Last month I found myself in a very fortunate position amongst only 5,000 other Philadelphia Flyers faithful who were fortunate enough to land an invite to a very special screening of the new HBO Sports documentary titled, “The Broad Street Bullies“. Bullies took a look back at the back to back Stanley Cup Champion Philadelphia Flyers teams of 1973-74 and 1974-75. It was as brilliant a documentary as HBO has ever produced, and the special evening brought to us by Flyers chairman Ed Snider did not disappoint in anyway.
Prior to the special screening of the show that premieres May 4th on HBO at 10pm, Philadelphia Flyers long time P.A. announcer Lou Nolan took a few moments to welcome a very excited crowd of faithful fans, and give us a brief intro into what we were about to see. Next Ed Snider got on the microphone and riled up the crowd wih a quick pep rally type speech to pay tribute to his current teams big win over the New York Rangers last month, and promised the fans that they would be ready to take on the New Jersey Devils in this seasons playoffs. Ed Snider then asked us to sit back, relax and enjoy a piece of history.
After HBO Sports president Ross Greenberg spoke to the crowd it was time for the festivities. If anything the Philadelphia Flyers and Ed Snider always stay close to their roots and never hesitate to honor the things that made them so very special in the 1970’s. They brought out singer Lauren Hart, the daughter of the late great voice of the Flyers Gene Hart, and worked in a duet of “God Bless America” with a video of the Philadelphia Flyers old time, “good luck charm” Kate Smith. It was right then that this crowd knew they were in for a very special evening.
[adinserter block=”1″]The documentary began with a look at simple time hockey when the game was nothing more than a Canadian frozen pond game and big market cities failed to exist. Narrated as all HBO doc’s are by the confident, and true to the moment voice of Liev Schrieber, the documentary quickly turned into a Philadelphia story and spoke highly of the “gambles” taken by Ed Snider and his group to bring expansion hockey to Philadelphia in 1967 when the NHL had decided to go from its original 6 to 12 teams. One could not help but look on with a sense of amazement at the mere thought of this team not being instantly embraced. We learned quickly that this blue-collar town would need to see efforts of a blue collar team, and needed to have its hearts earned. Philly was not the town many of these guys wished to be in, but knew they would have to be in and fight for it as warriors more then just athletes.
As the doc moved on the memories continued to flow,and with it cheers poured through the crowd. The first big break-out was for Dave Shultz, who was claimed in the doc as “the man that brought the fight to Flyers hockey”. His style of play, relentless fighting, hard-nosed mentality and never quit force was seen as the very essence to which that team had become. Beer drinking, bar hopping, hockey fighting bad-asses that “won by sheer intimidation, but also had amazing hockey skill”. The stories of the brawls, the raw footage of opponents being laid out, and the blood was in a way slammed by the NHL of that time, but embraced by our city, because let’s face it,this is what Philly was. As former Flyers player and current Flyers analyst Bill Clement so cleverly stated in the doc, “we were loved in one part of the country and hated everywhere else”.
Bullies was more then just a hockey story, it was the story of a love affair between city and team. The Flyers were everything that Philadelphia was about during that time period. The people had loved them, and from everything you would hear and see they loved the people back, perhaps more. A bunch of tough guys as seen by most, were more or less a band of brothers that would die for one another and the fans of the city they played for. As then captain and long time Flyer great Bob Clarke stated, “I was always taught that you work while you play, it was the only way I knew how” and Clarkes approach was truly taught by example and followed through by his mates. This team had fun and worked hard, and the results spoke for themselves.
There were moments of all out crowd laughter, roaring applause, and in the words of some even former players like Bernie Parent, and Gary Dornhoeffer, “moments that choked everyone up”. I had the pleasure to meet Parent and Dornhoeffer along with HBO Sports president Greenberg after the viewing to get a feel for what it looked like to those who made and created the memories. Greenberg, humble and kind in his words stated that “we do it for the fans, and we do it for your enjoyment.” He also asked me, yes average guy me, if I felt the tear-jerking moments during the doc, in which I simply answered ” I could barely hold back tears”. Anyone associated with the evening, from Comcast brass, to HBO people, to the players themselves were fan friendly, smiling, and enjoying the moments as if we were all one big happy family looking at old home movies.
Through it all we learned that this team changed the game in so many ways. They were the anti-heroes, until they were needed to be heroes,like when they took down the mighty Soviet Union team, right here on the old Spectrum ice, and brought a sense of pride back to the North American style of hockey. They were called goons, and brutes, yet that style of play was soon duplicated and imitated by every team in the league. Changing the rules? You better believe it! Fighting was their way of simply saying that they would not be pushed around by anyone, ever again. Snider referred back to a time when his team was “beat senseless” in a playoff series versus the St. Louis Blues in 1970. ” I swore at that point that we would need to get tougher and stronger. We may not win all the time, but boy we will kick your butt”.
At the end of the doc, with fans standing and chanting the classic “Let’s Go Flyers”, Nolan came back to the mic and introduced several members of that team that had attended the event. To see the faces, still smiling and knowing that their “rockstar” status would never, ever die in this town was an honor, and a privilege that a long time hockey fan like me was amazed to be a part of. You just don’t see teams come around like this very often. To be honored and looked upon as a generation changing club speaks volumes, that no matter how much the NHL seemed disgraced by what the Flyers were doing back then, it knows full well today that the game would not have been the same without it.
[adinserter block=”2″]Love them or hate them, as some of the out of town journalist expressed during the doc, the league was in a way saved by the Flyers. The city of Philadelphia, known as sports “losers” was also saved by the Flyers. 2 million people came to root them on in a parade following the first cup win, the most to ever attend any event in the city. They brought the people together, in all forms. As former player Ed Van Impe stated “it didn’t matter if you were a guy or a girl, black or white, you were a Flyers fan at that time”, and quite frankly as we look back at this documentary, and others look back as well, it will make everyone a fan of what this team was. Yes maybe it was brute force and some beatings were dealt out along the way, but when hockey legends like Phil Esposito can come out and call you ” a great hockey team” you know you have made your mark. This team certainly has left its mark, as perhaps the most feared and wild bunch of actual hockey talent ever assembled.
So I urge you all Philly fans or not to sit yourself down in front of the TV on May 4th and see what I saw. Feel the magic that was 1970’s hockey. When you get a chance to look back at history making material, you take it in, learn from it and walk away with a thought of “wow imagine if…” and know that what you see today makes you owe these guys a thank you. I was just happy I had a chance to thank several of them in person, they truly deserve it.
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