In the book Loose Balls by Terry Pluto, Roger Brown of the ABA's Indiana Pacers talks about what playing in Indianapolis meant to him.
"I had no desire to play in [the NBA]," he says, "not when I could stay with the Pacers and be a part of a great team. I still live in Indianapolis today...the Pacers and the town have been great to me."
These words were uttered sometime around 1990; Roger Brown died of liver cancer in 1997. But as a lifelong fan of the Philadelphia Flyers, Roger's love of a team and a city that adopted him as one of their own ring true to me.
Bernie Parent, Bob Kelly, Bill Clement, Gary Dornhoefer, Keith Jones, Craig Berube, Bobby Clarke, Paul Holmgren, Derian Hatcher, Brian Propp, Chris Therien, even Dave Brown and Ilkka Sinisalo.
All of these men spent time with the Flyers organization. All of them, and probably a lot more, either work or have worked with the Flyers after retirement, whether as a coach, a broadcaster, an "ambassador of hockey," a scout or a general manager. While they did not all spend their entire careers in Philadelphia, they do all still bleed orange and black.
This is a testament to the dedication and passion of the Philadelphia Flyers. Although they haven't won a Stanley Cup since 1975, no one would dare question their commitment to success. Whether run by the fiery Ed Snider or the deep pockets of Comcast, they've never been afraid to spend money or make the big move, and they've never hesitated when the end result could be another deep playoff run.
Have they made mistakes? Absolutely. Their inability to acquire a franchise goalie, or sometimes even a serviceable one, has possibly cost them a championship or two. Their overzealous pursuit of big bodies at a time when speed was returning to the game might have done the same. And their mishandling of coaches over the last decade has ranged from incompetent to downright idiotic.
But we forgive them, even when the 2006-2007 team finished with the worst record in the league. They're almost always competitive, almost always exploring their options and always trying to recapture that glory. We get the sense that they care, we know that they treat their players and the fans right, and we understand that they want to win as much as we do.
This is why old Flyers are welcomed back with open arms, why constant reminders of past successes are displayed throughout their home at the Wachovia Center. Out of context, it might seem like they're living in the past, but I think it's more about celebrating it, making sure that the team and the fans don't forget what has made this organization great.
The Broad Street Bullies of the 1970's, the Tim Kerr-Mark Howe-Ron Hextall teams of the 1980's, The Legion of Doom in the 1990's -- there's a lot of history surrounding the Flyers, most of it very good. It's odd, because usually stuff like this doesn't mean much to me; I want to see wins, and I want to celebrate championships. But when it comes to the Flyers, it does.
When reports surface that Paul Holmgren is gunning for Ilya Kovalchuk or Jay Bouwmeester, we don't take it with the same grain of salt that we would an Eagles or even a Phillies rumor. When the team makes a big splash by acquiring Danny Briere, Chris Pronger or Peter Forsberg, we say "ho-hum."
We expect big acquisitions, we expect people to want to play here, we expect a contender. But this isn't only because we have grand expectations; it's because there's an aura around the Flyers organization that draws people in. They know the Flyers, even when they don't play that way on the ice, exude class, integrity and loyalty. They know that, for most of their fans, and especially when they're winning, the Flyers are royalty. And they want to be part of it.
This is because Flyers fans and Flyers management share the same desires. Like I said, maybe those desires are sometimes too strong, and maybe knee-jerk reactions or set-in-stone styles have cost the team in the past. But never, not once, have I thought that the Flyers were playing it safe, being cheap, trying to limp into the playoffs, looking to turn a profit.
As good as the Phillies are now, as consistently successful as the Eagles have been lately, I can't say the same about either of them. With them, there's always questions. With the Flyers, there are not.
Again, this doesn't absolve them of their failures. I won't be satisfied in May if the Flyers are home playing golf but they "tried their best." But neither will they. They might not be the biggest draws in town, and they might not bring us a parade anytime soon. But it won't be for lack of trying, and in an era where salaries are skyrocketing, players are inaccessible and sports are more a business than ever, being a Flyer, no matter what position you play or title you hold, still means something. And that means a lot.