Sometimes when Donald Higginbottom is on his skates in hockey arenas near his home in Cottam, Ont., he imagines himself as a superstar. “I’m playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs,” Higginbottom recounts. “It’s in overtime in the seventh game of the Stanley Cup at Maple Leaf Gardens in front of 16,000 screaming fans. The Edmonton Oilers have a power play and Wayne Gretzky passes the puck to Paul Coffey at the blue line. I’m playing left defence, and when Coffey winds up for a slap shot, I slide out and block it. The puck bounces out to centre ice and, with Coffey and Gretzky chasing me, I pick it up and head for the net. I can hear them coming behind me, but I’m too fast. Grant Fuhr comes out of the Oiler goal toward me. I feint to the right, but then fire a low wrist shot past him into the net—and we win the cup.”
Higginbottom, 39, like many other respondents to The Maclean's/Decima Poll, has his dreams. The assembly-line supervisor for Chrysler Canada Ltd., who has played hockey since boyhood, still plays for an oldtimers team, the Eureka Blades, in tournaments in nearby Windsor, Ont., and other towns in the region. The self-confessed Cottam dreamer is among one in five Canadians who fantasize, the poll indicates, about gaining the glory— and riches—lavished on star athletes.
When poll respondents were invited to imagine that they could achieve world-class success in one of five fields—acting, business, politics, sports or writing—21 per cent chose sports. Business was the first choice, at 35 per cent, followed by writing, at 26. Acting was favored by 11 per cent and politics trailed at six per cent. Among males, 29 per cent chose sports compared with 13 per cent of females. When asked to select the sport at which they would like to be the best in the world, respondents of both sexes named 77 different ones—from hockey (254 of the 1,500 respondents) to the flying trapeze (one). Baseball ranked second, the choice of 207. Said Bruce Culleton, 19, a premedical student at Memorial University in St. John’s, Nfld., who likes hockey but loves baseball: “In Newfoundland I don’t have much chance to see baseball live, but I have been to Toronto and Montreal to see it there. My dream would be to pitch a perfect game. Yes, that would be pretty good.”
Still, for most sports-minded Canadians, hockey retains its magic. And while 27 per cent of Canadian males surveyed dream of hockey stardom, seven per cent of women respondents had the same vision. Nor are the men alone in their thoughts of baseball heroics: 11 per cent of the women favored baseball stardom, compared with 17 per cent of the men. But overall, Canadian women prefer individual sports— including swimming and tennis—while the men favor the team sports.
The poll results also parallel Canadian professional football’s decline in popularity, going along with a dramatic decline in 1986 attendance at Canadian Football League games in Eastern Canada and a smaller slump in the West. Among the top six sports of choice in The Maclean's/Decima Poll, football ranked last in Ontario (four per cent), Quebec (one per cent) and the Atlantic provinces (two per cent). But in the Prairie provinces football ranked third (eight per cent) behind hockey and baseball. And in British Columbia it came fourth (seven per cent), after hockey, swimming and tennis.
But from the hinterlands to the sprawling cities, Canadians harbor thoughts of superstardom in an eclectic range of endeavors from bowling to bullfighting, from cycling to car racing. One respondent even chose cribbage. Across Canada, fewer respondents wanted to excel in downhill or cross-country skiing—97 individuals in all—than in swimming (152) or tennis (122). Fewer fancied stardom in figure skating (50) than in golf (65), or in curling (20) than in soccer (43). In a winter country, those results seemed to indicate that many Canadians simply dream of a longer summer.
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