The first person I saw when I walked into the Wachovia Spectrum for the final game matching NHL teams there was Charlie Abel. Immediately, I knew it would be a good day.
Charlie was the popular press-box security guard during the years I covered the Flyers for the Philadelphia Daily News. Everyone liked Charlie, a Philadelphia firefighter for 26 years.
“Are you Abel?” I’d ask before each game. “Abel and willing,” he’d reply with a big smile.
Over the years, Charlie developed relationships with the writers and broadcasters and their families, and with the players, executives and their families. A sign of the esteem that Charlie was held in was the farewell party thrown for him by the Flyers at the Ovations club.
After I told Charlie how happy I was to see him, he said with emotion, “Bill, they’re tearing it down. This is my building. I couldn’t go over to the new building. This is the best place to watch a hockey game.”
For those of us who covered the Flyers in the Spectrum, Charlie and many others became part of our lives. There were Joe Kadlec, the Flyers media relations director; Lou Nolan, the public address announcer; broadcaster Gene Hart; and Ted Gendron and Gene Prince, the press-box stewards. All good people. My apologies if I’m omitting anyone.
This will be the final season for the Spectrum. After the 41-year-old building is razed, a hotel, restaurant and shops will be built.
The classy pre-game ceremonies included introductions of 11 former team captains. Only Rick Tocchet, Eric Lindros, Peter Forsberg and Jason Smith were unable to attend. It’s too bad Lindros could not be present. He had some memorable seasons with the Flyers and I think the fans would’ve given Lindros a warm reception.
Clarke and Keith Primeau received the loudest ovations for the ex-captains. As Nolan introduced each captain, youths carrying orange banners with the players names in black skated around the Spectrum ice.
After Ed Snider, chairman of Comcast Spectacor and the architect of the Flyers and Spectrum’s development, was introduced, Mike Richards skated onto the ice. Snider presented Richards, the new Flyers captain, with a game sweater bearing the “C” and his number 18. Then Richards shook hands with each former captain. Very classy.
“It was nice to play in the Spectrum,” Richards told Steve Coates in a postgame interview. ”There’s so much tradition, so many hockey games, so many battles that the Flyers won here. It’s nice to finally play on the surface, and having the captains here was pretty special for me.”
Earlier, the previous captains met with the media. Dave Poulin wore the “C” from 1984 through ’90. “I get asked a lot of questions about the Spectrum and the Flyers,” he said. “The Spectrum was a new building, but it was an old building. It intimidated other teams.
“In many ways the Flyers aren’t an expansion franchise in that they established an identity. The building was part of the identity, and that identity has lasted throughout the length of the franchise. The original six (NHL teams) haven’t been able to establish an identity that’s been consistent like the Flyers have.
|Bob Clarke waves to the crowd as he is introduced in a pregame ceremony. (Jack Cassidy) |
“The Spectrum is unique. It’s a tiny little building. The other buildings all have big infrastructures around them: big foyers, big lobbies. The focus here is on the ice. Somehow that made the fans closer to you physically, so they were closer to you emotionally.
“The best thing about a building is when everybody asks you what it was like to play in it. Guys on other teams talked about how much they hated coming into it.”
There are well known stories from the Broad Street Bullies days about visiting teams that stayed in hotels in South Jersey. The opponents would be joking as they boarded their bus. Then, as they crossed the Walt Whitman Bridge and saw the Spectrum, conversation on the bus would end because they knew they’d be in for a long, bruising game.
Back then, several opposing players developed “Philadelphia Flu” and were unable to face the Flyers. “The Philadelphia Flu wasn’t exclusive to the 1970s,” a smiling Poulin noted. “I played for other teams in the 90s and guys were still getting sick.”
Poulin, a former Notre Dame hockey coach, is now managing director and a partner with an executive search firm in Chicago.
For Ed Van Impe, the Flyers second captain (1968-73), helping win the first Stanley Cup in 1974 and beating the Soviet Central Red Army team in ’76 were Spectrum highlights. In the Soviet game, Van Impe delivered such a crushing check on Valeri Kharlamov that the team left the ice and threatened not to continue. The Soviets decided to resume the game when they were informed that they wouldn’t be paid.
“We beat the Russians, 4-1,” Van Impe said, “and the Flyers played their brand of hockey, which I’m sure the Russians were expecting. We didn’t want to send them home disappointed.”
Ed Snider recalls someone sending him a cartoon from Pravda, the Soviet government publication, in which the Flyers were shown beating the “little” Russians were clubs. “I can’t tell you how much I loved that cartoon,” Snider said.
|Mike Richards is presented with the captain's jersey by Ed Snider at the conclusion of the pregame ceremony. (Jack Cassidy) |
From the remarks of several ex-Flyers captains it was clear that wearing the “C” was a responsibility they treasured.
Keith Primeau, who played for Detroit, Hartford and Carolina before joining the Flyers, said, “There’s being a captain for teams in the National Hockey League, and then there’s being a captain for franchises like the Philadelphia Flyers. There’s so much history because of the men who led (the Flyers).”
Nodding toward the other 10 captains, Primeau said their returning “shows how much their position with this franchise meant to them.”
Mel Bridgman (1979-81) said playing for the Flyers taught him about “accountability and responsibility. Most of all, they care about you as a person.” Bridgman is now a financial consultant in California.
Creating a “family atmosphere” and winning Stanley Cups were the Flyers goals from the start, according to Snider. He and the Flyers and the Spectrum have come a long way since 1967. Snider recalled the two Stanley Cup victory parades attended by an estimated two million each. But there also was the parade down Broad Street before the season opener in ’67. “No one was at the parade, except us,” a smiling Snider said. “Seven years later there were two million.”
I’m telling myself that the great thing about this building is the memories. The memories will never go away." - Ed Snider
When the Spectrum starts tumbling down, Snider isn’t sure how he’ll feel. “I’m telling myself that the great thing about this building is the memories. The memories will never go away. While it will be sad and I don’t think I can show up when they demolish it, I will always have these memories.”
Snider was in a buoyant mood on this day. He and other Flyers executives and coaches wore bright orange blazers bearing the Flyers logo. “We wore these the first year and a half,” Snider said. “Then one of our people asked if we could stop wearing them because everyone was laughing at us.” Suggestion: the blazers will be stylish on Halloween.
The day ended with the Flyers beating Carolina, 4-2. Richards scored two short-handed goals to cap a very special day. “Sign Man” Dave Leonardi, on sign duty since the 1970s, summed up the day with another appropriate sign: “The Way We Were.”Please note that the views expressed in this column are not necessarily the views expressed by the Philadelphia Flyers Hockey Club.
Bill Fleischman is a veteran Philadelphia Daily News sports writer. He was the Flyers' beat reporter for the Daily News in the 1970s, and continued to cover games in later years. A former president of the Professional Hockey Writers and the Philadelphia Sports Writers Associations, Fleischman is co-author of "Bernie, Bernie," the autobiography of Bernie Parent. Fleischman also is co-author of "The Unauthorized NASCAR Fan Guide." Since 1981, he has been an adjunct professor in the University of Delaware journalism program.
He is a graduate of Germantown High School and Gettysburg College.