Watching the Eagles’ memorable Super Bowl parade took me back to the first Philadelphia parade I covered.
On a warm, sunny May 1974 afternoon at the Spectrum, the underdog Flyers, in just their seventh National Hockey League season, defeated Boston, 1-0. The imposing Bruins were led by Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito. Nevertheless, the Flyers won on a goal by Rick MacLeish, Bernie Parent’s sensational goaltending and stellar defense.
Later, I learned that throughout the city’s neighborhoods of row homes, the streets were empty because so many were in their homes watching television or listening on the radio to the sixth and final game of the Stanley Cup Finals on the radio.
The next day Philly held a parade for the Flyers, all Canadians, who had given the city such a feel-good emotional lift. (The ’74 and ’75 Flyers were the last all-Canadian teams to win Stanley Cups. Here we pause for a chorus of “Oh, Canada”).
I was the Flyers beat writer for the Daily News (my long-running joke is, I covered the Flyers only two Stanley Cup championships, in ’74 and ’75. They haven’t won a Cup since, so I’m taking a little credit for the 1974 and ’75 titles). I rode in the media bus, enjoying the sight of joyous, smiling fans cheering for the Flyers. Philly needed such a lift at the time and an estimated two million people turned out for the parade.
If I recall correctly, the father of Flyers’ defensemen Joe and Jimmy Watson, a burly, bearded man, had consumed a few beers, so at one point he hopped off the bus, ran up some steps, knocked on a stranger’s door and asked if he could use their bathroom. As Mr. Watson was leaving the house, the resident handed him another beer for the road.
When I returned to the Daily News newsroom, on North Broad Street in mid-afternoon, Stan Hochman, then the sports editor, walked over to my desk. I expected him to ask “How was the parade?” and then ask what I was writing for the next day’s paper. Instead, he looked rather sheepish and finally said, “The paper wants a three-part series on how the Flyers built a Stanley Cup winner in such a short time.” I replied, “Fine; when does the series start?” Stan replied, “Tomorrow.” OMG! Talk about deadline pressure. If I didn’t say it I certainly thought “Are these editors bleepin’ crazy?”
This was long before the Internet, cell phones, texting, etc. As I gathered my thoughts I called my wife Barbara and said, “I won’t be home for dinner.” Somehow, after a few phone calls, I managed to write the first part of the series for the next day’s paper. I completed the next two parts. Some day I’ll wade through my Flyers files and see if the series was decent.
One of the best Flyers parade stories was told by Gene Hart, the team’s longtime television and radio voice.
According to Gene, as the parade passed the Bellevue Stratford Hotel on South Broad Street, an out-of-town guest heard the commotion, looked out the window from his room on the fifth floor and saw the crowds lining the city’s main north-south street. The puzzled guest called the hotel’s front desk and asked what was going on. The clerk replied, “Haven’t you ever been in Philly on a Monday morning?” Ba da bing!
A few words about Gene Hart. He was a terrific hockey announcer: very knowledgeable and passionate about the game. For several years Gene also taught at Lenape High School, in Medford, N.J., when my wife also was a teacher there for a few years.
Several times during the NHL season he would bring a student with him to Flyers games at Madison Square Garden and Nassau Coliseum. What memorable experiences these trips must have been for the students.