Besides the Slender Swede Borje Salming, my favourite all-time Leaf would have to be Dave ‘Tiger’ Williams. Tiger was a pugilist rough and ready Prairie boy who made the big leagues by not backing down and by taking on all comers.
Leaf fans will never forget the year this brash 20-year-old cocky kid began patrolling the left wing for the Blue and White. Wearing # 22, Tiger was a welcome breath of fresh air for us Leaf fans.
The decade of the 1970s would see Toronto’s historic franchise marred in sub mediocrity where only once the team would go on to play past the second round of the playoffs, defeating the pre-dynasty New York Islanders in 1978 but losing to the mighty Hab’s in the semi’s.
A team stacked with talent, the likes of Darryl Sittler, Lanny Mcdonald, Ian Turnbull, Mike Palmateer, and yes Borje Salming, not to mention a handful of high draft picks the Buds just never seemed to reach their full potential.
So much more was expected but the Leafs would remain as usual, supreme under achievers.
None of that seemed to matter to Harold Ballard, the Leafs' curmudgeon, once convicted felon owner who would sit in his Maple Leaf Gardens north end bunker amidst always sold out crowds. Money was being made hand over fist at what many referred to as the Carlton Street Cashbox and that was all that would matter to Harold.
Leaf fans, always gluttons for punishment, forever proclaiming that the next season would be the one, but out of the mediocrity a fan favorite would emerge.
A gun collecting, jeep driving farm boy began racking up penalty minutes and even scoring goals. A goal scoring enforcer, was it possible?
Yes, Tiger quickly became the leagues' penalty minutes leader, with no shortage of enforcers waiting nightly in the old weak sister ‘Chuck’ Norris division. It would be Tiger Williams # 22 jerseys that quickly became the best seller at the Doug Laurie’s Sports located in the Gardens lobby.
With his stick pumping, hand waving goal celebrations, to his ‘done like dinner’ quotes Tiger was and still remains one of the most popular Leaf players in team history.
Punch Imlach, who was Leaf GM when Tiger was on the prowl, grew tired of the country club atmosphere around the team. Imlach’s mission would be to clean house disenchanted with many veterans play.
Imlach traded many Leaf stalwarts as well he wanted to rid himself of dealing with Leaf captain Sittler who he thought had become a little too big for his britches off the ice, and a little too slow on the ice. Since Sittler’s contract would not allow a trade unless he approved, the Leaf captain would not be going anywhere at this time.
Punch started to dismantle the team in December 1979, infuriating fans and Darryl by trading his best friend and fan favorite Lanny McDonald to the Colorado Rockies.
I was totally pissed off but by my disgust and contempt for Punch would be reserved for February 18, 1980 when Tiger along with little known Jerry Butler were traded to the Vancouver Canucks for Rick Vaive and Bill Derlago.
I phoned Maple Leaf Gardens to express my anger, my vulgarity heaped upon an innocent woman who happened to be working the switchboard that day. Still seething, I phoned the Toronto Sun and placed an ad in the personal section of the classifieds.
“Punch you are old. Please die soon.” Batman.
That would be my ad; it would appear in bold letters the following day. I even paid extra for a larger, bolder PUNCH heading. My ad appeared just the way I expected on the Tuesday February 19 edition. Over the course of that day I fielded a few calls from friends who had seen the ad and recognized the Batman handle.
I had been given the nickname Batman while working at Collegiate Sports. I do not know why but the name just seemed to stick. Even my employee ‘Tough to Beat’ name tag was labelled Batman.
I was surprised just how many people had seen the ad.
That night the Leafs were in Long Island for a game against the Islanders. The following morning in the Toronto Sun’s sports section and under the Leafs game recap was the bold heading “Zap em’ Punch, Batman’s with ya!” with a half page spoof about my ad from the previous day.
It was hilarious how the staff writer had taken scenarios from the old Batman television series and along with the Boy Wonder, Alfred and Commissioner Gordon, Batman was ready to aid Punch in his quest to rid the world of such a malcontent hockey team.
I phoned and spoke to the writer to tell him that I loved the story and thought it had been very clever. He explained that after my ad ran in the classifieds the phone rang off the hook with readers who thought the ad was in very bad taste.
Many readers wondered how the Sun could even print the ad. The ad attracted a lot of attention and that is why the Sun decided to go with the spoof—all in good fun. I am sure Punch Imlach was made aware of the caped crusaders wishes for his early demise.
Tiger would go on to have his best year statistically speaking in Vancouver, playing in the All-Star game in 1981 on a line with Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy. Dave Williams is still the NHL's All-Time Penalty Minutes Leader with a staggering 3966 minutes.
Punch would go to on to live another 2844 days after my ad ran that cold February day back in 1980 till his death on December 1 1987. The moral of this story?
Be careful what you wish for, it may come true.
Sorry Mr Imlach, I really didn’t mean it.