Flyers show patriotism in preseason contest The exhibition with the Rangers was shortened because the crowd wanted to follow last night's speech by President Bush.

Posted: September 21, 2001

On a night when President Bush addressed Congress and the American people about what comes next in the war against terrorism, the Flyers and their fans displayed extraordinary patriotism at the First Union Center.

Given the choice of watching the preseason game against the New York Rangers or a telecast of the President's address last night, the fans overwhelmingly opted for the latter.

Bush's address, which was shown on the Jumbotron, began about eight minutes before the start of the third period. But as the players skated onto the ice, a message on the screen said the game would resume and the remainder of Bush's speech would be shown in the Broad Street Atrium.

The 14,000 fans booed lustily as Bush's image disappeared from the screen. It reappeared seconds later and the players went from center ice to the benches.

Flyers chairman Ed Snider and chief operating officer Ron Ryan decided to end the preseason home opener with the score tied, 2-2, after two periods, and the players shook hands at center ice.

Snider said fan reaction to Bush's address had dictated what followed.

"We felt we should show part of [the speech] and gauge the fans' reaction," he said. "We did what the fans wanted."

Public address announcer Lou Nolan told the crowd the game was being suspended as a tie "in respect for the United States and in support of the President's speech."

"It was a unique experience for all of us," Snider said, noting that what happened last night represented a "very important time in our history."

"The right decision was made," Flyers coach Bill Barber said. "Any time the President addresses the United States of America and the world, it exceeds any sporting event."

Fans cheered wildly during parts of the speech, when Bush vowed to eliminate terrorist groups and bring those responsible for last week's attacks on the United States to justice. The building erupted when Bush named Gov. Ridge to head his new office of Homeland Security.

The Flyers' Keith Primeau said that while hockey provides entertainment, what happened last night "was so much more important."

"I lost sight that I was in a hockey game," he said.

Teammate Jeremy Roenick, echoing the sentiments of Snider, said the players felt a bond with the fans because all were watching Bush in an extraordinary moment in history.

"I was more impressed watching it with 13,000 or 14,000 people," he said. "How can you play hockey after that?"

Before the game, the Flyers held a touching ceremony that began with a video accompanied by Ray Charles' new version of "America the Beautiful," which pays tribute to the victims of last week's terrorism.

The arena's new 360-degree LED (light-emitting diode) video board, which wraps around the upper-deck railing, displayed red, white and blue streamers.

Philadelphia police and firefighters then walked to center ice to unfurl two flags while the Flyers and Rangers skated to center ice. They stood side-by-side during Lauren Hart's a capella version of "God Bless America."

Hart was joined by the U.S. Marine Corps color guard while the video board showed an American flag. Cheers and some chants of "USA, USA" followed.

Fans attending the game received miniature flags on wooden dowels. Although flags are in critical shortage everywhere in the country, Kathi Gillin, vice president of sales and marketing, found a vendor.

"We had 22,000 flags, and we'll be distributing them again at another game," Ryan said.

Security measures. Peter Luukko, president of Comcast-Spectactor Ventures and chairman of Global Spectrum, which runs the First Union Center, would not be specific but said that the arena had a full force of plainclothes security guards.

Outside the building, a 100-foot perimeter ban was enforced throughout the parking lots, meaning no cars were allowed in the first few rows of spaces closest to the building.

Tim Panaccio's e-mail address is tpanaccio@phillynews.com.

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