"He wanted to reward us," Watson said. "He had a few rules, but one that he took seriously was that he didn't like to drink with us. He got off the bus, said he would meet us at the hotel, and disappeared to another corner bar. That's Freddie."
Shero was an innovator in so many ways. Everyone knows now that Shero was the first NHL coach to study Russian tactics and use video, that he was the first coach to hire a full-time assistant, the first to implement systems and the first person to come up with the idea of a morning skate, to shake trips like the one to Hennessy's out of his players' systems.
Yet, not everyone is aware of Shero the man, of whom most miscast his "Fog" nickname as being aloof. Shero undoubtedly had his quirks, but he was also revered by his players for his wit, his father-figure advice and inclusive style.
More than 32 years after he last set foot behind an NHL bench, we finally will have a fresh glimpse into Fred Shero tonight when he is posthumously inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. Shero, who died in 1990 at the age of 65, will be inducted into the "Builders" category, joining Chris Chelios, Brendan Shanahan, Scott Niedermayer, and female player Geraldine Heaney in the five-person Class of 2013.
"He was a complex man," Watson said. "He would say things, and us being hockey players, sometimes it took us a month to understand what he meant. Usually, coaches are a part of management. But Freddie always sided with the players. Whenever we had a problem, Freddie would take care of it to keep the players happy.
"I think it's because of Freddie that the Flyers realize players are No. 1, that if they need this or that, the Flyers always take care of it. Not every team is like that. I don't think any of us ever forgot that."
That's why Watson will be among a group of 14 former players to accompany Flyers chairman Ed Snider for the ceremonies. Shero is the seventh member of those "Broad Street Bullies" to be enshrined, joining Snider, Bobby Clarke, Bernie Parent, Bill Barber, general manager Keith Allen and broadcaster Gene Hart.
It took 32 years because, as Watson and the rest of the Bullies tell it, the voting committee didn't appreciate the Flyers' untraditional, physical style of play - except when they were facing the Russians.
On the ice, the rough stuff served as an unfortunate mask for all the talent the Flyers of that era possessed. You could out-punch, but you couldn't out-skate or out-smart the Canadiens and Bruins unless you could actually play the game.
"When he came, we were like a lot of teams that just played hockey," Clarke said. "He felt to get his style, to get his system in place, you had to practice more. So he started having us put all our equipment on and going on the ice the morning of games.
"When I got here, you just put on your skates and jeans and went out [on the ice] just to see if your skates were sharp. Nobody did anything. Most of the guys [before that] didn't even go on the ice. Once we started being successful, every [other team] followed."
Shero challenged his players to think. Clarke famously recalls the story when Shero had the Flyers practice for 30 minutes with their sticks upside down before a player finally questioned the purpose of the exercise. Shero's thinking transferred to big moments of big games, like continually dumping the puck into the corner of Bruins defenseman Bobby Orr, forcing him to skate from end to end for a rush. It eventually wore him out in the 1974 Stanley Cup finals, as the Flyers captured their first Cup on May 19, 1974, with a 1-0 win at the Spectrum in Game 6.
"Then, against the Soviets [Jan. 11, 1976], they called themselves the 'Iron Curtain.' Well, we showed them the Iron Curtain," Watson said. "Rather than back up, we stood up at the blue line and in the neutral zone. The Soviets didn't know what to do."
The rest of the NHL was envious. No NHL expansion team had ever captured a Stanley Cup. No other NHL team, even the Canadiens, was able to beat the Central Red Army team. Watson said the team received letters and congratulations from all over the world, from Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
"Five years from now, he'll be in the Hall of Fame," Watson incorrectly predicted when speaking at Shero's funeral in 1990. "He should be in there already. That happens to a lot of great men, overlooked while they're alive. In Freddie's case, we were the Broad Street Bullies, it was hooliganism, and people held that against him."
Shero kept a list of "10 commandments" for players to follow, which they dubbed the "Shero Bible." Watson said one of them was: "There are six areas on the ice. Four corners and the two nets. Control those and you control the game."
"He revolutionized the game," Watson said. "He didn't enjoy all the fighting, he never told us to fight. But he said if you put a 100 dollar bill on the floor of the locker room, let the best man win it. It didn't matter what you needed to do to win. I'm glad he's finally getting the credit for it."
Near the end, as Shero was slipping away after a long battle with cancer, Watson went to visit his old coach at Cooper Hospital in Camden. He recalled how they used to have 11 o'clock meetings at night, when both Shero and players would be "half in the bag." They laughed.
"He got out this piece of paper. His body was failing, his entire left side was sagging. He could hardly write. But there he was, talking about players and diagramming plays," Watson said. "The next morning, he was gone."
The fog has lifted. Somewhere, in the great rink in the sky, Shero is toasting and telling stories with Hart.
"If you looked inside Freddie's brain," Shero's widow, Mariette, said in 1996, "I think you would find a miniature hockey rink."
FRED SHERO FILE
Born: Oct. 23, 1925, Winnipeg, Canada
Died: Nov. 24, 1990, Camden, N.J. (age 65)
Height: 5-10 Weight: 185
Playing career: 1947-50, 145 games with Rangers
Family: Wife: Mariette (Died 2010, age 86). Sons: Rejean (Ray) and Jean-Paul. Ray is the general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Inducted Flyers’ Hall of Fame: 1990
Inducted Hockey Hall of Fame: Tonight
Flyers coach: 1971-78
Record with Flyers: 308-151-95 in seven regular seasons; 48-35 in Stanley Cup playoffs
Won Stanley Cup: 1974 and 1975
Honors: Jack Adams Award as first-ever coach of the year in 1973-74.
Team records: Holds all Flyers coaching records, including longest-tenured, wins, postseason wins and winning percentage.
After coaching Flyers: Went 82-74-24 in three regular seasons with the Rangers, where he was also New York’s general manager. Took the Rangers to the 1979 Stanley Cup
finals, but they lost to Montreal. Went 15-12 in the postseason with New York, but said leaving the Flyers was the biggest mistake of his life. Career coaching record of 390-225-119.
Known for being an eccentric, deep thinker, Shero often wrote quotes on the Flyers’ chalkboard in their dressing room or left them for players in the locker room. Not all quotes are originally attributed to him, but here were a few of Shero’s favorites:
* “Win today and we will walk together forever.” — Famously scribbled on the board the day the Flyers won their first Stanley Cup in 1974.
* “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation. For your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”
* “When you have bacon and eggs for breakfast, the chicken makes a contribution, the pig makes a commitment.”
* “Success requires no explanations, failure presents no alibis.”
* “Arrive at the net with the puck and ill humor.”
* “Success is not the result of spontaneous combustion. You must first set yourself on fire.”
* “We know that hockey is where we live, where we can best meet and overcome pain and wrong and death. Life is just a place where we spend time between games.”
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