October 28, 2009
A loyal Toronto Maple Leafs fan his entire life, Lee Kirby's frustrations with the franchise reached their zenith this month as they struggled to the worst start in team history. So he finally decided to put a price on that loyalty: Placing his "allegiance up for the highest bidder" on eBay, and vowing to ditch the Leafs for whatever team the winner chose for him.
"I will remove all Leaf Memorabilia from my home and replace it with the team of choice of the winning bidder. I will root for my ‘new team' whenever they are on TV. I will argue with the guys at work that my new team is the best," wrote Kirby. "The best part for me is now I can laugh at the Maple Laughs."
The bidding for "Very Used Toronto Maple Leafs fan" began at 1 cent. After 13 bids, Kirby's fan loyalty was sold for just $25 Canadian (US $23.48).
"I'm a Leafs fan. I'm surprised I got that much, really," said Kirby, who promptly forwarded the payment to the Southlake Regional Cancer Center project in Newmarket, Ontario, which was the benefactor for this auction.
What was Kirby's new favorite team? Had his worst fear been realized, with a Montreal Canadiens fan winning the bid and damning him to a lifetime of indentured servitude to his hated rivals?
Nope. Turns out winning bidder, Chris Dawson, is a Dallas Stars fan; and now, so is Lee Kirby, for life.
Kirby is a 39-year-old father of two who lives in Keswick, Ontario. As a Leafs fan, he had suffered through their 42 years without a Stanley Cup, though annual unfulfilled promises and unmet expectations; through trading a first-round draft pick that became Scott Niedermayer(notes) (and almost Eric Lindros(notes)) and endless other tales of managerial bumbling.
His breaking point came this season, not only because the Leafs have one win in nine games but because he feels General Manager Brian Burke has mortgaged the team's future by trading draft picks for former Boston Bruins forward Phil Kessel(notes), who is currently injured.
"We have no one in the system, no first-round pick and just to Kessel to show for it," he said. "I don't see any of those [Doug] Gilmour deals happening, and I don't see a quick turnaround because of the salary cap. I think Burke overestimated how good this team was going to be."
Kirby works at the local hospital with other hockey fans that support successful franchises like the Philadelphia Flyers and the Boston Bruins. "For the last few years, they've had good teams. I had the Leafs," he said. "I had enough."
Hence, the auction, which included this blurb:
It hovered at around 9 cents for a while, before picking up steam near the end. Kirby was surprised the winning bid wasn't $19.67, in honor of the Leafs' last Stanley Cup championship. "It went through my mind," he said, "but that would have to have been a Leafs fan, right?"
Were there any Maple Leafs fans who attempted to keep him in the fold? "I had one Leafs ask me, 'Can I still buy you?'" he recalled. "But as I said on the auction: No returns."
Dawson, a freelance journalist, discovered the auction when a friend forwarded the eBay link. "I wasn't even going to look at it. I thought it said 'very beaten up Leafs hat,'" he said. "Then I saw it said 'Leafs fan,' and I thought it was kind of weird. I just couldn't stop laughing. I couldn't believe someone would put their allegiance on eBay."
Dawson grew up in Alberta, dodging the crossfire from Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers fans in their epic battles. He decided to follow a different team, falling in love with the Minnesota North Stars and remaining loyal to them when they moved to Dallas.
When he contacted Kirby, Dawson said it was apparent that the ex-Leafs fan was serious about committing to his new team. From a story on the auction Dawson wrote for BayToday.ca:
I paid for my item swiftly and just as quick I laid out the new rules for him as a Stars fan. Rule #1. "Lee the Stars fan" must now refer to Mike Modano(notes) and Steve Ott(notes) as "Modo" and "Otter." Rule #2. "Lee the Stars fan" must refer to Brett Hull's Stanley Cup winning goal with his foot in the crease as a "hockey move."
Pretty simple rules and it didn't take long for "Lee the Stars fan" to show his support for the Stars. He immediately told me that he had purchased a game used Dallas Stars jersey worn by Stu Barnes(notes).
Kirby also purchased other Dallas gear he could wear to his job, and has a Stars Budweiser light that he plans to place inside of his "man room."
Embracing the new team was easy, he said. He's been a fan of Stars legend Mike Modano, and current captain Brenden Morrow(notes) is a player he respects and hopes stars for Team Canada in the Olympics. He signed up as a user on Andrew's Stars Page, a popular Dallas fan blog, where his newfound fandom was celebrated in a recent message board post.
Well, almost easy: In an ironic twist, the Maple Leafs visit this Stars on Oct. 28, and things almost got a little uncomfortable for Dawson and Kirby.
"I was really relieved when Toronto beat the Anaheim Ducks the other night," said Dawson. "I was going to get some grief from a lot of the Stars fans for buying a Leafs fan and then we end up being their first win."
With the auction over, the new gear on its way and Kirby cramming a new team's history into his head, one question remains: Can a Maple Leafs fan really change his blue pajamas this quickly?
Don't the decades of painful devotion leave too many scars? Isn't this like a Boston Red Sox fan attempting to jump ship before the 1918 curse was lifted?
"He's stuck [with Dallas]," Dawson said. "This is his commitment. Can I control what he does? Probably not, at the end of the day. But when he said he wants to become a sincere Dallas Star fan, he'll follow through with it."
Kirby's honest about his loyalties. "I'll always care for the Leafs. But Dallas is a fresh start," he said. "I played baseball for many years, and I switched teams three or four years ago. You feel rejuvenated."
Sure. But what if the impossible becomes possible, and the Toronto Maple Leafs end up having a Stanley Cup parade in Kirby's lifetime as a Dallas fan?
"I probably wouldn't go."
(Ed. Note: $25 isn't really all that much for a fan's loyalty, and it isn't much for the Southlake Regional Health Centre Foundation, either. Head here if you're interested in donating to their cause. Thanks to reader Haka for the tip.)