There are few certainties in life. For Toronto sports fans, disappointed seems a perennial guarantee. Once again, the biggest sports stories in 2014 presented more promise than results. But in what’s become Toronto’s de facto rallying call, there’s always next year.
1. “Fuck Brooklyn!”
Before the start of their first playoff game since 2008, Toronto Raptors GM Masai Ujiri finished his pep talk to a packed crowd at Raptors Red Square with a defiant, “Fuck Brooklyn!” The Raps would end up losing the seven-game nailbiter of a series to the Brooklyn Nets but Ujiri’s comment gave fans something the city hadn’t had in ages: swagger. In the afterglow of a successful season a new generation of Canadian talent established Toronto as an international basketball hotspot when three GTA-born players, including number one overall pick Andrew Wiggins, were chosen in the first round of the 2014 NBA Draft.
2. The Bloody Big Disappointment
In January, oft-embattled Toronto FC brought in two of the biggest global names in soccer – English striker Jermain Defoe and American midfielder Michael Bradley – to turn around the team’s history of futility. The Reds charged out of the gate with Defoe scoring two goals in his first game. But just as the parade route was being planned the team collapsed, losing seven of their last 11 games and missing the playoffs for the eighth straight year.
3. Death of an NFL dream
Never was Toronto closer to obtaining a long sought-after NFL franchise than when the Buffalo Bills were put up for sale and rockstar Jon Bon Jovi joined forces with MLSE’s Larry Tanenbaum to bid on the team. Their wallets weren’t big enough. To add insult, in December the Bills cancelled their contract to play at least one home game a year at the Rogers Centre. But hey, remember the Argos?
4. Blue Jays go 19
On a gorgeous August 19 afternoon, the Jays outlasted the Detroit Tigers 6-5 in a 19-inning, six hour and 37-minute marathon, the longest Jays game in history providing fans a memorable victory in an otherwise forgettable season.
5. Leafs’ big collapse 2.0
The Maple Leafs sat comfortably in a playoff position on March 13 before losing 12 of their final 14 games to play themselves out of a playoff spot. The head-scratching continued after the collapse with the team renewing coach Randy Carlyle’s contract despite his team’s atrocious showing and then hiring 28-year old analytics guru Kyle Dubas as assistant GM.
6. George Stroumboulopoulos takes over Hockey Night
Rogers Sportsnet’s purchase of NHL broadcast rights for $5.2 billion sent shockwaves through the hockey world but it was the announcement of the new anchor of flagship Hockey Night in Canada, former Much VJ George Stroumboulopoulos, that had many wondering. During his first year at the helm, the noted Montreal Canadiens fan has helped take HNIC out of its traditionally conservative format – and for the better. He’s transferred his uber-personal interview style to the broadcast, showcased a genuine passion for our national game and weathered the storm after first appearing on camera without a tie and in skinny jeans.
7. Tim Leiweke’s star dims
The charming Tim Leiweke was hired by MLSE in 2013 to bring splash and dash and championship teams to Toronto. But he ended up leaving as abruptly as he arrived, announcing his departure in August. The reasons why remain vague but for once it seems his ego is not to blame. Reportedly, financial squabbling between Rogers and Bell, MLSE’s two biggest stakeholders, prompted his exit.
8. Leafs’ middle finger to fans
It was a November to forget. In the wake of two embarrassing loses, and one embarrassed fan throwing their Leafs jersey on the ice, MLSE threatened those behind any such future displays with banishment from all MLSE events. Leafs players, meanwhile, joined in their corporate owners’ big FU to fans making a conscious effort not to salute fans with their sticks raised at centre ice after a November 21 win.
9. Pan Am Games letdown
A clock counting down the one year to the Pan Am Games was unveiled at Nathan Phillips Square in July. But the games have yet to generate serious buzz as news that many of the world’s elite athletes are planning on skipping the party.
10. The curse of Rob Ford
Former Mayor Rob Ford sported Leafs, Argos and Bills jerseys in 2014 while attending games in Toronto. On each occasion, the teams lost. When he donned a Jays jersey before their home opener on April 4, the groans of Jays fans were audible. They lost the game 7-3.
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