On November 17, 1997, legendary Flyers broadcaster Gene Hart was enshrined into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto after his selection as the recipient of the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award. At the time, he was the sixth member of the Flyers organization to be inducted into the "big" Hall.
At heart, though, Gene Hart was always a teacher.
Like all good teachers, Gene Hart's success lay not only in his knowledge and enthusiasm for the subject matter, but in his personal warmth and sense of humor. To listen to Gene Hart was to gain an education, whether the subject was hockey, opera or linguistics. He had the rare gift of being able to make people want to listen to him, no matter the topic.
Video: What happened November 17th, 1997 in Flyers history
Hart called listeners his "friends," and even those who never met the man ssomehow felt he was indeed your friend.
Many a child grew up listening to Hart and imitating his signature "Score!"
For much of Hart's career, Flyers games were simulcasted on the radio and television. He correspondingly painted pictures for the audience in a style that was influenced by the dean of hockey broadcasting, the late Foster Hewitt.
The Flyers were near and dear to the announcer and he never pretended his loyalties lay elsewhere. Yet he simultaneously encouraged listeners to appreciate the accomplishments of great players and teams, no matter which uniform they wore.
There was much more to Gene Hart than "just" being a Hall of Fame announcer. He been a high school teacher and was a lover of opera and languages, and sometimes made on-air references to his other passions.
Hart also worked a wide variety of other jobs over the years, ranging from a stint as a car salesman, a repo man, a rock-and- roll disc jockey, a water clown and a dolphin-show emcee in Atlantic City. Until his father's death, Hart's family operated the famous water circus on Steel Pier; his father was a Hungarian acrobat while his mother (a former Viennese opera singer) was part of a high-dive act featuring a diving horse.
Although fondly remembered for being rotund during his broadcasting career, Hart was actually a surprisingly good athlete in his own youth. While attending Pleasantville High School in South Jersey, he was an all-state baseball player and also played football. Later, he officiated high school basketball and football. Hart fell in love with hockey early in life, following the New York Rangers and even keeping personal statistics. However, he did not work within the sport until he was hired by the NHL expansion Flyers team in 1967.
In the summers of his youth, Hart worked with his family's act on Steel Pier in a variety of capacities, including as part of a diving clown act known as Binswanger's Bathing Beauties. It was while doing the diving act that he met his wife, the former Sara Detwiler, who was earning some extra money by diving with the horses on the Pier.
After attending Trenton State College and earning his teaching degree, Hart served in the Army for several years. Upon his discharge, he returned to South Jersey. When the Flyers hockey team was created in 1967, he served first as a public address announcer and then as a color commentator working with play-by-play man Stu Nahan (yes, the same Stu Nahan who later became a broadcasting icon in Los Angeles and was featured in the "Rocky" movies as the television boxing commentator).
In the early days, the Flyers had to pay for their own air time and only the third period of games was broadcast. There is a quote from Hart in the memorial display at the Wells Fargo Center pressbox that he used to pray the game wouldn't be a blowout heading into the third period.
Before long, Hart took over the play-by-play duties; the role with which he became synonymous. In the meantime, for many years, he continued to teach high school in addition to broadcasting.
There were many times he took red-eye flights back from road games with barely enough time for a cat nap before he had to get ready to teach class in the morning. All the while, he never let his preparations for games slip.
As the Flyers blossomed from expansion team to Stanley Cup champion, the team (and Hart) took hold in Philadelphia's sporting conscience. Over the years, Hart gave voice to the many highs and lows the team experienced, ranging from the Broad Street Bullies years to the transitional period and the near-miss teams of the Mike Keenan era. He provided fans with solace and comfort after the deaths of Barry Ashbee and Pelle Lindbergh, and could make even a hard-fought loss seem valiant for the effort.
Even as he experienced health problems, including a pair of heart bypass surgeries, Hart kept right on working.
In 1988, the Flyers stopped simulcasting their broadcasts. At that point, the longtime team of Hart and Bobby Taylor was moved to radio only, while Mike "Doc" Emrick and Bill Clement handled TV duties. In 1993, Hart returned to television for two final seasons. Jim Jackson (who eventually became the team's television play-by-play man, and continues to hold the post to this day) was hired after Emrick's departure. Hart's final season as the Flyers voice was in the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season. Jackson took over on TV thereafter.
In total, Hart called more than 2,000 Flyers games. He called five Stanley Cup finals (1974, 1975, 1976, 1980, 1985, 1987), five NHL All-Star Games, and two of the series pitting NHL stars against Soviet teams. In 1997, Hart was inducted into the broadcaster's wing of the Hockey Hall of Fame (a photo of him wearing his Hall of Fame blazer at his HHOF induction sits front and center in the memorial display at the Wells Fargo Center press box).
Gene Hart battled a host of health problems in later life, and passed away on July 14, 1999. He was such a beloved local figure that a public memorial service was held and broadcast on local television for those who could not attend.
November 16: Through the Years
- 1968: Deadlocked at 0-0 through two periods, the Flyers win the third period by a 3-1 margin to defeat the LA Kings at the Spectrum. Larry Hale, Jim Johnson and Brit Selby score for Philly, while Bernie Parent backstops the victory with 30 saves on 31 shots.
- 1984: Pelle Lindbergh (29 saves) betters former Flyer Pete Peeters (19 saves) in a 5-3 trumph over the Boston Bruins at Boston Garden.Mark Howe and Tim Kerr lead the way offensively with a goal and an assist apiece. Kerr's goal is his 18th of the still-young season.
- 1985: The Flyers increase their winning streak to 13 straight games with a 5-4 home overtime win against the New York Islanders.Murray Craven notches the winning goal.
- 1998: The revised edition of the Legion of Doom strikes for goals by Keith Jones and John LeClair while Eric Lindros chips in one assist in a 4-1 road win over the Pittsburgh Penguins. Rod Brind'Amour also contributes a goal and an assist on an Eric Desjardins tally. John Vanbiesbrouck stops 25 of 26 Pens' shots.
- 2011: Rookie forward Matt Read breaks a 1-1 tie with 19 seconds left in regulation to lift the Flyers to a 2-1 regulation win over the visiting Phoenix Coyotes. James van Riemsdyk also scores for Philly. Ilya Bryzgalov makes 30 saves, while the Flyers pepper Mike Smith with 41 shots at the other end of the ice.