The Blade Runners.
The roll call included:
The Hammer (Dave Schultz); Hound (Bob Kelly); The Watson Brothers (Jim and Joe); Moose (Andre DuPont); Big Bird (Don Saleski); Chief (Bobby Taylor); The Rifle (Reggie Leach).
Their ringleader was a fang-toothed irritant and instigator from Flin Flon, name of Clarke. Robert Earle Clark. Or simply, Clarkie. He was a diabetic, and several of the Flyers allowed as how they wouldn't mind having a touch of that if it would help them play like their captain. (Political correctness was not in vogue at that time.)
At the most crucial position in the sport, they had a stone wall. Bernie Parent, goalie extraordinaire. He was unflappable, pressure-proof, and they could take chances they usually wouldn't because they knew that whatever leaked through them, the man in the mask would inhale. Many nights, one goal was sufficient.
The hot ticket in bumper stickers became:
"Only The Lord Saves More Than Bernie."
But, Philadelphians wondered, what exactly is this sport played on frozen water that you have brought to us from the Great North, and, more important, will we like it?
All you need to know, Pilgrim, they were told, is that those who play it keep their teeth in their pants pockets. They get to use sticks. And, oh yes, bleeding is not only permitted but encouraged. And stitching is done between periods, hence no waiting.
All in, Philadelphia cried. All in.
The Flyers, they were called. And they were tailor-made for this city, where grit and gristle play big. The love affair began almost instantly, and it burns hot today. There is an ongoing, unresolved debate about the exact size of Flyers Nation, whether it is confined to the season-ticket holders whose passion makes it seem larger than it is, or if it is legitimately large.
One unassailable fact: The Flyers were the ones who spearheaded the sports renaissance in Philadelphia. Embarrassed at being showed up by the new team in town, which won a championship in only its seventh year, the E-A-G . . . and the Fightin's and the 1-2-3-4-5-6ers all set about pulling out of their death spirals, and in 1980 all four franchises were playing for world championships. (A repeat revival would be most welcome now, it being far too long, 36 years actually, since last we sipped from Lord Stanley's chalice.)
A number of Flyers settled here after their playing careers ended, and they haven't had to buy a round yet.
Along the way, the Blade Runners built a reputation for physicality that trails behind them like a kite tail even now. As the new team in town, they played hesitantly and were rewarded by getting the pudding pounded out of them. An incensed owner vowed there would be an immediate end to such public humiliations. Ed Snider is accustomed to getting his way.
So, out of the ashes rose the Broad Street Bullies.
They littered the ice with dropped gloves and overhand rights and scabbed knuckles. You took on one, you took on them all, although truth to tell they were looking for a fight at game's start most nights. Their penalty box was stuffed to overflowing, and Flyers Flu became the opposition's most popular excuse for taking the night off.
Asked to sum up a successful road trip, DuPont happily said: "We don't go to jail, we beat up their chicken forwards, we score 10 goals, and we win. And now the Moose drinks beer."
The league was beside itself, fretting over the unsavory images.
Expecting words of remorse and contrition from the enigmatic coach, Fred Shero, what they got instead was a snort of derision and this: "If it's fancy skating they want, tell them to go to the Ice Capades."
With me, the forever image is in Buffalo on a steamy, fog-shrouded night in 1975, the Flyers about to nail down that second Cup, and feisty Terry Crisp jumping up and down on a rickety chair and yelling at Parent, who was about to pitch another shutout: "Come on Ben-Wa, you little money maker, you!"
One image more: that blackboard in the Flyers locker room in the departed Spectrum, just before the game to clinch the first Cup, and on it Fred Shero had written:
"Win Today and We Walk Together Forever."
There was a time in this town when schoolboys could recite that from memory.