Despite growing up in Maryland, my dad made it pretty hard for me to be anything other than a Philadelphia Flyers fan. Born in Yardley, he was a die-hard fan of each Philly team, but the Flyers were his clear favorite. Throughout my childhood, he purchased partial season tickets and NHL Center Ice so we could watch the Orange and Black despite being two hours away from our favorite team. Even when things got a little tight financially during my time in high school, we always found a way to watch the Flyers, in person or on television.
My dad, Ian (my brother), and I watched a lot of great Flyers’ moments unfold together. Aside from the obvious Philly classics, Game 2 of the 2004 Eastern Conference Final is one that always comes to mind. The three of us neglected the rest of our family for a few hours during a family reunion as we dipped out into the basement of our aunt’s house to watch the Orange and Black wax the Tampa Bay Lightning. Even though we had several memories like this, nothing will really compare to one season in particular.
My father had suffered from sleep apnea for many years and wanted to change it, so in September of 2010 he went in for three separate surgeries. After my first week as a junior at Arcadia University, I called my dad to see how his surgeries went. He said he was fine and we joked around for a bit, as I assumed everything was fine until early the following week. Three days later on Labor Day I received a text from Ian that was pretty cryptic: “Dad’s in the hospital. I’ll tell you more later.” I was confused and nervous, and I think everybody around my dad at the time was as well. What happened was 40% of his lungs were filled with blood and if my brother hadn’t been talking to him in person to recognize his decreased movement, as well as the paleness in his skin, he could have died that day.
Luckily, he didn’t. He was in a coma for several weeks following the episode, and I came home from school each weekend to see him at Upper Chesapeake Hospital in Bel Air, Maryland. Eventually he regained consciousness and his voice, which he used (yet again) to remind me about my short game. Shortly after his voice came back, he was transferred to Good Shepherd in Philly, where he’d stay until he had fully recovered and was released on my birthday, November 2nd. Unfortunately, during his time at Good Shepherd they discovered a cancerous tumor on my dad’s lung. It was benign, so surgery to remove it wasn’t immediate, but was required in the near future.
The 2010-11 season is one I’ll never forget for a few reasons. I’ll remember the games my dad, Ian, and I went to together, even though the Flyers lost nearly every game we attended that year. I’ll also remember the start to my writing career. Forsythe and the Flyers was a terrible name, and it seemed as though the only person paying attention was somebody who would often show up in the comments by the name BigTimeTom (ironically, this person shared the same first name as my dad. Weird.), but it led me to the site formerly known as Flyers Faithful, and now here.
Some of the things I remember most occurred during the 2011 postseason. Since I was still at school when the Flyers started their series against the Buffalo Sabres, we couldn’t watch the first four games of the series together. Thanks to my dad’s spontaneity, however, he and I went to Game 5. He called me at around 3 o’clock in the afternoon that Friday and asked me if I wanted to go, even though he already bought the tickets. I then waited for him outside the Wells Fargo Center before he showed up at about 6:55pm. After we rushed into the arena and sat down, I asked him how much the tickets were. He said, “Craig, don’t worry about it. You only live once.”
The Flyers ultimately lost the game, but the ride home was more significant. As we pulled into my apartment complex, my dad parked rather than saying bye and dropping me off like he usually did. We talked for half an hour, mainly about the game and a little bit about his upcoming surgery he had less than a week later for the tumor. I remember saying I was happy he was still around after everything that had happened. He told me he was too and that he wasn’t going anywhere for awhile.
We watched Game 7 of that series together at my grandmother’s house. After seeing the Flyers win, we went to bed and woke up a little before 4 am, as I drove him to the University of Pennsylvania for surgery at 5am. Several hours later, the tumor was successfully removed.
He was making progress in his recovery from the surgery until May 2nd, when he had an extremely high fever the night before he was supposed to be released from the hospital. He remained in the hospital and fell back into a coma. A few days later, on May 7th, my father endured what was probably the most intense episode since his original surgeries.
It was a Saturday and I was talking to my girlfriend-at-the-time Madie about going to see my father. I was about to get in my car when my dad’s doctor called to tell me I should come see him today. Concerned, we arrived at the hospital within the hour and he was still in a coma that he had relapsed into a few days earlier. The doctor said he was doing better than he was in the morning when she called me. Madie and I, as well as my grandmother and brother who were already at the hospital, then went down to grab some lunch in U. Penn’s cafeteria. When we came back upstairs, we turned the corner and looked down the hall, where several doctors were surrounding my dad’s room. As I moved closer and looked into my dad’s room, more doctors were around my dad’s bed and looked panicked, attempting to figure out how to keep my dad’s heart from slowing down even more.
