Jimmy Macs is a treasured friend of mine - a 62 year old Leafs fan who has traded barbs with me on an almost daily basis at our shared coffee haunt, for over 20 years now. He was 7 when he watched his first Stanley Cup final on a fuzzy black and white TV his folks needed a loan to purchase. I've heard the story dozens of times. It was the year of the Barilko goal in 1951 when the Leafs beat the Habs 4 games to 1 to win the Cup.
Jimmy turned 18 when the Leafs beat the Blackhawks in 62, then beat the Red Wings back to back in 63 and 64. I cannot put into words how many times old Mac brought up 1967 to me. Dig at me all he could, I happened to be all of 5 years old at the time. They beat the Canadiens in six. I understood long ago, it was all he could needle me with.
He taught me more about Dave Keon, Johnny Bower, and Tim Horton that any book could have prepared me for. He also taught me lots about die hard fans and dreams.
He was a hopeful, yet realistic, non subscriber to Leaf Nation. He never had any use for Leafs owner Harold Ballard and his never ending shenanigans. In the years before I'd known Jim, he admitted he was embarassed to proclaim himself a Leafs supporter. He often spoke of the high hopes he'd had in the late seventies, when the team began to resemble a contender, only to see it crumble in the hands of an egocentric owner.
As a fellow Cornwallite, I watched him practically froth at the mouth in 1993 when the Leafs came oh so close to meeting the Habs in the final. For a weeek it was steady Gilmour, Gilmour, Gilmour.
The night the Leafs were eliminated by the Kings, he came up for a late night java, sitting next to me as usual. We acknowledged each other, and I just couldn't think of a word that wouldn't open a fresh wound. With yesterdays newspaper in front of me to read, I waited for him to bring up the subject that I knew surely had to be on his mind.
For forty-five minutes, silence alienated conversation.
As Jim got up to leave, my eyes rose from the paper as we both spotted the downpour outside.
"Pissing like a cow on a flat rock", he said, as our glances made contact for the first time since he'd arrived.
An awkward stare ensued for a second. He turned to leave, then hesistated. Turning back, he grabbed my shoulder and squeezed. "Beat the Godamn bastards will ya!" He walked away.
Years later, he brought up the subject of those games and that final. I let him do all the talking. I could see the hurt. It never left him. I chose to shut up.
Having seen the Maple Leafs battle the Canadiens twice in his life time and emerge victorious, he simply longed to watch one more such scenario unfold. It has yet to happen.
A few weeks ago, the day after Toronto signed Mike Peca, Jim came into the coffee shop with a jump in his step. As he sat beside me he exclaimed, "Toronto signed a new UFO!" He looked at me quizzically as I burst into laughter.
Jim was never too up the new NHL terminology, from the CBA to the UFA's.
I was about to correct the old fellow when the wide range of choice comebacks gear jammed the wit tunnel in my cranium. The lamest I had to offer spout forth.
"Why? Was there something wrong with the old one?
"I know JFJ is spaced but....."
"Did they sign little green men?"
"You lost me, Rob"
Jim, you said T.O. signed a UFO..."
He caught himself for a second, smiled a silly grin, and began telling me about the wallpaper his wife pasted upside down to the wall. Upside down fruit baskets on his kitchen walls.
Alzheimers I thought. He'd told me this before, long ago. Only this time, the story had detail that kept him going on and on.
We never got back to hockey.
Jimmy Mac went into a coma last week. I don't know quite what brought it on. I have very little details other than word of mouth so far. He passed away last night, his family in his presence.
The Leafs- Habs playoff series I wished to share with him is gone.
Jim, on your way, if you happen to meet the Devil, just beat the bastard, will ya!