When it comes to the NHL, fans come in all shapes and sizes. They are young and old, men and women, rich and poor, black and white, and a little of everything in between. They come from all over the globe.
There are the “die-hards”. The ones that eat, sleep and breath the sport. Ones that never miss a game, ones that spend lots of money each and every year on their team. Ones that can tell you who scored the game winner to win the Stanley Cup in 1978 for the Montreal Canadians (Mario Tremblay). Ones that no matter what happens to the NHL they are going nowhere. A “die-hard” is a lifer.
There is the “casual” fan. A fan that likes the sport, but doesn’t love it. They’ll watch games here and there, but don’t really have a rooting interest one way or the other. Teams need fans like this too.
Then there are the “band-wagon” fans. Fans that only show up to support a team when times are great, and even then only around playoff time. They spend their money too in support of “their” team all the while acting like they have been there the whole time. Through thick and thin; every win, every loss. They are the ones that usually drive up ticket prices around playoff time much to the chagrin of the “die-hard”. They come and go every year, and sadly no franchise could survive without them.
Normally you can break them down into these three categories, but in the case of being a Philadelphia Flyers fan; we get a category all to ourselves. When I was younger I used to think that when someone said a word like “we” or “us” in association of their team I would kind of chuckle a little. Did they ask you to play? They must not have done so well because I didn’t see you out there. Although as I got little older, and hopefully a little wiser; I started to see how immersed Flyers fans would get during the games. Yeah they have the “casual” fan and the “band-wagon” as well but there was something more with this team. Something that made the “we” fit, something that made “us” special.
The Flyers were brought into the NHL in 1967 as part of its first expansion, they toiled around with not a whole lot of fan fare for the first couple years, but something happened though in 1969 that would forever change the franchise. Ed Snider was tired of watching his team get pushed around by the St. Louis Blues in the playoffs something had to be done. The Broad Street Bullies were born, they were hard-nosed, blue collared, tough guys that may not have had the most skill, but they certainly had the most heart. They would beat you up on the ice as well as the scoreboard. The NHL had never seen anything like it, win or lose you knew you played the Flyers. That was pretty much the mantra that Ed Snider had adopted for the Flyers all those years ago, and unlike any other team in the NHL that mantra is still alive and well. It’s also very much a part of being a Philadelphia Flyers fan.
Each and every year when reporters from all over the world talk about a certain player that is available via free agency, or trade; and they are tough; it almost seems inevitable that they will say that he is perfect for the Flyers. Two players in a lot of the so-called “experts” mock drafts this year are Rasmus Ristolainen or Nikita Zadorov. Both of these players are very skilled but also very physical and not afraid to drop the gloves; so low and behold these “experts” think that either one is destined to wear the orange and black. We as fans hold on to a lot of that as well. Think of some of your favorite players to ever put on the sweater, they are probably highly skilled yet very tough physically to play against. Players are beloved by this franchise by not only what they did on the scoreboard, but even more so how they did it. Keith Primeau had one year where he scored over thirty goals but he will be more remembered by his heart as the captain of this franchise, while Jeremy Roenick didn’t put up the gaudy numbers for the Flyers like he did when he was with the Chicago Blackhawks, but you had to account for him each and every time he was on the ice. For that he will always be a Philadelphia Flyer to us; but players come and go. They come and go all the time. WE are still here; we have always been here, and we will always be here.
Through all of this though we as Flyers fans are a fickle sort. We are all over the board in our fandom, to some it’s yearly gloom-and-doom, the front office nor the players can ever seem to do anything right, time to trade (insert player here), time to fire the coach, fire the GM, these guys only care about holding on to their jobs, Mr. Snider should just FIRE EVERYONE!!! Himself included. Truth is I think there are times when all of us fans have a little of this in us. After a chance encounter with GM Paul Holmgren and a brief chat, my wife and I had with team president Peter Luukko while attending a game last time the Flyers played in Chicago changed that for me though. These guys aren’t in this to just keep their jobs, they are fans too. Yeah they get paid pretty handsomely by Mr. Snider, but watch them during home games as well as road games and they bleed orange and black just like the rest of us, so there’s no need for all the dire angst. In fact I can count on one hand the amount of times the Flyers failed to miss the playoffs in the last fifteen years and there are not a lot of NHL teams that can boast the same results. The problem is that we haven’t won it all since 1975 and that’s a really long drought. So, some of the angst is not without some merit.
Now on to the other Flyer fan. The “I think this is finally the year we win it all” type. One of which I think I am closer too than the later (although you’ll rarely ever get me to admit it). While it is usually good practice to be positive most of the time in your life; You know how the old saying goes, “Never underestimate the power of positive thinking”. Not everything is rainbows and sunshine. Life and Flyer fandom falls somewhere between the two, but I am going to let you in on a not-so heavily guarded secret so Shh!!! The Flyers, from top to bottom, actually think that we have a chance every year, and except for a couple of years they are not too far from the truth. A lot has to happen to win the Stanley Cup. There have been years where most thought we were a juggernaut only to run up against a goalie playing out of his mind to eliminate us from contending. Then look no further than 2010, we were the “Cinderella” that year, most thought we had no business being in the playoffs let alone managing to claw our way to the finals. We made it all the way to the ball just to fall two games short of dancing. Something more than just serviceable goaltending and who knows what might have been, but that’s my point: Winning the Stanley Cup is one of, if not, the hardest thing to do in all of sports.
Which brings me to where we are today as fans. The Philadelphia Flyers don’t rebuild; we reload. We don’t sit back and let rich, under performing players stay on and clog up a roster spot if we can help it, they get demoted or traded, or bought out (basically still getting paid to not be on the team anymore). Some might say that the front office lacks patience, I say: “Yes, patience is a virtue, but complacency kills”. I will however make an exception for Patrick Sharp and Sergei Bobrovsky, damn I still wish we could have found a way to keep them on our team. We need a goalie you say? *BAM* Ilya Bryzgalov come on in. Now he didn’t perform to the hefty salary that he received. *BOOM* He is most likely going to receive one of the two amnesty buyouts after the season is over and that is over twenty million dollars to not play for the Flyers anymore. Not too many owners, if any, would shell out money like that to help their team. Now you say we need help on defense? Enter Mark Streit. Yeah they have to maneuver some money around to make him fit, but mark my words he will be on the roster next year, it’s moves like these that makes me proud to be a Flyers fan.
Sure not every move has panned out, but like I said before complacency can kill a franchise for years. Players want to play for teams like ours and some go their whole careers without it. Most that have had the luxury of being here be it long or short, look back at it very fondly and we as a fan base are a large part of that because we still embody the spirit of the Broad Street Bullies of yesterday. Year in and year out we are voted at or near the top of being the most passionate fans in not only the NHL, but the entire sporting world. Lose or not, play up to you’re ability and if not, you’re out of here! Forgotten about quickly. Win or dominate on the ice and we will never forget you, we will give out awards with your name on it. So like Fred “The Fog” Shero said, “Win together today and we walk together forever”.
When visiting teams come here to play, win or lose they know we are here, they know they are playing the Flyers. We are the Flyers!