Amid all the Leaf jokes, a night of heartfelt speeches
He said he came out of his room at the Royal York Hotel earlier in the day and got on the elevator. He went down a floor, the elevator stopped and who got on but Brian Burke?
Hull pointed at the buttons (so he said) and asked Burke, “So, are you heading for the basement?’’
The entire place cracked up. It was one of many Maple Leaf jokes and such is the currency now that the Toronto Maple Leafs have become a complete laughing stock, not only around the country but right here in Toronto, where this newspaper asks for public input in making fun of the team and gets enormous response.
Fun is fun, but all of this should be humiliating to the owners, to Larry Tanenbaum and the board of directors, who have in the past several years run this once-proud Canadian institution into the ground to the point that they are the butt of joke after joke and no one seems in the least offended. There were a couple of Maple Lef Sports and Entertainment representatives there, smiling somewhat grimly, and surely this is getting old for them, to be the constant target of one-liners.
You reap what you sow, though, and this kind of public humiliation surely is the other side of the scale to the vast and apparently endless profits reaped in behalf of that logo.
That said, the dinner was a very nice evening again, with some terrific heartfelt speeches. Warren Moon paying tribute to his mother, who was there, talking about her courage in raising a family alone and in always providing the necessities for everyone in her household, was moving.
So was Hugh Campbell, talking about his days in Edmonton, and John Campbell, who had the largest and loudest cheering section, talking about his trip from a little homemade half-mile track outside Ailsa Craig, Ont., to this kind of national exposure for the sport he has dominated.
Mark Messier broke down a half-dozen times, talking about the support it takes for any athlete to get to the top, and Angela James showed again why she is such an inspiration to young women and not only young women who want to play hockey.
Ken Shields, the most successful college basketball coach this country has ever produced, had a moving speech, talking about how humbled he was in the prsence of such great athletes. He seemed stunned by his inclusion, yet he shouldn’t be. He has the credentials.
Earlier, he had been telling me a story about his childhood, growing up on a Prairie farm, listening to Foster Hewitt broadcast Maple leaf games. He had dreamed, like every other Canadian kid then, of becoming a Maple Leaf, but his family moved to the Queen Charlotte Islands and basketball became his game.
He’s 63 now, but he said he never forgot about those magical hockey nights and the first time he was in Toronto, it was while he was playing college ball. The national championship was in Hamilton and Shields found himself in Toronto’s Union Station, changing trains with an hour to fill.
“I knew Maple Leaf gardens was just off the subway line. I knew what to do. I left the team, got on the subway, got off at Carlton Street and walked to the Gardens. There it was. It was closed, but an attendant inside saw me standing there looking. He opened the door and asked me what I was doing. I told him. He took me inside. I just stood there, looking up at the banks of seats, looking at Foster Hewitt’s broadcast gondola. I couldn’t believe I was there.’’
He hustled back and made his train to Hamilton. Then helped win the national title. In his Hall acceptance speech, he alluded to that early love of the Leafs.
“I always dreamed of becoming a Maple Leaf he said. “Of course, if they keep going the way they are, I still might.’’
Just another Leaf joke on another night of so many.