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Opinion: Toronto’s sports teams have been overlooked for too long

Exploring the historical struggles and triumphs of sports franchises in the city
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BRITTANY GEROW/THE VARSITY
BRITTANY GEROW/THE VARSITY

Toronto occupies a unique place in the Canadian sports landscape. While many Canadian cities have teams in the Canadian Football League and NHL, Toronto is one of only three Canadian cities to have a Major League Soccer (MLS) team and is the only Canadian city to have a team in the NBA or Major League Baseball. Given that Torontonians have such a wide range of local teams to cheer for, it seems that Toronto should be a fantastic place to be a sports fan. 

However, fans, not only from the city but from around the world, have doubted Toronto’s talent time and time again, leaving our teams unappreciated and overlooked. Especially when considering the recent success in the city, this sentiment does not make much sense. 

In 2019, for example, the Raptors had an extremely successful season, as they won their first ever Eastern Conference title and NBA championship. Their victory will be remembered around the world for the unforgettable moments that happened during their playoff run, like Kawhi Leonard’s buzzer-beater against the Philadelphia 76ers.

In addition, between 2016 and 2019, Toronto FC (TFC), Toronto’s MLS team, made the MLS Cup Finals three times in four seasons. In 2017, TFC was the first team in the league to win the ‘domestic treble’ — an honour earned by winning the Canadian Championship, the Supporters’ Shield, and the MLS Cup. 

However, putting aside these recent successes, many sports teams in Toronto have struggled historically, which might explain why sports fans count us out. 

Hockey fans from all around the world will likely be familiar with the woes of the Toronto Maple Leafs, as their last Stanley Cup victory came in 1967. Currently, they hold the record for the longest gap between victories in the entire league. On top of this, during the past 17 years, the Leafs have been knocked out of the playoffs in the first round six times and have failed to qualify for the playoffs in the other 11 seasons. It has not been a smooth sailing for the Leafs in recent years, leaving many to wonder when it will be their turn to win the Cup again.

The Raptors also struggled in their franchise’s early years. The Raptors’ first three seasons in the NBA saw them finish in a disappointing last place, and although they made the playoffs consecutively in the 1999–2000 and 2001–2002 seasons, they found themselves in a run of bad performances for the next four seasons. 

The team did, eventually, find some consistency and made the playoffs every year from the 2013–2014 season to the 2019–2020 season. However, until 2019, they could never reach the NBA finals and make a serious challenge for the championship, as, each year, they were eliminated from the playoffs too early.

Although TFC has a history much shorter than both the 26-year-old Raptors and the 103-year-old Leafs, the team has already been through many trials and tribulations during their short 15 years of life. During the first four games in their first season in the MLS, the team went winless and struggled to even score a goal. Although they did, of course, start winning games and scoring goals, the MLS Cup was nothing but a distant dream, as they failed to qualify for the playoffs for their first nine years in the league. And when they did finally qualify for the postseason in 2015, they fell 3–0 in their first game against their rivals in Montréal.

It is truly amazing that, through all of these difficult years, disappointments, and letdowns, the fans have remained unwaveringly loyal. Despite the Leafs’ struggles, before the pandemic, the TTC would routinely flood with fans proudly wearing their jerseys heading to a game at Scotiabank Arena, and the rink would be packed with spectators singing The Hockey Song and cheering on their team. No matter how poorly a Torontonian team was doing at any given time, the stadiums and arenas across Toronto consistently commanded a good turnout and, no matter how disappointing the previous year was, the fans kept coming back.

The most incredible part of Toronto sports truly lies here. Of course, the Raptors’ 2019 championship was remarkable, as was Toronto FC’s 2017 MLS Cup victory at the BMO Field. However, I think that the unwavering support of the fans during the teams’ difficult times is more impressive than all the good times they’ve had. 

Unfortunately, Toronto sports teams have been doubted for decades, and this may continue into the future. But hopefully, one day Toronto sports teams will be known instead for what is truly special about them: the incredible support of their fans.