What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
If you aren’t familiar, Tales of Depression and Sorrow is our series in which we interview sports fans to let them tell their tales of certain instances or specific seasons which would make sports fans cringe in horror and pain, or expands on that to take a hard look at the long-suffering fans of franchises who have tortured their supporters for decades.
The idea is rather simple. As ESPN continues it’s descent into a maelstrom of shameless self-promotion, political correctness, and all sorts of non-sports evils, the art of story-telling is dying in the sports media. Tales of Depression and Sorrow is our attempt to rage against that dying of the sporting story light, and what better way to illicit such a rage that to play on the collective pain of sports fans?
The bottom line is this. There simply isn’t enough good story-telling in sports media today, which is a shame because sports fans are some to the best story tellers out there. Why is that? Because the best stories have some pain in them, and what sports fans don’t have volumes worth of pain built up inside them?
Today’s pain sharer is Bruce Burns. He has resided for most of his “fifty-plus” years in the suburbs of Philadelphia, and therefore has suffered through the fandom of all his local teams. This is why we asked him to be part of this series, and it also why he writes a great blog of his own, SportsAttitudes. It is featured on our Blogroll, and it is certainly a site that should be our you list of favorite blogs. He is a college hoops junkie, who for unknown reasons follows it all season long. He attended the Final Fours held in Philadelphia in 1974 and 1981. But, he also can carry on a conversation about any sport…including having recently developed quite an unhealthy obsession with the English Premier League (he’s a Norwich City fan, which is only going to add to his pain level).
Being from the City of Brotherly Love, Bruce has plenty of Philly sports pain. Today since we find ourselves mere days away from the start of the National Hockey League season, he’s going to share some of his experiences being a fan of the Philadelphia Flyers.
With that, here’s the interview…
J-Dub: How long have you been a fan of the Philadelphia Flyers?
BB: The Flyers were part of the big 1967 expansion in the NHL. I was nine. I have memories that go back that far. Because the six teams were all brand-new and starting at the same time I was equally fascinated by the Kings, North Stars, Penguins, Blues and my other favorite team at age nine, the California Seals. The Oakland A’s were my favorite American League team so I guess I gravitated towards them because of their similar locale.
J-Dub: Funny you mention the original expansion, since that’s how I as a kid in Southern California ended up as a Kings fan. When the Seals went away, everybody said hockey couldn’t work on the west coast. So, what exactly made you a Flyers fan?
BB: I was immediately taken by the fast, end-to-end action with all the collisions. It was like having football throughout the winter and spring. I couldn’t skate but when the Flyers came to town not only did ice hockey explode onto the scene but street hockey. It was a time when there were so few rinks and so much interest parents were reserving ice time for some of my friends to play at midnight on weekends, crazy stuff like that. Those of us in the suburbs who took to our streets tried to replicate the game with a combination of makeshift and actual equipment based on what we could afford. I played goalie with an actual mask and stick…but my glove was a first baseman’s mitt and my pads were cut out pieces of foam with string to tie them to my legs. Streets would actually challenge each other to games and it got to the point we’d have our parents drive us across town to play other streets. We all loved the hometown team that gave us our “start.”
J-Dub: Yeah, I remember the “roller” hockey thing went crazy in California in the 70s, but realistically there was no other option. Ice rinks didn’t exist there in those days, but now there are a bunch of them. Trouble is they can’t keep up with the demand; California is starting to produce NHL talent. Speaking of which, who was your all-time favorite Flyer?
BB: Doug Favell. I loved the goalie position best and he was one of the few guys at the time that used the “butterfly” style. I loved flopping around in the street making the average save look spectacular and I think Doug enjoyed his time (literally) on the ice as well.
J-Dub: So, then who was your “brother-in-law” player; meaning guy you hated, but you tolerated him because he was on your team. Why did you pick them?
BB: Dave Schultz. All teams needed guys playing on the edge in that era but we had a couple of other guys who could play chippy. Dave went over the top as an enforcer sometimes and I think there was enough talent to win certain games without all his added hysteria. The “Broad Street Bullies” was a nickname we definitely earned because of Dave.
J-Dub: Now you’re speaking my language. I did a bit a while back comparing legendary NHL enforcers to television cops, and Dave Schultz was definitely on that list. Not to mention he’s not the only Flyer on the list. Which Philadelphia Flyer was your “bad, but hot girlfriend” player; meaning the guy who you loved but you knew was bad for your team. Why did you pick them?
BB: Brian Boucher. Another goalie. I think the franchise game up on him too soon. He was admittedly erratic and the organization has always been looking for the next Bernie Parent going back to those two Cups in the 70’s. Playing goalie in Philadelphia is like quarterback for the Eagles to our fans. We’ve been looking for that Bernie “magic” to return ever since. But Brian had some great moments playing both here and elsewhere after we gave up on him.
