Flyers. A dirty word in our household. The second-worst F-word. Often muttered in tandem with the worst F-word. The Philadelphia Flyers are as contemptible an opponent as the Capitals play. Consistently irritating, like sand in your swimsuit. Any encounter with them akin to discovering a rancid zucchini in your vegetable drawer. With the Flyers heading to D.C. Saturday for their first visit of the season, it is important to remember why we hate the Flyers.
The list is long and infamous. Eric Lindros. Joffrey Lupul in overtime. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare’s cheap shot on Dmitry Orlov. Ron Hexxxx-taaaal, Hexxxx-taaaal, Hexxxx-taaaal menacingly wielding his goalie stick. A mascot that looks like the unholy offspring of Mayor McCheese and Animal from The Muppets. Scott Hartnell. Every Flyer squad masquerading as a bad rip-off of their ancestors, the Broad Street Bullies. Yes, it’s easy to hate the Flyers.
Then there are the fans. If Pens fans are more arrogant and Rangers fans are louder, Flyer fans are the perfect combination of the two, coalescing into obnoxiousness personified. Capable of communicating in little more than belches and booger flicks, Flyer fans invade our city on game day. In the Pre-Rock the Red era, Flyer fans would account for half the crowd. I’ve seen Philly fans start fights in the bleachers. I’ve witnessed a carload of Flyer faithful intentionally nudge a Caps fan with their car. I’ve endured roving packs of Flyer fans roaming the concourses cursing the Caps at the top of their lungs. (To be fair, I do know several Flyers fans who happen to be classy, erudite citizens of the world; I’m surprised they have not been asked to turn in their orange hockey sweaters.) Oh yes, it’s easy to hate the Flyers.
For me, it is simple to pinpoint the day my hate truly blossomed: February 10, 1991. The game that cemented my distaste for Philly and my love for the Washington Capitals. The atmosphere inside the Capital Centre was combustible leading up to the Sunday matinee. Within minutes of entering the seating bowl, my friends and I were treated to a handmade poster insulting Flyer goalie Ron Hextall’s “anatomy” and heard another man question Hextall’s sister’s “performance.” The Philly fans were already chanting “Let’s Go Flyers” from their perches near the rafters. It was obvious we were going to be hoarse from shouting down their chants all afternoon. We were excited but had no idea the joys that lay ahead.
The mood wasn’t just combustible in the stands. Before the game was three minutes old, two separate fights occurred. The crowd was going crazy. The game was filled with huge hits and nasty brawls. I distinctly remember Dale Hunter delivering a vicious elbow to Gord Murphy who fell in slow motion like he was some sort of flattened cartoon character.
Coaches Terry Murray and Paul Holmgren shouted at each other from the benches with Holmgren smashing the glass between them with a stick. The box score read like a career criminal’s rap sheet. Sprinkled among the big checks and fisticuffs was a sterling performance from the Capitals’ offense. The home team jumped to a 4-0 lead, chasing Ron Hextall in the process. With each goal, the siren wailed and the decibel counters in the arena’s corners edged toward 100 as we fans roared our approval. The final score of 5-2 was hardly relevant, though.
The main event was a 12-player brawl which exploded with about 8 minutes to go in the third period. Six simultaneous fights across the rink highlighted by Flyer goalie, and former Capital, Pete Peeters skating the length of the ice to fight his counterpart Don Beaupre. In total, the game saw 294 penalty minutes assessed, 11 players ejected, and a 20-minute stoppage to tally the penalties and scrape up the blood that had frozen on the rink.
From that day forward there was but one choice: Hate the Philadelphia Flyers. So, Happy Anniversary, 294 Penalty Minute Bloodbath Game. And, once again, welcome to Washington, Broad Street Bullies.
By Bryan Hailey