Flyers, Philly Fans Embarrass Selves in Playoff Loss
The Philadelphia Flyers and St. Louis Blues once played a game on January 6th of 1972. The Flyers, an expansion squad in its fifth season, were two years away from the first of the franchise’s only two Stanley Cups. It was Fred Shero‘s first year as coach. The Flyers were ahead, 2-0, after two periods, when a riot broke out.
Blues coach Al Arbour — the third employed by St. Louis that season — chased after the ref toward the dressing room. He was complaining about the way the puck was dropped on a face-off earlier in the game. As he berated the ref in the exit runway, a fan reached over and poured a beer over Albour’s head. (Stadium beer was cheaper in those days.)
The incident is recalled in fantastic detail in Glen Macnow and Anthony L. Gargano’s The Great Philadelphia Fan Book. The authors even got Ed Snider to comment on the incident.
“Fans started cursing the Blues and throwing things,” he said. “Then Arbour reached over into the seats and some cop hit him over the head with a billy club. Well, that was it. It became instant mayhem.”
The Blues players rushed to the tunnel entrance, defending their coach. Led by Bob Plager, Blues players rushed into the stands and began fighting fans. One-hundred fifty police officers had to be called in to quell the mayhem. Blues defenseman John Arbour, no relation to the coach, needed 40 stitches. Three Blues players, and coach Arbour, were arrested.
“That was the worst case of police brutality I’ve ever seen or heard about,” Blues owner Sidney Salomon told the Daily News. “It was worse than the riot in Chicago at the convention.” Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo was his usual self: “This community will not tolerate hooliganism. We probably didn’t need our police officers in that situation. I believe our residents could have taken care of the matter on their own.”
Snider bailed the Blues players out of jail. As he told the authors of the book, he was angrier at the way his team reacted than with the fans. The Flyers gave up three goals in the third period and lost to the Blues, 3-2. “I was angry,” Snider said. “Not about the fight, so much as the game. Blowing a two-goal lead made me sick.” The embarrassing fight and loss were on Snider’s 39th birthday.
Now Lou Nolan is downright pissed. STOP THROWING BRACELETS!!!! pic.twitter.com/zkxrnNgdPM
— Cindy Webster (@CindyWeb94) April 19, 2016
I thought of this incident as I saw bracelets rain down during the Flyers’ embarrassing 6-1 loss to the Washington Capitals last night. Last night was supposed to be a proud night to be a Philadelphia Flyers fan: The team honored Snider, who died last week, with an emotional pregame tribute. There was a light show beforehand, with fans getting bracelets before the game. (A fan yelled out “Fuck the Pens” during a moment of silence.)
The Flyers scored 57 seconds into the game. It went downhill from there. By the third period, the Flyers had concussed one Capitals player and gotten a major penalty for Pierre-Edouard Bellemare‘s dirty hit on another. It was 4-1. Fans started throwing bracelets. “This is Philly, this is not somewhere else in the NHL,” public address announcer Lou Nolan pleaded with the fans. “Show some class.”
They didn’t. Fans continued to throw bracelets, the Flyers got a delay of game penalty for it — some fans cheered — and the Capitals scored again. The final was 6-1. The Flyers trail in the series, 3-0, and have looked outclassed against the NHL’s top seed.
Last night’s display was not good. You shouldn’t throw things on the ice. One hit a player on the Capitals. Others didn’t reach the ice and hit other fans. It is also a rare occurrence of a home team’s fans measurably hurting their own team, drawing a penalty for their behavior. It was an embarrassing night for Philadelphia on the whole. To make things worse, last night’s fan display pretty much lets the Flyers off the hook for their awful performance.
You can see how this happened. Flyers fans worked themselves into the belief that they had a shot in this series against the Capitals, despite sneaking into the playoffs at the end of the season. It has been one-sided. Many fans spent hours tailgating. People were drunk. People were upset the Flyers were about to trail 3-0 in the series. It happened at a hockey game, a sport which often celebrates violence (it is the only sport that occasionally stops the game so players can have a fistfight), with a team whose fans look back wistfully on the era when the team was good and goony. It happened in a city that often cheers the boorish behavior of its citizens (the 1972 incident with the Blues is listed by Macnow and Gargano as a “great moment”).
A light-up wristband is not a memento that really means much. Some — say, 100? — threw them. It’s bad. There’s no excuse. It’s also not the worst thing in the world. It is not nearly close to being the most embarrassing thing Philadelphia fans have done.
The reaction among Philly sports fans has been predictable. Many say they don’t want to be lumped in with the fans that threw the bracelets; that no true Philadelphia sports fan would be among those tossing bracelets. Others like to point out that all sports fans have boorish elements, which is true — and better to bring up now than when legitimately awful events happen at other stadiums. (A not-insignificant segment of the Philly fanbase likes to sarcastically go “But I thought it was just Philly fans!” whenever something bad happens at another city’s sporting event.)
No one got hurt last night. The Flyers would have lost anyway. It’s mostly, in the words of Wayne Simmonds, “fucking embarrassing.” But part of being a sports fan is dealing with the bad behavior of your fellow fans. In Philadelphia — whether we’re actually worse or just magnified by the media — it’s a bigger problem. You’ll be hearing about this for a long time.
So add another tally to the long list of bad Philadelphia sports behavior. Short of making the Flyers play the next home game in an empty arena — which won’t happen — there probably won’t ever be a way to police the segment of the Philly sports fanbase that is full of assholes. At this point, you’re not going to convince anyone Philly sports fans don’t act this way, that other fanbases are just as bad. You just have to deal with it.
Follow @dhm on Twitter.