South Philly girl gets an 85th birthday date with the Flyers

Lina Antonelli took a limo to the game for her birthday, courtesy of her niece.
Lina Antonelli took a limo to the game for her birthday, courtesy of her niece.
Posted: January 27, 2014

PHILADELPHIA So how do you help a South Philly girl celebrate her 85th birthday in style?

A limo for a Saturday outing doesn't hurt. White. Eight seats. Champagne-stocked.

Then a quick stop for take-out cheesesteaks at Geno's Steaks, Ninth and Passyunk.

For dessert, toss in cannoli from a pastry shop on Oregon Avenue near 12th Street.

Next stop: the Wells Fargo Center, where Saturday's matchup was her beloved Flyers against the Boston Bruins at 1 p.m. Aisle seats for four, just nine rows from the ice, looking right at the Flyers' bench.

"I love this," said Lina Antonelli, standing at her seat, swaying to the pounding music as the teams warmed up.

But she couldn't love it all. The Flyers lost, 6-1, for their fourth defeat in a row.

Lina Antonelli was born Lina Licia Lazzaro on an Italian farm not far from Venice.

"We grew everything but oil," she said in an interview before the game.

She married an American soldier in 1950. They settled in South Philadelphia. She is a widow now.

For 64 years, she has lived near Ninth and Bigler Streets, on a street so narrow that the limo driver had to find parking a block away.

A season-ticket holder in the Flyers' glory years, Antonelli saw them beat the Bruins for their first Stanley Cup championship at the end of the 1973-74 season.

Forty years later, and despite the sad outcome of Saturday's game, her memory of the classic Boston-Philadelphia contest is still sweet.

"I loved the Broad Street Bullies," she said. "All the fights they used to have. That was wonderful."

So when a niece, Laura Antonelli of Lake Placid, N.Y., wanted to fete her aunt's milestone birthday in Philadelphia this month, luck struck.

Not only was this a weekend when Laura's 12-year-old son, Bruno, was not playing for his hockey team in Saranac Lake, but the Bruins were in town, playing the Flyers on home ice.

As they sometimes do, Laura, husband Keith Freeman, and Bruno drove from the Adirondacks in Upstate New York to the home of Keith's parents in South Jersey on Friday. The limousine picked them up Saturday morning and then picked up Lina.

Lina knew she would be going to the game. Her family told her that much. But riding there like some kind of celebrity was a surprise.

For the South Philly girl, who talks of surviving a hard life, the special occasion was a long time coming.

Her father died when she was 12; her mother, when she was 22. "Most of my life," she said, "I raised myself."

After she arrived in Philadelphia with her American husband, Lina said, "I worked for 40 years" for clothing manufacturers on Broad Street north of Spring Garden Street, using a machine to put linings in men's coats.

The work, she said, "was the most horrible thing."

By the 1970s, when the Flyers were riding high, hockey had become one of her passions.

She has described Bernie Parent's 1-0 shutout in the Cup-clinching sixth game at the Spectrum on May 19, 1974, as one of the most exciting moments of her life.

The Flyers' performance Saturday won't go down that way in her book of hockey memories, but as birthdays go, it was a cheesesteak-cannoli-champagne hat trick.

610-313-8134 @WNaedele

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