How well I remember my first Flyers game. It was the day after my sixth birthday when my dad brought me to see the orange and black for the first time at what was then called the Wachovia Center. I distinctly remember watching Sami Kapanen flying down the left wing going one on one with Sabres’ defenseman Brian Campbell when just then my father screamed at the top of his lungs, "rip it!!!" immediately after which number 24 fired a slap-shot over the left shoulder of Ryan Miller to score. My father, a lifelong Philly sports fan, had held season tickets to the Flyers for much of his adult life from his time in college until a few years after I was born. My father grew up during the Broad Street Bullies’ era in the 70’s, watching Bobby Clarke lift the cup twice in 74 and 75 on television listening to Gene Hart, a mere boy of eleven and twelve. He was at the Philadelphia Spectrum for Dave Poulin’s short-handed goal to send the Flyers to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1985, likewise he was at game 6 for JJ Daigneault’s game winning clapper from the left point in 1987; he was always there, on the roof of the old dumpy Spectrum, cheering on our Flyers. People always have something to look forward to, to help them get through the day or the week; in America its often Sunday for football, in Europe its soccer, but for me I look forward to the Flyers, they get me through the days. Growing up in Yardley, PA, a 40-minute ride down I-95 from the now Wells Fargo Center, the orange and black quickly struck a chord in the hearts of my brother and me. But unlike our dad, my brother and I grew up never getting to see Lord Stanley’s Cup raised by a Philly Captain and in recent years the team has caused us more heartache than joy, so we often wonder why we care so much about a hockey team that hasn’t won in 43 years.
Last spring after the Flyers were blown out in game 4 to go down in the series 3-1 my brother and I said we wouldn’t watch the game, as we both agreed it was hopeless. I went to a party in Philly and my brother went to some bar. Sporadically I checked the score of the game on my phone, 1-0 Flyers, 1-1, 2-1 Penguins, and eventually 2-2 - after which promptly I bought hulu premium for $40 a month and watched the entire third period on my phone alone in the corner of some girls’ basement hiding from my friends. Couturier scored late to take the lead and I screamed "f$#* yeah" drawing an embarrassing attention to myself. But as usual the black and orange could not go more then one minute of play without giving me heart palpitations as Sidney Crosby had an open net with less than a minute left, but Michal Neuvirth stuck his glove up and kept the lead - prompting Jim Jackson’s famous "left-handed larceny." The Flyers would lose game six, blowing a two-goal lead, leaving hopeful fans like my brother and I (again) devastated. This wasn’t the first time the Flyers had sent me into a depression like state and I’m sure it is far from the last. But after months of mourning and trying to forget, sure enough, come October 4th there I was, walking around college with my Giroux jersey on ready to give them another chance, and this is what I want to talk about.
How many times I’ve been on a long drive in the car by myself and I get tired of my music, and I switch to YouTube. Usually I listen to the highlights of the 2010 series against Boston, or something Flyers related like that. Sometimes I listen to Flyers moments I didn’t get to see live – Daigneault’s goal, Bobby Clarke’s goal in game 2, Primeau’s goal against Pittsburgh, or JR’S goal against Toronto. Afterwards, I often say to myself, "I’m such a loser for watching these over and over", but I don’t care. I assure you that the next time I drive home from college I’ll do what I just told you. To quote what another writer said about this team, "they have become a source of therapy for me." They pick me up when I’m down, give me a sense of belonging, make me feel a part of something, and most of all they make my life feel more complete. I feel better when I watch them, I look forward to texting my brother during the games, I love being home waking up to a text from my dad reading "clean your room or no Flyers game tonight" (the only reason I ever do that chore.)
I always refer to the Philadelphia Flyers as my "favorite thing", in addition to being my favorite sports team, and this year in particular has helped me realize why. Oftentimes people stop following a team if they have a poor couple of seasons; they stop watching the games and find something else to put their hearts into. My brother and I always talk about why we care so much about a team that hasn’t won a playoff series since 2012. My brother suggested that we "watch out of apathy", merely watching just because it’s something to watch without really caring, but we know that isn’t true; we watch because it’s what we love to do and it’s who we are. Not a Flyers game goes by that my brother and I don’t text each other during and after – often a "why is he on the ice" or "this is brutal" is said. Whether it was Gagne’s goal in game 4 when we were 10 and 14, or if it was Giroux’s OT goal against Boston last year when we were 18 and 22– there’s always a subconscious "yes!" - immediately followed by a high five. In contrast whether it was Marco Sturm’s goal to win the Winter Classic, or Manning’s own goal also against Boston, much to the dismay of our mother, multiple profanities are screamed by us both, regardless of age. We live and die with them.
