Let’s Do The Time Warp Again

While us penguins continue to wilt in the usual Northeastern Summer heat, pining for the days when a cool iceberg awaits our collectively scorched behinds, thoughts about the upcoming (and too far off) season still seep their way into our Sun-addled brains.

This is the final piece in a five-part series which intends to examine the ways the Flyers front office, though publicly professing to want to win the Cup by any means necessary, just ends up conducting business as usual year in and year out.

Perk up your ears when you’re alarm goes off and the radio disrupts your reverie. Flip on the TV – Weather Channel should do it. Reach for your laptop or switch on your iPhone.

In every case, the date should read something like “August xx, 2011.”

Cars have GPS systems, smart air bags. We get radio from satellites. Somebody does something stupid and the whole world can laugh at it in 24 seconds. We can watch whatever we want, whenever we want and bend the laws of time and commercial consumption to our will.

But the Philadelphia Flyers are still stuck in 1975. Gerald Ford, Pierre Trudeau, AMC Pacers, seat belts optional and bad science fiction on Saturday afternoon UHF.

Think about it. Who besides the players and front office personnel are the most recognizable faces in the franchise?

Bob Clarke, Bill Barber (now absent), Gary Dornhoefer, Bob Kelly, Joe Watson, Bernie Parent, and Kate Smith (who died in 1986).

To be fair, the chief reasons for this are: A) Because those players chose to remain in the Delaware Valley after their playing days were over, and B) They were so grateful that the organization gave them a livelihood, they’ve decided to repay that by remaining loyal.

But other than Dave Poulin’s shorthanded goal against Quebec and J.J. Daigneault, what are the most recognizable and most played highlights in team history? I bet you can recite them with your eyes closed: Bobby Clarke beats Boston in OT; Ladies and Gentlemen, The Flyers ARE GOING TO WIN…THE STANLEY CUP!!!; The Bat in Buffalo; Clarkie counting to two in the faceoff circle and his toothless grin with the Cup in ’75; Soviets leaving, then beaten, in ’76; Reggie Leach scoring five goals in the ’76 semis; various goals from the ’79-’80 Streak.

Even the pregame isn’t exempt. Lauren Hart, who is  one of the top anthem singers in the league, is the daughter of Gene Hart — Hall of Fame broadcaster who worked for the team from its inception through 1995. In big games, she gets to sing a virtual duet of “God Bless America” with Smith — who made that song her own a full generation before the Flyers even existed.

How many former players — who retired after 1984 — do casual Flyers fans know by sight? Or who have stayed visible around the club for any serious amount of time? Brian Propp and Chris Therien – one former and one current broadcaster. That’s it.

Oh wait, one more: Ron Hextall.

Yes, the same Hextall who is now the assistant general manager of the Los Angeles Kings. Keep that in mind. He’s not here.

And yet, the goaltender who brooked no bullshit near his crease and made a career of defining his position even as he broke the old rules guiding it during his first tenure in Philly, is pretty much the only non-Broad Street Bully who has come close to earning the mantle of franchise representative.

Why is that? Because he holds the image of the rebel, the outsider, one who had to smash through the walls of convention and who wanted to win at all costs for the greater glory of his team.

Which sounds kinda like how Ed Snider positioned the Bobby Clarke and the Flyers nearly 40 years ago.

The NHL hates us because we win ugly…The officials are against us because we’re an expansion team….We can’t get a fair shake in Toronto because Canadians are prejudiced against Americans….The Original Six don’t respect us…My fellow owners are stodgy and unwilling to change…Yadda, yadda, yadda.

You don’t have to be in the press box or down in the locker room long to feel how that attitude still permeates from certain quarters.

You saw the last vestiges of that righteous anger in the ’99 playoffs when Snider blew his stack about a late-game penalty (in favor of the Maple Leafs) which allowed Toronto to win a deciding first-round Game 6 in Philly by a 1-0 count. It cost him $50G and further enhanced his folk hero status as defenders of Bullies honor.

But while Snider has been cementing his legacy, and simultaneously glorifying only himself over creating the Spectrum and endlessly mourning its loss, he forgot something. He’s 78 years old. He too close to the end to play the rebel. He has stuck around so long that he’s now the establishment.

The cracks showed. I saw it first in his curious indifference to criticism over the constant name-changing that Spectrum II has seen since it was christened the CoreStates Center in 1996, saying with a weak shrug “I thought it was a good deal at the time…”

A bigger example is his courting and backing of Republican politics in recent years, and the most egregious error of that being the folly of having Sarah Palin drop the puck at the home opener in ’09.

Which brings me to the bigger point about the franchise being stuck in the time warp — that the organization blatantly curries favor with its initial generation of fans, and will do everything in its power to back up that image.

