Philadelphia Flyers’ fans are clearly the very best in the National Hockey League. They support their club like no others. I don’t mean just showing up at games, we’re talking about the amount of pride they take in wearing the orange and black. Flyers’ fans do it right, every game. And that’s why they deserve their first Stanley Cup since 1975.
When the NHL doubled in size in 1967, the Flyers were granted a franchise. And, from the beginning, current Flyers’ owner Ed Snider was fully involved. Snider got The Spectrum built for the franchise, and they immediately began building a winner. Just two years later, they drafted the two players who would set the tone of the franchise to this day – Bobby Clarke and Dave “The Hammer” Schultz.
The Flyers immediately began to intimidate other NHL teams, and the fans were lovin’ it! What’s not to love? You never knew what you were going to get when you came to The Spectrum – but you could bet it would be entertaining. And, in January 1973, the Philadelphia Bulletin coined the nickname “Broad Street Bullies.” It was a perfect fit for a tough city that has always endured. It was the first major industrial city in the United States. There’s no Broadway or Rodeo Drive or Magnificent Mile in Philly. Never gonna be. And that’s how they like it.
When the Bullies started winning regularly in the mid-seventies, the fans were as much a part of the game as the team. Almost every NHL player of the ’70s listed Philadelphia as their least favourite place to play.
Do you know “Sign Man?” He’s in the background of the image at the top of this piece. When Dave Leonardi began holding up signs aimed at opposing players and officials in the early 1970s, it was another perfect fit for mouthy Philly. He’d hold up “TKO SCHULTZ” after a fight victory by The Hammer. Or “HAVE A NICE SUMMER” as the Flyers were winning another playoff series. My favourites came in 1976, during an absolutely bizarre exhibition game. Leonardi held up “TELL IT TO THE CZAR!” and “BRING ON THE MARTIANS” when the Soviets left the ice at The Spectrum to protest what they felt was rough play by the Flyers. Philly fans booed the Russians! And they should have! And, talking to Hockey Night in Canada’s Brian McFarlane, Flyers’ captain Bobby Clarke summed up the feelings in Philadelphia perfectly.
Since those glory days in the mid-’70s, the Flyers have been to the Stanley Cup Final five times. Not one championship. Not one. Even though this Flyers’ team is built more on speed than ruggedness, players like Dan Carcillo and Scott Hartnell still exude toughness.
The Flyers’ are their fans. The two are inextricably linked. When you support your team this hard, for this long, you deserve success. And that’s what Philadelphia fans have earned – a Stanley Cup championship. You know Canadiens’ coach Jacques Martin is telling his players to ignore the crowd. To take them out of the game. Problem is, in Philly, it’s impossible to take the crowd out of the game. And that’s the beauty of it.