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Tale of the Tape

Because what is sports without scars that last forever?

1980 NHL Stanley Cup Finals - Philadelphia Flyers v New York Islanders Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

It wasn’t that I didn’t have friends as a kid, it’s that there were certain barriers to entry to friendship with me that resulted in struggles in maintaining impressive friendships measured either by either quantity or quality.

A lot of this had to do with one of my favorite planned activities when an unsuspecting classmate came over to my house on the premise of having a fun afternoon. A lucky kid might get to watch Aladdin or Home Alone 2, but odds were they were going to get a treat from an orange clamshell: my VHS tape of the documentary Philadelphia Flyers: 25 Years of Pride and Tradition.

I grew up in D.C., so none of my friends were Flyers fans. Not many even liked hockey. But I knew, oh I knew, that if they just settled down into one of the beanbags and watched this 64-minute masterpiece, they’d be hooked, and be my friend forever.

The film, a masterpiece of propaganda with a pulsating soundtrack and amazing sound effects, runs a gamut of emotions, from triumph to tragedy, hope to heartbreak. But the emotion we’re going to focus on today is anger, because if one of these kids by some miracle made it 40 minutes into the tape, he or she had better have been ready to get mad.

Seven years before I was born, you see, there had been a grave injustice. The Flyers were ready to win their third Stanley Cup in 1980 when they were robbed—robbed!—by the worst call in the history of human eyesight, as an Islanders drop pass went back across the blueline before a goal in a game that we were told the Flyers would have for sure won otherwise.

Just see how mad Ed Snider was!

“I was so upset in that game I couldn’t see straight. I could hardly talk for a week. The offsides call was so blatant, I’ve never seen anything like it before or since in a regular game, much less a Stanley Cup Final game.”

Bobby Clarke, in perhaps the most spectacular Philadelphia Flyers moment ever recorded, got so angry that his tooth falls out!

A human being has never been quite so angry! Noted search engine Bing yielded no results for “teeth falling out due to anger,” so it’s safe to assume that no human being has ever been so wronged as Bobby Clarke was in this moment.

“Had this game been won by Philadelphia, many believe that the Flyers would have taken Game 7 back at the Spectrum—and the series,” narrator Gene Hart said convincingly to the two children seated in the basement, who nodded and gritted their teeth, trying not to do the math and realize that the Flyers had already lost a game at the Spectrum in the series.

“I’m still bitter about some things that happened as far as the officiating were concerned,” coach Pat Quinn admitted to the two children now seething with rage, ready to run through a brick wall. “The guys in that room should have perhaps had a Stanley Cup ring, instead of the guys in the Islanders room.”

And then came my part: I had to then break to a despondent child, every time this tape was played, that the Flyers had not won a Stanley Cup since. There was no Hollywood ending to this movie. The bad guys had won. The indignity! The robbery!

Fast-forward 25 years. The Flyers still haven’t won another Stanley Cup. We’re in a pandemic. Life is bad!

One of my coping mechanisms by April is to host Zoom Jeopardy games for friends. I write many questions, fun times are had. One week I have friends each request a category, and my friend Mike asks for one on the Islanders. This makes me very happy! Getting to write about hockey is great, and the Islanders are a Patrick Division team whom I know lots about! I get to show a picture of Ziggy Palffy’s mullet! I don’t hate the Islanders at all! Throughout my lifetime they’ve been entirely hapless, and the Flyers haven’t even faced them in the playoffs since I was two months old (right after this). Rather than actually being a meaningful Flyers adversary, the Islanders have always been irrelevant, or at least the enemy-of-my-enemy who I was always happy to see pick up a win against a divisional opponent on the odd occasion they lucked into one.

And then I realize that I have a chance to air some grievances. So I make the above GIF of the two angles of the blown call and write the question:

In Game 6 of the 1980 Stanley Cup Finals against the Flyers, the Islanders goal shown below should have been called off due to this rule. It was one of the worst blown calls in NHL history.

But as I’m double-checking this—I’m a rigorous fact-checker for Zoom Jeopardy, trust—I read that this call was not a game-deciding goal, but instead came in the first period of the game. The Flyers tied the game five minutes later, and then four more goals were scored over the next two periods. Sure it was a bad call, but had it actually mattered that a third player crossed the blueline illegally after two players had already come in fairly with the puck?

What else in my childhood was a lie? Was I truly kicked out of the school band because my clarinet playing was too boundary-breaking and avant-garde for my pedestrian classmates to keep up with? Did that dog who wouldn’t stop barking through the night next door actually go live with a nice family on a farm?

Then I rewatched the clip from the Flyers tape, and my doubts were immediately erased. There was no way such clear anger could come from a place of anything but honesty. And what was truth, anyhow to a Flyers fan? I hated myself for ever doubting it; even my moment of hesitation had been worse than spitting on the grave of Ed Snider, who I’m sure is down there still gritting his teeth, 40 years later.

So as we renew unpleasantries with the Islanders, I ask that you channel that rage from the great beyond this week, please. If you lose a tooth or two, you’re on the right track. Go Flyers.