I have to say, I was never one of those Habs fans who gloated when the team was good. I never threw the 22 or 23 or 24 Cups in the faces of other teams' fans or bragged about how the Canadiens would annihilate every team in their path when the playoffs rolled around. I enjoyed the '86 and '93 Cups with tears of joy and a little perma-smile that I caught in my mirror for months afterwards. I even collected my '93 playoff pool winnings (thanks, Gilbert Dionne!) from my leaf-fan friends with grace and very little rubbing it in. So I'm a little taken aback when the rabid Habs hatred that exists in the hearts of 29 other teams' fans hits me like a pie in the face.
I know the Canadiens tradition of winning everything in sight and destroying other fans' hopes and dreams on an annual basis probably planted the seeds of hate in those fans' hearts. (Sorry, Bruins fans. Well, not really, but sort of.) In the seventies, I didn't know the team was called the Montreal Canadiens. I thought they were the "Goddamn" Canadiens, which is what my Wings-fan Dad called them. But here we are in 2009 and it's been a generation since those Habs hit the ice. Our team has struggled, lost, missed the playoffs, made horrible trades and worse signings for fifteen years now. Our glorious Habs spend more time contemplating history than looking to the future. Yet the humbling of the franchise hasn't dimmed the hatred for the Canadiens and their fans. If anything, it's grown worse. When the Habs were winning, other fans could only grumble and hate the Canadiens among their own. They knew they could never win an argument with a Habs fan because Montreal would always have better players, more Cups, more Hall of Famers, more honours, a longer, brighter history and a better chance of winning in any given year than most other teams.
Now that the Canadiens are either scraping into the playoffs or missing them altogether most years, the fans of other teams are getting their own back. They laugh at the Habs' humiliation and gloat in rooting against them. Right now, there are legions of leafs and Bruins fans praying to whatever loathsome deity they worship for the Habs to bomb the rest of the year and miss the playoffs. If they do, they'll seek out Canadiens fans specifically to laugh and rub it in. Already, I've had calls at work from total strangers who know I'm a Habs supporter and who feel the need to ring me up and say, "What happened to your great Habs, eh? Not looking so great now, are they?" I just can't fathom taking the time and effort to actually look up a leaf fan and call him to gloat. Bruins fans are feverishly watching the Canadiens games and rooting just as hard for them to lose as they do for their team to win. Again, I don't understand. I might possibly catch a period of a Bruins game if there's one on TV and I have nothing else to do. But I'd never specifically look for a place to watch the game just so I could root for them to lose.
You know where that comes from, though? They're afraid. The Canadiens have such a long history of breaking other fans' hearts, those fans are trying to get their gloating in while they can. They're afraid the Canadiens are going to be for real again very soon, and that they'll once again be a source of misery for them. Bruins fans, right this minute, are afraid to meet the Habs in the first round of the playoffs. Even though the Bs will finish miles ahead of the Canadiens in the standings, have beaten the Habs convincingly in several of the head-to-head meetings this year and will have home-ice advantage and the "favourite" label in the playoffs, Bruins fans are afraid the Canadiens will defy all the odds and once again rise up to thwart what, on paper, should be a deep playoff run for their team. I guess that's what history does. It seeps into the collective consciousness and the very bones of a group of fans and becomes part of the fabric of their team's lore. Once you've felt the agony of losing to the same team year after year for decades, it takes more than a few years of that team's humiliation to shake the fear.
I know one thing, though. I'm sick of the gloating and the humility shoved down our throats by other teams' fans. I'm tired of having to say, "Yeah, I know. The Habs suck," and pretend to be laughing it off. It burns me that those guys are right, and I want the Habs to rise up and smite them all. I think that's been the worst part of watching the Canadiens tank the second half of this season. It's making so many people so happy to watch the Habs' hubris in promoting the crap out of the Centennial come back to bite them in the ass. Nothing would make me happier at this point than to take that gloating and enforced humility dished out by other teams' fans and feed it right back to them.
So, Go Habs Go! If they can somehow turn this sow's ear of a season into a silk purse, I'll be the first to graciously say, "Well, what do you expect? They're the Habs." And every one of those fans will know what I mean.