Spectrum Memories: Pukeahontas Revisited

To celebrate my 25th year of hockey fandom, I will occasionally step into the way-back machine and write about events in the Flyers’ past. For the balance of the season, I will be dipping into the well to ruminate about some things related to my love of the Philadelphia Flyers, and in general about the fan experience as a youngster.

This is the seventh in the series of Spectrum Memories.

When you’re a youngster, and the proud owner of any kind of season ticket plan for your favorite sport, there’s not much that stands in your way of attending a game.

Like the U.S. Postal Service, neither rain nor sleet, nor howling wind, or earthquakes, or even streets running red with the blood of the innocents will keep you from your appointed rounds.

In fact, there’s probably only two things that could prevent a kid from indulging in a special treat: sickness or punishment. This is a story about the former.

It’s Presidents’ Weekend, 1988. Mike Keenan is midway through his final season as Flyers head coach (although he had no clue at the time), and my family is about to spend the extended break in the Poconos. We were only going up until Sunday, because Monday’s holiday meant an afternoon Flyers game against the Hartford Whalers.

On the drive up, I started feeling weird. Usually at a young age, you know when that cold starts creeping up on you – but this was different. It was like a lightning bolt, except inside my body, and with more mucus and total loss of vitality. Sitting in the backseat about halfway up the Northeast Extension, I had the sudden urge to get all horizontal on the comforting blue leather of my dad’s 1980 Mustang.

Of course, being the offspring of parents who basically played the “Us against The World” card for their adult lives, I left no hint that anything was wrong, lest I ruin the trip. The only noises I made were muffled sounds of blowing my nose into the tiny pocket Kleenexes I quickly worked through every 5 minutes.

By the time we get to the hotel on Friday night, I could barely stand up. My mom finally noticed something wrong when I curled up in a ball and didn’t move or make a sound for what seemed like an eternity after my dad took off to go skiing.

She pressed the back of her hand to my forehead, and all of a sudden, we were going home. I don’t remember exactly what my temperature was, but it had to be well over 100, and high enough for mom to be pacing back and forth in the room until dad returned.

I think it was a stroke of luck that he forgot something, because he was back in way less time than it took to get there, do a run and come back. Some time after that, we packed everything up and headed down to Philly. I remember spending the whole 2 hour ride back in absolute silence, staring at the floor while nearly comatose in the back seat.

Most of the next two days were an absolute blur. Between my spiking temperature, pills being pumped into me, rivers of Dimetapp being crammed down my throat, and the odd hours drifting in and out of sleep during the day and night, I clearly was in bad shape.

One thing I do recall was my dad coming in and pressing his ear to my chest then giving my mom an odd glance. Next thing I knew (and with time being perfectly elastic I have no clue how long it was), my dad told me I had scarlet fever, and he was going to have a prescription called in.

Ten years old. Orange and Black fever I was familiar with, but “scarlet fever” not so much. Later in life I came across the definition when researching something related to the hardships endured during the Westward expansion of the United States. Epic stuff.

The bright side to all this was that I basically got anything I wanted, at any time, as long as I was semi-lucid. I got soup, juice, medicine on demand. I had the TV brought up into my room and laid atop my dresser. I got a radio hookup, too. It was like being a Crown Prince, except whacked out on serious legal drugs.

Around Sunday night, I finally started to come around. Naturally, my first question to pops was if I could go to the Flyers game the next day. Flat denial.

Who was gonna go then? We can’t just give up the tickets…

Turns out the solution was right under our roof. I don’t think my mother attended any game since taking our family to the Penn State-Temple game at the Vet when I was in Kindergarten, but on this occasion she made an exception. Boy, did my father warn her of what she had to expect from upper-level Flyers fans. I guess she didn’t care, because she was doing it for her sick little guy.

On the day of the game, it was still basically verboten for me to move anywhere but my bedroom and upstairs bathroom, but with my multi-media empire steps away I was able to at least listen to the action.

Hard to believe it, kids, but this was in the days before widespread Cable hookups. Still, with Gene Hart and Bobby Taylor on the radio call, all I needed to do was access the non-liquefied portion of my brain and envision every detail.

In an unusual twist, the very much mediocre Whalers and Flyers were locked in a death battle. It was 2-2 after one, 3-3 after two. Ronnie Sutter scored in the third period to give us the lead, and I tried to let out a yelp in triumph, but all that came out was an expectorate-soaked croak. Someone on Hartford scored less than 20 seconds later and all I could do was curl up in the fetal position and turn my body to the wall in disgust.

That was the most effort I put out since I was in school three days prior. It was apparently all I could handle. I have no recollection of the end of the game. I must have finally drifted off into the Land of Nod again, my mind stretching somewhere between Havertown and the planet Camazotz, my slight frame melting wordlessly into the pile of sheets and blankets.

To add insult to injury, my parents wouldn’t stop raving about how great the game was once they got home. Of all players, Dave Brown ended up with the game-winner in overtime (3:35 in, to be exact) and accordingly was awarded the game’s First Star. This city knows how to reward its brawlers who do something out of the ordinary.

I made sure I never missed a game due to illness again.

It was close – I was at the start of a very nasty cold when the Flyers held a free intra-squad scrimmage in January, 1995 right before the lockout was over, then I had a wicked case of the flu around the time the Legion of Doom started to gel later that season.  Twice in the Spectrum’s final year, my senior year of high school, I got away with going to games before I got too ill to do anything else.

I’ve also never come close to being as sick with something like scarlet fever since then, thank the hockey gods. I’d only wish that on my worst enemies.