The constant loop of old-time highlights for any occasion are one thing. So are the endless ticket drives and their commercials which always comprise quick cuts of hard checks, fights and goals — in that order.

The intentional muting of the true crowd reaction at Palin’s appearance for the Comcast broadcast is another. So is the intentional erasure of now departed players in the previous season’s highlight loop, something that’s rather obvious and plain wrong.

Simon Gagne got the treatment last year, with the backpedaled explanation that he’d get his own night (which he did, but why not have both?). This year, it’s Carter and Richards, and I don’t think they’re going to get nights when Columbus and LA come here early on.

What do we know about the real story from the 1980s besides Pelle dying and two Cup runs? The Legion of Doom era is just a blip on the radar despite its impact, curiously passed over quite a bit in team history.

Of 10 videos produced for the club’s Greatest Games DVD set 4 years ago, only two are from the ’80s and a whopping zero are from the ’90s. And inexplicably, there are three games total from the 2000 and 2004 playoff runs — both of which ended in the Conference Finals.

I guess we’re expected to suspend disbelief on a level found in TV shows like Gilligan’s Island: The Professor can make a radio out of a coconut but he can’t seem to fix a three-foot hole in a boat. The Flyers can execute some wonderful tricks while trying to win a Cup, except to find that simpler thing that can get them there.

The only real answer is for Snider, Clarke and Holmgren to step aside and for new blood — but smart hockey blood — to come in under Peter Luukko’s aegis and set about a total culture change.

Problem is, the first name on the list simply will not be removed except upon death, and the other two probably feel like they have earned the right to be Flyers for life after putting their life’s work into hockey.

Until then, don’t forget to pop in your 8-Track of “Penalty Box” the new hit from Dave Schultz, remember that I-95 ends at Girard Avenue, and that the Bruins and Canadiens and Rangers are the enemy. Set the thoughts of parading down Broad Street as the bellwether for the glory years of Philadelphia sports to the  soundtrack of Jethro Tull’s “Living in the Past.”

Because that’s the only way to be if you’re a true Flyers fan. Always waiting, always hoping, always defending the indefensible. And most times, you don’t even know why.

  • rgreen

    What does Republican politics have to do with the Flyers?? That proves they are stuck in the past???? If we had elected Palin we would probably be stuck with 9.2% unemployment and a three year recession with no end in sight. Boy is he stuck in the past.

  • rgreen

    What does Republican politics have to do with the Flyers?? That proves they are stuck in the past???? If we had elected Palin we would probably be stuck with 9.2% unemployment and a three year recession with no end in sight. Boy is he stuck in the past.

  • Bob H

    I slid the bit about Republican politics to illustrate a point about Snider living in the past i.e. where once he was viewed as a rebel for how he ran the Flyers and what the Bullies meant in the more traditional NHL, he’s now firmly set into that Establishment 35 years on, which means he’s become a lot like the owners he used to be different than — becoming more conservative and business-like.

    There were a ton of fans, who attended and didn’t attend, who were pissed off at the Palin thing and it was definite proof of a gap that didn’t exist before between owner/chairman and fans.

    But we’re not getting into a political debate here. Not by a long shot.

  • Bob H

    I slid the bit about Republican politics to illustrate a point about Snider living in the past i.e. where once he was viewed as a rebel for how he ran the Flyers and what the Bullies meant in the more traditional NHL, he’s now firmly set into that Establishment 35 years on, which means he’s become a lot like the owners he used to be different than — becoming more conservative and business-like.

    There were a ton of fans, who attended and didn’t attend, who were pissed off at the Palin thing and it was definite proof of a gap that didn’t exist before between owner/chairman and fans.

    But we’re not getting into a political debate here. Not by a long shot.

  • jenny

    I agree. I was a year old when the Flyers won their first cup, so no, those videos and pictures have no meaning for me. I wish they would stop playing those montages especially during the playoffs. One playoff game I went to a few years ago, the girl beside me wanted to know who the old fat lady was singing on the screen. Yes had to explain Kate Smith.

    Their current fan base who remembers the heartbreaks of the 1980s and the years of no playoffs, are the ones they need to start paying homage too. Get with 21st century Mr. Snider. Please :) Great post.

  • jenny

    I agree. I was a year old when the Flyers won their first cup, so no, those videos and pictures have no meaning for me. I wish they would stop playing those montages especially during the playoffs. One playoff game I went to a few years ago, the girl beside me wanted to know who the old fat lady was singing on the screen. Yes had to explain Kate Smith.

    Their current fan base who remembers the heartbreaks of the 1980s and the years of no playoffs, are the ones they need to start paying homage too. Get with 21st century Mr. Snider. Please :) Great post.