It began as a bit of an experiment. Lou Scheinfeld, the President of the Spectrum, wasn't happy with the way fans at Flyers games were ignoring the singing of The Star-Spangled Banner before home games. So in an attempt to get them to pay attention, Scheinfeld decided to play a recording of Kate Smith's rendition of God Bless America.
The switch wasn't received so well, leading to protests even, but the Flyers happened to win each and every time it was played. People began to notice this and before long, we had the tradition that still lives on today, where the Flyers trot out Kate's rendition of God Bless America in big games to psych up the crowd to intimidating levels.
But even after her voice rang through the Spectrum some near 40 times, Kate had never performed the tune live in person. Gene Hart's 1990 book, SCORE, tells the story behind why she initially didn't want to perform at the Spectrum in front of the Flyers crowd and how she was eventually convinced to do so.
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It was learned that Kate had declined because she was sincerely and deeply concerned about how a rough, tough modern-day sports crowd would react to a singer whose career had been totally in eclipse. [...]
Despite all of her concerns, and despite her previous rejections of the idea, Kate was finally convinced to give it a try. It was agreed by all concerned that this live appearance would not be advertised in any way. This would truly be a secret mission by the Flyers' secret weapon, known only by Kate and her closest associates, a few people in the Flyers' front office, and the chauffeur who would drive a limousine to Long Island and transport Kate to the Spectrum.
Cut to opening night against Toronto, 1973. Immediately following player introductions:
Then, from public address announcer Lou Nolan came these words: "At the beginning of a new season, would you all please rise and join us in the singing of 'God Bless America'..." (a roar from the crowd) "... with Kate Smith..." (a mightier roar) "... LIVE!"
When Kate walked out onto that carpet, the building literally exploded with an ovation that rose in a crescendo until it was absolutely deafening. In all of the great events that I've witnessed, in sports and otherwise, I've never heard a warmer ovation. Anyone who didn't have chills or goose bumps had to be someone who couldn't be inspired by anything.
Those goose bumps are with many of us still today, even if we weren't alive when Kate first made her appearance at the Spectrum. According to the Flyers via the Daily News, the team is 81-21-4 when Kate sings. I'm not sure if that includes her duets with Lauren Hart, but when the Flyers trot her out with the daughter of the Voice to this day, the building is always electric. It has the same effect it had in 1973 -- pump up the crowd, get them loud, and in turn, pump up the Flyers.
The Philadelphia Daily News is currently running a series of stories on Philadelphia fandom in general, and according to a survey they conducted, Kate's rendition of God Bless America is still this town's favorite sports tradition.
In a Daily News survey of Philadelphia sports fans conducted with the Sport Industry Research Center at Temple University, 43 percent of the respondents identified Kate Smith as our favorite sports tradition.
Flyers chairman Ed Snider said "God Bless America" became a "phenomenon."
"Very exciting," Snider said. "When [Kate Smith] came in person to sing, it was mind-boggling. Who can explain it? To this day, when we play the record with Kate and Lauren Hart, it gets the crowd going."
I have a very basic question to ask, however. In recent months and over the last few years, I've heard a lot of complaints from people who think the Flyers throw the duet out there too often. It loses it's mystique when overused, according to these people.
For example, a lot of people simply don't think it should've been played at the season finale this year against the Rangers. There's no doubt it was a big game, but it's almost embarrassing that they needed that win to get in, right? Playing Kate in that instance, to some people, is borderline disrepectful.
So where do you fall in this debate?