This is an entry in Fangirlish’s What Sports Mean To Me series, where our writers discuss memorable sports moments and how sports have impacted their lives.
Sometimes, when it comes to sports fandom, it’s more fun to cheer against other teams than to cheer for yours.
If this sounds weird to you, you’ve probably never cheered for an awful team.
Let me explain. When your team is losing all their games, or trading away all their best players for no apparent reason, or, I don’t know, becoming the laughing stock of the entire league by doing everything they can to keep payroll as low as possible then going on national television to blame their fans for not spending money on tickets to watch a garbage fire occur in real time – you know, normal stuff like that – they’re not exactly bringing you much joy. So sometimes you have to seek out that sports-related joy somewhere else.
Often the best place to find that joy is in your rivals. Those teams might not be as bad as yours, but they are bad, and their fans are miserable, and Shadenfreude is a real thing. I’ll be honest: one of my favourite playoff memories is watching the Leafs blow a 4-1 lead in the last few minutes of game 7 of the first round of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
It’s why beating rivals is so much fun. You get the joy of winning, mixed with the joy of watching a team you hate lose. It’s wonderful.
I am a fan of the NHL’s Ottawa Senators. Now, for those of you who do not watch NHL hockey, or who don’t follow it closely to know about what’s happening in Ottawa right now, I’m not sure I can accurately describe to you exactly how bad this entire franchise is right now, but let’s just say that Sens fans are not happy right now, and our situation is unlikely to improve any time soon. It’s even hard to enjoy the suffering of other teams, because our suffering is so much worse than theirs that even fans of our worst rivals feel bad.
But that doesn’t mean we don’t hate our rivals as much anymore. Never, ever underestimate the ability of Sens fans to hate their rivals. Ottawa is a very new team, and the city is located right between Toronto and Montreal – AKA two of the only cities Americans can actually name, and the homes of two of the NHL teams with the richest histories, and the most passionate fanbases.
You could say we have a bit of an inferiority complex.
One of our most sacred traditions is chanting “Leafs Suck!” instead of “Go Sens!” regardless of who we’re playing. We also cheer as loudly as we do for Sens goals when the out of town scoreboard shows the Leafs losing. We kind of have a reputation for hating the Leafs more than we like the Sens.
Now, personally, I hate the Leafs as much as any other Sens fan, but they are not actually my most hated team. That award goes to the other rival. The one the Sens have started playing a lot more in recent years. The one that usually evokes a much less passionate response from Sens fans. Most of us will shrug and say that we don’t actually hate them that much, and maybe we’ve even cheered for them in the playoffs a few times when they were the last Canadian team standing. But not me.
I’m talking about the Montreal Canadiens.
I don’t understand how this team is not the most hated one in hockey. Those pretentious fucks can’t win a game without going on and on and on about their history and their 24 cups and what an honour it is to work for the greatest organization in hockey. They have the most annoying chants and their old goal song haunts my nightmares to this day. Their nickname – Les Habitants – literally means “The Home Team.” They have to start every other home game with a super long ceremony about how great they were in the past and the legacy of the Montreal Canadiens and that’s being carried on by this year’s team, and honestly, how do any of their players not crack under the pressure of knowing that if they don’t win the Stanley Cup this year, they will have sullied the legacy of the greatest franchise in sports?
Oh, and then there’s the fact that they always whine about disrespect and refs being biased and other teams being too rough then go around and do exactly the same things…
If Ottawa has an inferiority complex, Montreal has the biggest superiority complex I’ve ever seen, and that’s a big reason why it’s so much fun to watch them lose.
But I have yet another reason to hate this team. You see, I went to a French high school, and Montreal is the only French-speaking NHL team, and, well, that creates a whole bunch more problems for me.
Now, I love the French language, and I love French Canadians, but we French Canadians are very… protective of our language. With good reason! We fought hard to be able to speak this language. We are very, very proud of our culture, and very hostile toward outsiders. It is considered completely acceptable to openly mock non native speakers for their accents or their grammar, or even pretend not to understand accents that are not our own. French Canadians also have a pretty big xenophobia problem, but that’s a discussion for another day.
And of course, Les Canadiens de Montréal have become a very important symbol of French Canadian culture.
Not only does this mean that I was surrounded by Habs fans for six years of my life, but it also means that a lot of the people at my school seemed to think that rejecting the Canadiens was equivalent to rejecting the French language. If you cheer against Les Habitants, you are cheering against La francophonie. You are some anglophone who is against the very French language and in favour of assimilation, and you will never be one of us.
It may seem silly, but we Canadians are very serious about our hockey, okay?
Anyways, all that is to say that I got a lot of shit for being a Sens fan going to school in… Ottawa… because Habs fans are pretentious and self-important and annoying as fuck, but it wasn’t all bad. I happened to be in high school at a time when the Sens were doing very well and the Habs were doing very poorly, and the Sens were also completely embarrassing the Habs every time the two teams played each other, which made for some great opportunities to trash talk my teachers and fellow students.
Hé, Monsieur, qu’avez-vous pensé du match hier soir? Personellement, j’ai très hâte à la deuxième ronde des séries…