By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (July 18) – “Wait.”
For more than a few years, the above-mentioned word – by itself – has become an habitual reply among sports fans in this city.
Hey, the Blue Jays are the hottest team in baseball – winning 20 of 24 games. Edwin Encarnacion is unstoppable.
How about those Leafs?! They are 14-2-2 in their last 18 games and just one point out of second place in the Atlantic Division.
The Argos lead Hamilton 24-17 at halftime in the Eastern Final and appear on their way to a second consecutive Grey Cup appearance.
In all three instances mentioned here, Toronto sports fans didn’t have to wait long. The Blue Jays of 2014 are 11-23 in their past 34 games, plummeting 10 games in the American League East standings since June 6 – from six ahead of Baltimore to four behind the Orioles. The Leafs, as is custom, did a 2-12 face-plant in the final three weeks of last season to miss the playoffs for the eighth time in nine years. And, the CFL Argos, who long-ago patented the “Toronto Collapse,” were out-scored 19-0 by the Tiger-Cats in the second half of the division title game at Rogers Centre last November. There’s nothing like consistency in pro sport and our teams have mastered the art of crumbling.
TORONTO PROFESSIONAL SPORTS – METAPHORICALLY.
Mind you, it hasn’t always been this way, nor have the Israelis and Palestinians always been at war. They tend to pause for a couple of hours here and there before resuming hostility. New Yorkers don’t always J-walk. They have to sleep once in awhile. Politicians don’t always raise taxes. They do it only after promising not to. Accordingly, Toronto sports teams don’t always collapse. The Leafs of 2009-10, for example, were out of the playoff hunt in the first three weeks after beginning the season 0-7-1. The 1981 Argonauts were 0-11 before winning a game in the last week of September. And, the NBA Raptors in 2012-13 started their schedule 4-19. So, let’s give credit where it is due.
Also, a quick scan of the memory brings to mind collapses by Toronto opposition – or Toronto comebacks, whichever you prefer. It was four weeks ago tonight (June 20) that the Blue Jays fell behind 8-0 after two innings at the Great American Launching Pad in Cincinnati before mounting a 14-9 victory over the Reds. Never will I forget watching the Jays play on TV at Fenway Park in Boston (June 4, 1989) the day prior to the first-ever baseball game at SkyDome. On that afternoon, the visitors sank into a 10-0 gorge after five innings only to walk off the field with a 13-11 triumph. It remains the biggest comeback in team history.
Last season, the Argos went on a four-game trip (Sep. 8-28) to Montreal, Saskatchewan, Calgary and Edmonton without star quarterback Ricky Ray – injured during an Aug. 23 loss to the Stampeders at Rogers Centre. Losing all four games at halftime, the Argonauts came back to win them all. On Sep. 28, at Commonwealth Stadium, Toronto was dead and buried – trailing 21-1 after two quarters – only to waylay the Eskimos 33-0 in the final two, cementing the legend of back-up quarterback Zach Collaros, who later left to become the Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ No. 1 pivot.
It’s been nearly a quarter-century, but I remember covering the Boston/Toronto hockey game of Dec. 30, 1989 at Maple Leaf Gardens. Leafs trailed the Bruins 5-0 after 40 minutes and scored five goals in the third period to send the match into overtime. Wendel Clark potted the winner. It was an astounding end the worst decade in franchise history.
For every moment of Toronto sports glory, however, there are five examples of mind-numbing chagrin. It just comes with the territory on the north shore of Lake Ontario. Perhaps heartache is derived from strong winds blowing out of Buffalo, N.Y. – only 51 nautical miles (82 kilometers) to the south and easily the most voodooed sports city on the planet. Whatever the cause, people invest emotionally in Toronto teams at their own apocalyptic risk. And, the cost is usually enormous.
With that as a balanced introduction to the “Toronto Collapse,” I conclude Part 1 of 3. In my next blog, I will provide gut-churning examples of our city cultivating such a tragic sports history.
Sleep well tonight.
END OF PART 1
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