and melancholy, that presence of the Real that has been inflicted upon us, into something manageable and even docile.

Why else do the people scream at the top of their lungs, in bloody murder, when a Leaf player makes a big hit against an enemy combatant? How else to explain this expulsion of male bravado, this intense aggression, that is literally foisted at the television screen by those around me?

One may have hoped that a group of two hundred people would get together on a monday night to talk about dialectical philosophy, world history, contemporary tax policy, or the sublime joys of Terrence Malick’s films.

But they didn’t.

They got together for a collective ritual known as the Stanley Cup playoffs. You may wish it otherwise, but there it is. Our culture. Our Canada: overworked, desiring, anxious people, processing their own pressures, together in drink and in spirit to cheer on a team they believe is apart of themselves.

It is a drama that plays out in bars in every corner of this country. And in its raucous symphony- of passion, worry, sex, ego, divorce, capitalism, friendship, and love- we find our collective image.

It was, indeed, a sight to behold.

Mark McConaghy is a doctoral candidate in the East Asian Studies Department at the University of Toronto. He studies political economy, aesthetics, and the dynamics of historical change in the 20th century. An avid cinephile, he also reviews films for the Toronto Review of Books. At the moment, he his integrating his political interests into a variety of aesthetic projects, spanning from poetry to experimental film.

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