Remembering Flyers fans’ unity on 22nd anniversary of 9/11

Sergei Bobrovsky standing for the national anthem during his time as a Flyers player. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Sergei Bobrovsky standing for the national anthem during his time as a Flyers player. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) /

Let’s be honest with each other. Whenever the national sports mainstream media writes a story about Philadelphia sports fans, it’s usually not good. They aren’t going to write about us going to a nursing home and spending time doing charitable things. Nope. It’s how we Eagles fans threw snowballs at Santa (he deserved it!) or we Phillies fans threw a battery at J.D. Drew. Fun fact: I was actually at that last game! We Flyers fans are no exception.

We can rock the Spectrum or the Wells Fargo Center and make it an intimidating place for opponents. The last time I was at a Flyers game in Philly, it was March of 2012. The Flyers were hosting the Penguins, whom they would play in that GREAT playoff series a few weeks later. Pittsburgh took a 2-0 lead into the third period when Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell scored goals to tie it up.

With less than one second left in OT, Hartnell scored sending the Center into bedlam. I also remember a kid, about nine or ten years old, sitting maybe two or three rows ahead of me, yelling things like ‘Ref, you suck!’ and heartily booing Sidney Crosby. Such a great kid!

However, that’s not my favorite Flyers moment. That came on September 20, 2001. I wasn’t there, at the Wells Fargo Center. I was living in Rome, NY at the time. I read about the story online. let me put the story into context.

I had graduated college from a college in Utica, NY a few months earlier. The first job I took after graduating was as a sports reporter in nearby Rome, covering high school sports. On my three month anniversary of being hired, the events of Sept. 11 had happened. It shook and stunned the world.

For me, that day changed my life. I went back to school to get a master’s degree and I became a history teacher because I wanted to give back to my community. I’ve also made a commitment to give blood regularly. It’s been 22 years since the events of that day. I just turned 44. It’s hard to believe that half of my life has been lived since that horrible day. Where did the time go?

I digress, however the story of 9/11 is integral to this story. A few weeks later, on Sept. 20, President George W. Bush gave a speech outlining what the nation was going to do in response to the attacks. It’s hard to imagine this now, considering the political climate we are all in now and the circumstances surrounding President Bush’s election nine months earlier, but he was, at that time, hugely popular as a stricken nation turned to him for comfort and guidance.

That night in Philadelphia, the Flyers were playing the New York Rangers as part of a preseason game. Bush’s speech came on during the intermission. Someone at the Center decided it would be a good idea to broadcast the speech to the crowd. As with Americans all across the country, the fans applauded and cheered at the appropriate time.

While the president was speaking, the player came back to the ice to resume play and President Bush’s speech was no more. Or so they thought.

The over 19,000 fans had something else to say about that. They vigorously booed the decision to turn the speech off. Then, the crowd began to chant, ‘Leave it on! Leave it on!’ The speech was put back on. The players from both teams shared the moment with fans, watching President Bush continue and finish his speech. At the end of it all, the teams decided to forgo the final frame and end it there. After all, it was just a preseason game.

With the way things are in our nation today, I wish we could go back to that time period. Not with the sadness and sense of loss, but the sense of community. In those weeks following 9/11, everybody was looking out for everybody else no matter who or what you are.

In a similar sense, I see that with us Philadelphia sports fans. I live in Eastern North Carolina now. If I am walking into a store and see someone I never met wearing a Flyers shirt, Phillies hat, or Eagles jersey, I will compliment them on their attire. If I am wearing something similar and we see each other, we’ll give one another a smile and an approving head nod to signal that, even though we don’t know each other, we are now friends. If you are a Philadelphia transplant, you understand what I am talking about.

For me, this moment signifies everything great about Philadelphia fans. We are immensely loyal. Yes, we are loud and boisterous. Occasionally, we may be a bit extra. My wife tells me often to tone it down while watching games because I am ‘scaring the dogs’, but she is a Penguins fan so her opinion doesn’t count here.

In this particular case our love of country presided over everything else. Despite the media often picking on us for being lewd, rude, and crude, it was that love of nation – and by extension each other – that prevailed here and just the time when it was needed most.

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I’ve witnessed many great moments as a Flyers fan. From the massive brawl between the Sabres and Flyers with Garth Snow and Matt Barnaby to Claude Giroux posing after his goal that secured the OT win at the Stadium Series showdown with the Pens. For me, nothing will ever make me as proud to be a Flyers fan as the moment the fans cheered on our nation on Sept. 20, 2001.