When the final buzzer sounded, the crowd erupted with sustained joy. Some fans managed to get on the ice and mingled with the Flyers as they skated the Stanley Cup around the ice. Outside, around the city and the entire Delaware Valley, jubilant fans poured into the streets to celebrate. The city's other pro teams were losers at the time. In just their seventh season in the NHL, the Flyers were Stanley Cup champions.
The next day, a throng estimated as high as 2 million displayed its appreciation for the Flyers' accomplishment by lining the city's parade route. Which brings to mind the tale told by the late, great Gene Hart, the voice of the Flyers for decades. According to Gene, an out-of-town guest at the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel on South Broad Street heard the noise outside. When he looked out his window, he saw the overflow crowd and called the front desk to ask what was happening. The desk clerk replied, "Haven't you been in Philly on a Monday before?" Bada bing!
Covering those Flyers will always hold a fond place in my heart and mind. The players were generally easy to get along with. Fred Shero, the coach, was unique, a coach ahead of his time. Keith Allen, the general manager, was a gentleman in a business where team executives often were hard-hearted.
It was a different media time 40 years ago. There were only the three Philadelphia daily newspapers covering the team, plus what were then known as the "suburban papers." The new wave of dot.coms and bloggers was far in the tap-tap-tap distance.
Three of my favorite stories involving Flyers players:
* The Flyers were in Boston for a Sunday-afternoon national-TV game when Shero announced that Bobby Taylor would start in goal. Bernie Parent had played an incredible 43 of the season's first 45 games. Asked why he chose Taylor, who would only play in eight games that season, Shero replied with his familiar, inscrutable expression, "It's his turn." The NBC people were not happy that Parent didn't play.
* Parent started the first 37 games of the season. When he finally had a break, he was asked how it felt. "You feel like someone is hitting you on the head with a hammer, then it stops," he said.
* Defenseman Andre "Moose" Dupont didn't know much English when he began playing for Shero with the New York Rangers' Central League farm team in Omaha, Neb. The team suggested the Quebec native practice his English ordering breakfast. One day he requested "Two eggs, side by each, and a pair of toast." Dupont evolved into speaking good English, with an appealing French accent, of course.
Sports writers covering the team actually could ride the team buses from airports to hotels on the road. We even rode on the team bus to games in Madison Square Garden. Riding back to Philly after a game in New York and typing my Daily News story on a portable typewriter, I can still hear Bob Kelly yelling from the back of the bus at the driver, who Kelly thought was traveling too slowly on the New Jersey Turnpike, "Hey, bussie, there's a dog peeing on a rear tire."
Back then, the Daily News was an afternoon newspaper. Our deadline was 4:30-5 a.m. I used to proudly say the Daily News hockey writer was the last media member to leave the locker room because we had plenty of time. After a game in Vancouver, I typed my story on the Flyers' charter flight to Oakland. When we landed, I dashed to a pay phone and dictated my story to a desk editor in Philly.
Whenever I think of Oakland and the NHL, I recall a brawl the Flyers had with the California Golden Seals. The next time the Flyers played there, more fights occurred and the sports writers covering the Seals began yelling at the Philly writers in the press box. I finally shouted back, "We're not responsible for the fights, we just cover the team." The Oakland writers quickly calmed down. Maybe we intimidated them?
During that memorable championship season and the Cup conquest the next year, I don't think we ever thought decades later we'd have links to the players and staff. However, since so many players stayed in the Philly area, our paths continue to cross. Bob Clarke was the club general manager and team president for years, and still is a senior vice president. Bernie Parent was a goaltending coach for a while. Barry Ashbee became an assistant coach following his career-ending eye injury. Bill Barber coached the Flyers. Gary Dornhoefer was a team broadcaster. Joe Watson works in advertising for Comcast-Spectacor. Several other players live and work in the area.
The lead on my Daily News story following the 1974 clincher over Boston focused on Ashbee. His career abruptly ended when he was struck in the eye by a puck shot by the Rangers' Dale Rolfe in the semifinals. Standing against a wall in the Flyers' locker room and wearing dark glasses, Ashbee was one of the most stoic people I'd ever met, but I could tell he was emotional. "You might never see another bunch like this," he said. "I don't cry much, but I was in tears the last minute and a half. I've never been so proud of a bunch of guys in my life."
Three years later Ashbee died at age 37, victimized by leukemia. The Flyers Wives Fight for Lives has contributed $5 million for leukemia research at the Barry Ashbee Laboratories at Hahnemann University Hospital.
I never envisioned 40 years later I'd still be writing about the '74 Flyers. Spend as long as I have covering sports, though, and hopefully you're treated to such a once-in-a-career experience. Somehow, writing about the Flyers winning those Cups doesn't feel old. That was a special season filled with special people.