Happy season opener, Flyers fans.
Ahead of the puck drop in Prague, you should know that you have not been forgotten. We have not forsaken you or the team you’ve loyally supported for many years now.
When I say, “we,” I’m talking about the Philadelphia sports fan who does not identify as a hockey diehard. I’m talking your typical Eagles fan, a casual ‘four for four’ guy, or even fringe folks who watch big five basketball, soccer, and other sports that occupy a place on the fringes of the Delaware Valley sporting spectrum.
If you feel like you yourself exist on the periphery, that the Flyers don’t get enough respect or media coverage in 2019, you’re probably right, but you should understand that this is just a natural occurrence that affects every franchise. This is the cyclical nature of sport, where teams hit peaks and valleys in popularity that directly correlates to wins and losses. The Sixers struggled immensely though the Process years, then finally righted the ship, and now they command significant attention. The Phillies won a World Series, then fell off hard before going out and signing Bryce Harper, which resulted in a boost to attendance and TV ratings. Round and round we go, as RATT’s Stephen Pearcy once sang.
The Flyers haven’t been great for some time now, but we don’t have to go back too far to remind ourselves of what Philadelphia looks like when the orange and black are rolling. The Cinderella playoff run leading to the 2010 Stanley Cup final was all over sports radio and newspaper headlines here in town. People were lining Broad Street, packing bars, and tuning in on television. Hockey trumped basketball and sometimes even football back then, a unique time towards the end of Andy Reid’s tenure when the Phillies were also pulling attention from a typically market-dominant NFL team.
One of my earliest Philadelphia sporting memories was the 1995 Stanley Cup playoffs, game one against the Buffalo Sabres at the Spectrum. This was the Flyers’ first playoff appearance following a five year drought and first run with the Legion of Doom line, which was made possible when first-year GM Bobby Clarke sent Mark Recchi to Montreal for John LeClair and Eric Desjardins.
I was only 11 years old at the time, but holy cannoli was that place rocking. The Flyers went on to win 4-3 on a Karl Dykhuis overtime goal while scores of fans chanted “Haaaaa-shit” in unison as a rudimentary alteration of Dominik Hasek’s last name. Truth is, that experience sticks in my memory more than any Eagles, Phillies, or Sixers game my dad ever took me to.
Even recent playoff history remains clear in my mind. I’m thinking Flyers/Penguins in 2012, with Craig Adams pulling Scott Hartnell’s hair in a failed attempt to get out of a headlock. I can recall Ville Leino’s overtime game winner in Buffalo during game six back in 2011. Mike Richards’ short-handed goal against the Canadiens was an all-time highlight. Those games led the sports block on Eyewitness News while the Eagles and Phillies and Sixers took a back seat.
Point being, I think the Flyers are absolutely part of Philadelphia’s sporting DNA, much more than we’re lead to believe. The running joke that “the Flyers have 100,000 fans, and they’re all from Delco” might be good for a laugh, but it feels a little off-base to me. My dad and uncles always had the games on, watching from the late 80s through the early part of the Aughts. We were stuck in a TV-less hunting camp in Philipsburg during the 1997 final but found a shit bar near Black Moshannon State Park to bail us out. No way were we gonna listen to the radio broadcast.
Obviously demographics change, and nobody is going to sit here and claim that hockey is as popular with the millennial crowd as basketball or football, but if it feels like the NHL exists on the outskirts of Philadelphia, I really truly only believe that’s because the Flyers haven’t won a playoff series since 2012. There’s a funky malaise that hangs over the franchise, that lingering idea that it’s a “good old boy” network of retreads and familiar faces, which feels like an incomplete narrative to me considering the fact that Dave Hakstol was a college coach from North Dakota with zero ties to the Flyers of this era, or the late Ed Snider’s era.
And if we’re splitting hairs over the source of the conflict, I honestly think the complex is one of superiority rather than inferiority. Sure, y’all be a pain in the ass sometimes, like when you complain about a lack of hockey coverage, then somebody writes something and you respond by saying that they “don’t fucking know anything about the sport.” That can be a bit annoying, but the dismissive attitude I personally believe originates with people in a position to talk hockey, but don’t care to actually learn the game or even turn it on.
So I don’t have any doubts that the Flyers will be a respectable franchise again at some point in the future. These things are, again, cyclical; and the reason the Flyers and their fans get dragged in 2019 is because the team just hasn’t been very good lately. One needs to go back only four years, when the Sixers were 10-72 and the joke of the entire country. Now they’re a favorite to win the Eastern Conference and contend for a title.
It’s the same thing here. When (or if) Chuck Fletcher and Alain Vigneault figure it out, we’ll flip the script in the same way the Sixers and Phillies have been able to do in the past.
I can only speak for myself, but, honest to God, Philly is a better sports town when the Flyers are good.