I returned to the waiting room and a few hours later, my father’s doctor came out and talked to us. She explained to us how all of his organs were giving out on him and it was a miracle he was still alive. She stated how the next 24 hours would decide if his body was capable of carrying on further. Madie and I decided to stay there the entire night, as we told my brother, grandmother, and aunt that we’d call them if something came up.
It was a pretty long night. I’d sit impatiently in the waiting room for a few minutes before I’d stand up and walk down the end of the hall to see my dad in a quiet room where the only sound was the beeping of a big machine acting as his organs. Even though he obviously wasn’t going to respond, I told him this was the hardest it would get and he’d make it through. That he’s been through tougher times and everything will get easier from here on out. It was the same set of motions until about 4 am in the morning, when he briefly showed signs of consciousness. As I saw his eyes open, I asked if he could hear me. He slightly turned his head and smiled at me, then looked for my brother. I told him he had gone home to make sure his mom was alright. He nodded.
Then, with tubes in both his nose and his mouth, he mouthed something to me. I couldn’t make out what two-syllable word he was saying. I asked him a few times to repeat it until I finally could read his lips. “Flyers?”
Stunned and shocked, I didn’t know what else to do besides tell him the truth. I said, “Oh dad, they were swept by the Bruins.” He shook his head in disgust and slowly drifted out of consciousness again. I stood in the room for half an hour to try and understand what had just happened. I didn’t see my dad conscious again until about 9 p.m. on May 8th. When he awoke, he was confused, but saw me and my brother there. He then reached out a hand to both of us before he told me and my brother how much he loved us.
I finished my semester the next day and returned home to Maryland, where I found a job that I worked 40 hours a week. With my two days off each week, my brother, Madie, and I would drive up to U. Penn to visit him. We’d talk to him about a variety of things, as he gestured or mouthed things to keep the conversation going since he still hadn’t gained his voice back. He always said how he was thankful to still be here and how he was thankful to have two sons he loved with all his heart. Without fail, my dad and I would spend at least a half an hour to an hour talking about the Flyers.
One conversation I remember specifically having with him was asking him if he thought the Flyers would trade anybody that summer of 2011. He mouthed, “Yes, but Richards, Carter, and Giroux are the only untouchables.” Ironically he said that on Tuesday, June 21st. When I saw him the Sunday following the trade, he just shrugged his shoulders and smiled when I brought it up.
Throughout the summer, my dad’s health had gone up and done. He was twice moved to Good Shepherd due to his progress in recovering. Unfortunately, he returned to U. Penn shortly afterwards. Then, on August 30th, 2011, he finally lost the fight. After months of battling to stay alive without a functioning kidney (only one because he lost his other due to cancer when he was four years old), lung, or liver, my dad told me that afternoon that he wasn’t giving up, but his body just wasn’t listening to him. After I grabbed his hand, I remember looking up to him in our last few minutes alone together. He had a straight face all day, but then mouthed “It’s going to be OK” and smiled. I knew he said that and smiled to comfort me. There’s no better way to describe the type of father he was. At this particular moment in his life, he still put me and my brother first.
I was in the room when they turned off the machines. The doctor asked me before if I wanted to leave or stay in the room for the process. With the decision of never seeing my dad again or spending just a few more minutes with him, I decided to be by his bedside for his final moments.
It sucked. It still sucks. There were so many things to it that hurt and will forever hurt. It’s not so much what I lost, it’s more about what he lost. A 49-year-old who survived cancer twice didn’t get to see what his sons would become. If I didn’t have Madie, Ian, or my mom, I don’t know where I’d be right now.
I’ve always loved the Flyers with a passion, but ever since that day seven years ago, things have changed. It has become a source of therapy. It’s something I use to take things off my mind, yet I always think of him when I watch a game. Every game is filled with more emotion for me. Hockey is just a game, but to some people it means a little bit more. If you’re on Broad Street Hockey reading this article, there’s a good chance you’re one of those people. I know you’re just like me and my brother, talking after every game and breaking down every little thing this team does. They may frustrate us some (or a lot) of the time, but they also give us hope and reason to believe. To believe that one day they’re going to do it. That they’ll win it all. When they do eventually win it all, we’ll remember what it’s all about.