As the previous post indicates, I don't follow the Flyers all that often. That's not an indictment of the Flyers or the NHL, just a showing of my interests. Of course, now that the Flyers are on the brink of going to their first Stanley Cup final in over a decade, the entire Delaware Valley is getting more interested. And, if the Phillies keep up their futility at the plate, the fan base will get even that more interested.
Today my mother had an interesting suggestion -- that I pull out my old Flyers jersey (and this is from both my personal and the Flyers' Jurassic period) and give it to my 10 year-old son for him to wear to school. Boy, did that comment bring back some memories.
As the Flyers marched toward the Stanley Cup, the kids at my junior high school became more and more interested (this was in the spring of 1974). Some families had Flyers' tickets, most did not, and the novelty of their winning, the flamboyance of their methods (they fought like hell), and the scarcity of the sport (ESPN didn't come into fruition for at least 5 more years, and merchandising wasn't what it is today) compelled great interest in a city that was starved for a winner.
The 76ers did win the title in 1967, but in 1964 the Phillies, still without a World Series title, blew a 6 1/2 game lead with 12 games to go (and finished third
), the A's blew town in 1954 for Kansas City, and the Eagles were terrible. Atop that, the once heralded Sixers set an NBA record a few years earlier -- for posting the least amount of wins in a season (9, a record that still stands today). While Villanova's and Penn's men's basketball teams were faring well, there was a void in Philadelphia -- the fans were starving for a winner.
So there came the Flyers. They were en route to the Stanley Cup finals, and lots of kids were getting jerseys. But here was the thing -- there weren't any Modell's, Dick's or Sports Authority's where you could get a jersey. There were family-owned businesses -- Pearson's, Poly Brothers and Mitchell & Ness (which by today has transformed itself into a premier maker and seller of vintage jerseys priced beyond a day's pay for most Americans). And, the jerseys weren't sold off the rack -- they were made for you.
I don't remember whether my father asked me if I wanted one or if I asked for one, but those sporting goods stores were in Center City Philadelphia, near where my father worked. So, one day at lunchtime, he went to Mitchell & Ness and stood in line. I had asked for an Andre "Moose" DuPont jersey, because a) most kids had Bobby Clarke's or Rick MacLeish's and b) DuPont was one of the Flyers' four fighters (and he had a nifty little jig that he danced after he scored a goal). My father waited for over an hour in line as people at the store affixed the number 6 on the sleeves and back of the jersey. Dad brought it home with great pride, the way a hunter would bring home his quarry to show the family that the day had been successful. Like many other kids, I wore mine to school.
And to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals against Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge, Wayne Cashman, Gerry Cheever and the Boston Bruins. A friend of my dad's sold him 2 tickets five rows behind the Flyers' bench (face value at the time was about $12!), and despite his not being a hockey fan, we took the subway from Fern Rock Station to the Spectrum to watch the game. The Flyers had a big surprise in store for us that afternoon, as they brought out Kate Smith to sing "God Bless America." Five years earlier, Flyers' executive Lou Scheinfeld started playing a tape of Smith singing "God Bless America" before key games, and going into Game 6 the Flyers were 35-3-1 when they had played this song before a game. They rolled out a carpet, and a robust Smith gave a great performance -- the place was electric.
The Flyers scored only one goal in that game -- Rick MacLeish re-directed a slapshot by Moose DuPont in the first period, but the Bruins didn't score at all. Flyers' goalie Bernie Parent "stood on his head" and played a great game, and the Flyers were Stanley Cup champions. My father and I stood and cheered, and then I made my way toward the bench, just as it was emptying out onto the ice. For whatever reason -- remember, I was in junior high -- I was looking for a souvenir and grabbed a water bottle off the bench. I'm not sure whether it's still at my mother's house, but I showed it to friends who visited the house days after the game, along with my ticket stub (I still have that). That night, people emptied out of their houses and onto the streets -- in the city and in the suburbs -- to celebrate the improbable rise of a team that had been formed less than 7 years earlier.
I hadn't given that jersey much thought over the years, except that I preserved it for some unknown reason. How much stuff from years ago do we discard in the name of avoiding clutter and in the name of moving and not having a place to put things? Since that victory 36 years ago, I've gone to college and to graduate school, lived in eight different residences, and, somehow I still have that jersey. Today, I pulled it out of a storage container and gave it to my son, because my mom relayed a story that parents were pulling out their old jerseys and giving them to their kids.
I gave my "Moose" jersey to my son, who promptly went to the Flyers' web-site to check if a current player wears #6. No one does, and it isn't as though someone might confuse what's now a vintage jersey with what they wear now, which is probably a good thing. I looked at it, wear and tear and all, and thought of a different era, a different team, and an excited father happy that he could locate a jersey for his son after most of the other kids had theirs.
Sharing championships is an exciting thing for families and towns to do. Perhaps if the Flyers can keep it up, people in Philadelphia can share one more.