I always joke with my mother and tell her that when I’m older and a successful Philadelphia lawyer with Flyers season tickets, I will take all my first-dates to a game, as my dad did with her and they’re still married (knock on wood.) I listen to broad street hockey radio and listen to the guys talk about how the 20 guys in that locker room simply aren’t the Flyers that people grew up with and loved. Whether it’s people like my dad who grew up watching Bobby Clarke, Bernie Parent and Bill Barber, people who grew up watching Dave Poulin, Mark Howe, Lindbergh and Hextall, people who grew up watching Recchi, Lindros, and Leclair or people my age who grew up watching Gagne, Forsberg, Richards, Briere and Kimmo Timonen; people always seemed to be able to find something in those Flyers teams. But that something appears to be absent in recent years and this year especially. I remember when I was young I’d look to Donald Brashear for a big hit, or to Simon Gagne for a big goal, but now it just doesn’t feel like the team is a threat anymore, sad and stupid as it may sound. But the Broad Street Bullies and the Flyers my dad’s generation faithfully cheered on for years have since grown obsolete. Anyone fan who has watched the Flyers of late, must notice the absence of physicality for which the organization is famous for, recognize the lack of offensive production and poor defense, and sees how quickly the team is able to just collapse, as we saw just the other night against Ottawa, a game I drove almost six hours round trip for. Prior to this, general manager Ron Hextall was fired, and following the loss on Tuesday so was his assistant and so was assistant coach Gord Murphy, but Dave Hakstol remains on the Flyers’ payroll, much to the chagrin of many fans, myself included. I was not a fan of Ron Hextall as a GM, dealing Brayden Schenn to the Blues for Lehtera and a few picks, sending Coburn to Tampa Bay for Gudas and a first-rounder, sending Hartnell to Columbus for Umberger who was awful when he came back to Philly and finally a move that I feel simply sums up the team the Flyers have become; and that was trading away enforcer Zac Rinaldo for a third round pick. That’s what Hextall set the flyers up to be, a very young and very non-aggressive team, and so they have become one. Even though Hextall himself had his famous history of aggression, but for whatever reason it appeared that Hextall wanted to steer the Flyers away from what some would call "old-time hockey."
I was at game five of the World Series in 2008 with my brother and dad when the Phillies won and I was watching with my family when the birds won last February, but neither made me feel the way the Flyers have. Don’t get me wrong it was incredible having the Eagles beat the Pats and win their first Super Bowl, but it hardly compared to watching Jeff Carter send the Flyers to the Stanley Cup in 2010. I was screaming as loud as anyone when Brad Lidge struck out Eric Hinske in 2008, but I screamed decibels louder when Joffrey Lupul scored in 2008 against the Capitals. I don’t know why, when my friends and I talk about favorite sports moments I say Simon Gagne’s goal in OT in game 4 against Boston and they look at me like I have five heads. Common comebacks to my favorite moment include "Are you kidding me how is that better then the Super Bowl??" "When was the last time they won?" or "You’re a fake Philly fan"; to which I simply reply, "I’m not fake Philly fan, I’m just the biggest Flyers fan." Sure the super bowl and the World Series were bigger events, but none incited as much happiness as that goal which I watched with my dad from some 20 feet behind Tuukka Rask. I haven’t missed an entire game since game four of the 2012 playoffs against Pittsburgh because of a dumb little league game. That first game I went to, they lost 6-5 to the Sabres. I cried after that game, I cried later that very year when Danny Briere’s Sabres waxed us in game 7, I cried when we lost to the Penguins in 2008, and you bet I cried when they lost in 2010. But I also yelled in joy as loud as I could when Giroux scored in OT against Chicago, as I did when he fought Crosby in Game 3 in 2012 and other times like Boucher’s save on Jokinen, Carcillo’s OT winner against the Devils, Richards’ shorthanded goal in game 5, Giroux’s hit on Crosby followed by a goal in game 6, and the list goes on and on. The low points, more frequent then the high ones lately, suck, they always will suck and they always will be there, but the high moments make it worth all the heartache and they help us remember how the Flyers can make us feel. I get that someone could be reading this and wondering why a kid cares this much about a hockey team, and a particularly bad one as of late. But the best reason I can give is that they are always there for me, they will always keep my brother, dad, and me close; they give us all something to cheer for and as silly as it may sound, something to believe in. This team will do it one day, it may not be in the near future, it may not be Claude Giroux who gets to raise the cup as Captain, it may not be Jim Jackson repeating what Gene Hart said in 1974, but one day, despite all that has and will happen to our team, someone will say "The Flyers win the Stanley Cup" - that’s why I watch, and why I always will.