Sure, they were never not popular. But as recently as 2009, the Flyers were looked on as being closer to the Sixers in terms of popularity than they were to the surging Phillies, who were (and still are) the toast of the town. There will be folks – mostly the Hardcore (capital H, if I can douchily borrow a line from Charlie Sheen) – who disagree with that assertion and claim that the Flyers have always been on the level with the Phillies and Eagles. And while that sentiment may ring true for many brief stints over the last 40 or so years, the fact remains that from the mid-2000s until the spring of 2010, the Flyers had been pushed closer to the backs of people’s minds than the fronts (-ducks!-)*.
*Blame the lockout, staleness, the Eagles' and Phillies' success– whatever. It’s true.
At some point (I believe it was right around Simon Gagne’s go-ahead goal in Game 7 of the 2010 Eastern Conference Semifinals), that all changed. A Stanley Cup run, a very successful regular season, a modicum of sameness with the Phillies, and the offseason hysteria generated by trading Mike Richards and Jeff Carter and signing of Ilya Bryzgalov all helped push the Flyers to the forefront, especially with the Phillies frustratingly pissing away their 102-win season and the Eagles being nothing more than the NFL equivalent of a knock-knock joke (sometimes worth a laugh, but mostly just pathetic).
Now we have the Winter Classic, 24/7 and the emergence of Claude Giroux – wooer of all beings, both male and female – as the best hockey player in the world(?). Those things have brought the Flyers back to elite status in Philadelphia– right now, at least until the spring, they’re the number one team in a city that mostly hates its football team. We’re talking about hockey two days before a meaningful Eagles-Cowboys game on Christmas Eve!
So now, we get to experience the sort of lust we felt towards the Phillies in 2008 and 2009 with the Flyers– Everything Bryz says is funny, people are sending me screen caps of Jaromir Jagr hugging Giroux, Jagr wearing a cop hat…
… Lavs has been called everything from pimp to gangsta to boss, and I received this Tweet:
@CrossingBroad After seeing 24/7 I think Lavs has the weight advantage.Is it a coincidence that Giroux and God start with the same letter?
— James nowrey (@JIMinAC) December 22, 2011
We’re in love… and it’s all being fueled by the unprecedented access given to HBO. Seriously, this might be the greatest marketing coup ever for the Flyers, and they don’t even have to do anything other than be themselves. And win. Winning is good.
Hollywood stars are penning love letters to the Flyers which are being ran in Entertainment Weekly.
What sort of awesomely bizarro world is this?!
Today, Entertainment Weekly ran an excerpt of an article David Boreanaz – a fellow Malvern Prep grad, I might add – penned for the Winter Classic program. Read some of this: [full excerpt on Entertainment Weekly]
There’s no team that so completely reflects its city the way the Flyers do. Philadelphia is a blue collar, hard-working city with a flair for excitement. Sure, it can be a little rough and tumble on the outside, but on the inside it’s just about love for the game. All games. It’s just a great sports town. The fans treat the players like they’re family. So when guys like Clarke and Barber gave way to the Legion of Doom and on up to the skilled players we have today like Claude Giroux and James van Reimsdyk, the fans never let go of that old Broad Street Bullies legend. When you play for Philadelphia, it’s not about the name on the back, it’s about the crest on the front. You play your heart out for the organization and no matter what happens with trades or whatever, you are a Philadelphia Flyer. You embrace it.
Over the years, I saw some games I will never, ever forget. I was there when Bill Barber got his 1,000th point and all the pamphlets fell from the Spectrum ceiling. I think I still have one of them in a box somewhere. Or Game 6 of the 2004 Playoffs against Tampa Bay, when Keith Primeau scored that crazy wraparound goal and the Wachovia Center collectively went nuts. I remember getting to go down to the locker room and talking to Jeremy Roenick after that game and seeing him with this huge ice pack on his shoulder and knowing there was no way they were going to win Game 7 — they were beat — but that comeback in Game 6 was unforgettable.
Well… he made himself sound like a normal fan up until that part about going into the locker room… but you get the point– he’s gushing, gushing over the Flyers. He’s legit, too, both in Hollywood and in his Philly fandom. Cool stuff, no other way to describe it.
Now, let’s talk about some other moments from 24/7.
Lavs is coming across so goddamn well in that show. By far, the facet I was most looking forward to was seeing Lavs uncut. We see his tirades on the bench, the gum removal, the fist pounding and his forceful demeanor in press conferences, but we all wanted to know what he was really like.
He’s perfect (in the role of hockey coach, of course).
He’s serious and stern, but his speeches to the team, at least so far, hardly show him losing control, which is something that we certainly saw from Bruce Boudreau last year and see John Tortorella approaching this year.
Lavs’ speech to the team after getting waxed by the Bruins was the complete opposite of what most of us expected. Rick Pitino once said (yeah, I hate myself for that– but this is good) that when things are going well, you go hard on your team… but when they’re going badly, you take it easy, because kicking a team while they’re down is a sure-fire way to lose them. Lavs subscribed to that philosophy after the Bruins game. He didn’t scream and yell… rather, while you could tell he was upset, he addressed the team thusly:
“From the time the puck dropped until we got back here right now, we didn’t do much right today. In saying that, let it burn a little bit, keep it inside of you, let it burn and then take it with us on the road. Keep your heads up and then stay positive, because for 10 games now, we’ve been doing the right things. It did not go our way today. Pretty simple. So leave it. But let it burn, take it into the next game, fix it, get it straight and move on. Alright?"
Incredibly – surprisingly – his voice changes when he’s in Boss mode (capital B, yo). Instead of the usual unique, precise statements crawling out from under his pursed lips, Lavs takes on the voice of an action flick commando when he addresses the team. It’s like his speeches are being read from a Hollywood script. Somewhere, Gordon Bombay and Kurt Russell’s Herb Brooks are huddled under an arena fapping away at the vocalized stylings of Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette.
And his whole philosophy about there being “two points on the line"? It’s so simple and elegant that even a dead Steve Jobs would take pause at its Zen-like quality. Peter Laviolette: the coaching equivalent of an iPhone.
There was more, too:
“Hartsy– 200, eh? Congrats. That’s 200 more than me… Twelve games, no points”… His use of “frickin” to censor himself in front of the refs… and the fan-like quality he displayed in believing there was a Montreal bias. All perfect.
We’re so enamored with this whole thing that it’s taken my about 2,000 words to get to this quote from Zac Rinaldo* about Jagr:
“He was on the Sega Genesis. Sega Genesis– I used to play that game religiously. And I used to… I never used to be Jags, I didn’t like that type of player, but I used to play against Jags in the Sega. I was Eric Lindros.”
*Is there any doubt that Rinaldo, seen here in a club suite with Jeff Carter and a porn star, and Harry Scrabble are absolutely slaying right now? Like, any doubt? At all? I’m applauding their efforts I don’t even know about. Well done, guys. Well done!
This whole Winter Classic-24/7 experience, from a fan's perspective, has been fascinating thus far. And as we conclude this love affair – for now – we’ll leave you with this, courtesy of reader (@ACiaccia):
Merry Christmas, Flyers fans.