If you’re from Philadelphia, ya gotta love this

Toothless but tough: Bobby Clarke, captain of the Broad Street Bullies — the Philadelphia Flyers of the 1970s.



NEW YORK, April 18, 2010 — This time, it’s personal.

Seldom does one get the chance to evaluate a TV show from the vantage point of personal experience, but this new HBO documentary on the rough-and-tumble Philadelphia Flyers of the mid-’70s hit me right where I live — or, more specifically, lived.

And I have to say that this documentary, titled “Broad Street Bullies” (and premiering May 4 on HBO), gets so many of the details right that watching a preview DVD was like taking a trip back in time — to the Philadelphia of 1974 and ’75, when the city’s sports teams didn’t give their fans much to cheer about.

That’s one of the details this documentary notes right up front as it tells the story of an expansion hockey team, established in 1967, that became notorious for adopting a strategy for winning that was based on fighting, without regard for penalties.  The strategy, coupled with some formidable talent in hockey fundamentals (along with an innovative coach, Fred Shero, and one of the stingiest goalies in hockey history, Bernie Parent),  led to two consecutive Stanley Cup championships in 1973-’74 and ’74-’75.

‘Mass ecstasy’: The Flyers win the Stanley Cup.

And, as the documentary reports, the city went nuts.

We had never experienced anything like this before, and I remember that on the night of May 19, 1974 — maybe 15 minutes after the Flyers clinched their first Stanley Cup championship in a game the entire Delaware Valley watched on television — we all heard something we had never heard before in our sleepy suburban neighborhood on the city’s western border.  It was the honking of car horns up the street on City Line Avenue.  We walked up there to watch and came face-to face with a phenomenon I can only describe as mass ecstasy.  The horn-honking lasted far into the night.

Another detail lovingly recounted in “Broad Street Bullies”: The song that improbably became the team’s good luck charm — a 1938 recording of “God Bless America” by Kate Smith.  Smith herself turned up in Philadelphia, standing in a single spotlight in center ice to sing the song before the final game of the ’73-’74 series.  Her appearance floored the entire city.  Even at age 67, Kate Smith was a real belter, and she brought the house down.  In “Broad Street Bullies,” Bernie Parent testifies in a present-day interview that he found her awe-inspiring and the Flyers won.

Fun-loving Bernie also revealed another detail: That he loved the Three Stooges (and still does) and would watch them to relax before games.  Boy, did THAT bring back memories; in those days, Channel 29 aired an hour of Stooges (three short films) every afternoon that was must-see, after-school viewing.  It boggles my middle-aged imagination today to learn that Bernie Parent was watching the same silly Stooges movies I watched every afternoon.

As this documentary notes, the Flyers players of the mid-’70s became the most beloved athletes in the history of Philadelphia sports — before or since.  In “Broad Street Bullies,” many of them are on hand for present-day interviews, a thrill for a Philadelphian who hasn’t lived there for 30 years and hasn’t thought about this band of Flyers in at least that length of time.  But here they are: Dave Schultz, Bobby Clarke, the Stooges-loving Bernie Parent, Bob Kelly, Bill Barber, Gary Dornhoefer, Ed Van Impe, Orest Kindrachuk (a great hockey name, ay?) and even Ed Snider, the team’s owner who baldly admits that fighting for the purpose of intimidation was a strategy wholly endorsed and encouraged by Flyers management.

Though I rarely think about these individual players, a paperweight here on my desk never lets me forget the Philadelphia Flyers phenomenon from those bygone days.  It’s a Philadelphia Flyers puck, the only door prize I ever won, bestowed in a raffle at our synagogue some time in the Flyers heyday, given to me by the guest speaker that evening, Flyers defenseman Barry Ashbee.

Sure, we Philadelphians remember these Flyers, and Philadelphians of a certain age, or any age, will love this “Broad Street Bullies” documentary.  But other than us city natives, whoever cared about Philadelphia?  No one, and that suits us just fine.

Contact Adam Buckman: AdamBuckman14@gmail.com



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