At Least Flyers Fans Don’t Do the Wave

Watching the Flyers play the Canadiens in Montreal was much different than I expected.

I must admit, I was pretty intimidated. I was in hockey’s mecca, home of the team with all the accolades: 24 Stanley Cups, 61 Hall of Famers, 17 retired numbers. The city that rioted after Rocket Richard’s suspension. Even the team’s name — Les Canadiens de Montréal — sounded weirdly intimidating in French. I’m a Philadelphian who barely speaks English correctly. A few days in Montreal and I still had no idea what was going on half the time, and everyone I met pronounced “Dan” with a soft-a. I was on another planet.

As I got off the escalator to the upper level concourse of the Bell Centre, I almost got chills. This was going to be it. I was going to be ridiculed to death (en français!) and I’d be the punchline of jokes about Philadelphians for years to come. Death by Youppi! I’m a nervous, bumbling guy in general. In a foreign country, by myself, in a hockey arena wearing another team’s shirt? This would not end well.

My mind hates me. It has a tendency to make things worse in the moment. Truth is, I felt pretty much at home during my time in Montreal: The parts of the city I visited were incredibly dirty. The liquor is sold in government-run stores (the Société des alcools du Québec, which puts the name Wine & Spirits to shame). I passed by plenty of Victorian houses that reminded me of West Philly, only with steep staircases instead of porches. And who cares if they pronounce my name Dahn. Hey, no waiter corrected my pronunciation of water.

The game was same way. I turned toward my seat and saw … a band. With cheerleaders in high socks dancing in front. And everyone was singing the Black Eyed Peas. There was no better metaphor for what I expected (rabid French Canadian fans cheering for old-time hockey) and what I got than the Black Eyed Peas, the formerly socially-conscious alt-hip-hop group that devolved into a group doing songs like “My Humps.”

Things got funnier. I had a seat right on the aisle; immediately to my left was a woman (also in high socks!) paid to cheer on the Canadiens. Her sign said “vague.” I thought this was some sort of Quebecois humor, calling for an indeterminate cheer. Turns out vague is a French word. Meaning wave. This woman was paid by the Canadiens to start the wave.

In-arena sports have plenty of dumb entertainment. At a Flyers game I went to at the Wells Fargo Center last week, there was loads of entertainment in between the action. Since the last Flyers game I attended a few years ago, Shawny the Dancing Guy had been promoted from Dancing Guy to in-arena host of the contests and promotions the Flyers were pushing.

There’s nothing outwardly wrong with the wave, “an example of metachronal rhythm achieved in a packed stadium when successive groups of spectators briefly stand, yell, and raise their arms” (to quote Wikipedia). Sometimes it looks kind of neat! But it’s become a sign of last refuge of for sports fans incredibly disinterested in the game. If fans want to do the wave on their own volition, they paid for tickets. But this is a team sanctioning the wave. I could not be more disappointed.

Still, it wasn’t all bad. I expected ridicule. Instead I got some good-natured ribbing from Canadiens fans — in English! — and the whole experience was pretty enjoyable. I wish Philadelphia home team fans were as friendly as these people. (To be fair, it was an end-of-season game that didn’t matter much.) Montreal does Philadelphia better in most other respects at the arena. Although the opened the same year, the Bell Centre feels much more intimate than the Wells Fargo Center. The pre-game entrance was pretty cool, with the players — and seemingly half of Montreal on video — carrying around a torch, though I’m not sure why the team wants to remind people of the cost overruns of the 1976 Olympics. Maybe it’s a tribute to Bruce Jenner, gold medalist in the decathlon. And while everyone told me about poutine and bagels (non-stop) when I was in Montreal, I did not know that the hot dogs at the Bell Centre would be so good.

The Canadiens have been quite a bit better on the ice this year than the Flyers, with Philly’s hockey team almost assured of missing the playoffs. Through 20-odd years of mild Flyers fandom — Mighty Ducks came out when I was nine — I had been to nine games. The Flyers had lost all of them. All of them! I saw the Flyers lose in overtime to the Lightning in the playoffs. I saw them lose 6-0 to the Rangers in free tickets a co-worker had given me. Once I went to the game and the loudest cheer from Flyers fans was when then-Eagles backup quarterback Koy Detmer showed up on the big screen.

But head to Canada, and what do you know: The Flyers, on a four-game losing streak, won in a rout. It was a sloppy game, but I don’t care. The Flyers won 7-3. And I left feeling a bit more sure of myself than I was three hours earlier.