J-Dub: What is your personal highlight moment?
BB: Seeing and hearing longtime beloved announcer Gene Hart count down the final seconds of the first Cup win in 1974 and then standing on Broad Street with a million other people for the parade a few days later. I was standing on the steps of a bank as they came by. Awesome.
J-Dub: Philadelphia does embrace it’s champions, and sometimes even guys who just come close. Dick Vermiel will always be a beloved guy in Philadelphia even though he never won there, and we both just saw a recent outpouring for the departed Darryl Dawkins and Moses Malone. But then there’s the other side of the coin. What is your personal lowlight moment?
BB: The last night of the 1971-72 regular season. It had been a wild year with Bruce Gamble, who was previously sharing goal-tending duties with Doug Favell. Gamble had a heart attack and left young Doug as “The Man.” Gamble survived, but the team’s playoff chances were not as healthy.
My family knew someone who had tickets guaranteed for us in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs if Philly made it. They were playing Buffalo on the road the final night night of the season, and the Flyers were competing for the final available spot with Pittsburgh. Even though the Penguins had won their game, we still just needed a tie to be in the hunt for the Cup.
We were up 2-0 early on. However, the Sabres were not packing their golf clubs just yet and fought their way back to tie the game. With my all-time favorite Flyer in the nets…former Flyer Mike Byers tapped the puck ahead to former Flyer Gerry Meehan (no relation to regular Dubsism contributor Ryan Meehan)…who ripped a shot past Doug Favell just inside the blue line with four seconds left.
Sabres 3, Flyers 2.
No Stanley Cup playoff game for Philly…or my family.
J-Dub: That’s rough, but that’s also why I say sports fans tell the best stories, because they at some point involve pain. Was there ever a moment when you considered changing teams? If so what caused that moment? If not, why?
BB: Yes. When the Flyers traded Bernie Parent. He and Doug Favell’s careers were weirdly intertwined. They both came up as Boston Bruins’ prospects and split time in goal during that initial season of hockey here. Bernie eventually earned the starting job and was the best goalie of the two, but then in 1971 they traded him to Toronto trying to get more goal scoring. As much as I loved Doug Favell, I knew Parent was better. Next thing you know Bernie winds up playing for Philadelphia in the rival World Hockey Association…then Toronto traded his rights back to the Flyers …for Favell of all people. Bernie then winds up winning us two Cups while Doug bounced around in hockey obscurity thereafter.
J-Dub: If the Flyers team re-located to another city, would you remain a fan? Why or why not?
BB: No. This team is Philadelphia. There’s cheese steaks, soft pretzels, TastyCakes, and Flyers hockey. Hockey is huge here now. It just would not be the same.
J-Dub: If there was one personnel decision you think could have changed your team’s fortunes, what was it and what would you have done differently?
BB: Midway through the 2005-06 season, we traded Patrick Sharp to the Chicago Blackhawks. It was somewhat appropriate when he lead them to a Stanley Cup over us in 2009-10. To this day, I have no idea why they gave up on him. He was a winger, and they got a winger and a draft pick in return…neither of which is worth mentioning. I would have kept Patrick Sharp, who I consider to be a key component of Chicago’s mini-dynasty.
J-Dub: Man, there’s nothing worse than giving up on a guy only to watch him flourish somewhere. Being a Minnesota Twins fan, watching David Ortiz does nothing but make me puke. He was the epitome of worthless in Minnesota, they let him walk, and here we are, 500 plus homers later… What was your toughest off-field, or in this case off-ice moment, in being a Flyers fan?
BB: What I mentioned earlier; that missing out on the Stanley Cup playoff tickets when I was a kid. Seeing that puck pass my favorite player with four seconds left from just inside the blue line was a nightmare. I still see it in my head like it was yesterday. My family was looking forward to seeing a Stanley Cup playoff game.
J-Dub: If you could wave a “magic wand,” what is one thing about the Philadelphia Flyers you would change?
BB: I would have had Owner Ed Snider pass on the team to someone else a long, long time ago. The last decade the organization has been OK with being just OK. His tendency to bring in former players to run things isn’t working either. I just don’t think he’s high-energy guy in a business that cries out high-energy guys. I would love to see the Flyers with a new owner who has the fire and passion to win it all, not just be happy to be part of it all. We’ve been living in the glory of those back-to-back Cups for forty years now. Ridiculous.
J-Dub: Well, here’s hoping the new head coach you just hired helps change all that. For all you Flyers fans out there, we gave you a sneak peak on Dave Hakstol in Episode #6 of our Radio J-Dub podcast. Thanks for your time, and here’s hoping we can work together again soon.