Flyers get Philly's groove back
PHILADELPHIA -- In the postgame write-ups, a lot of guys said the same thing: the only chance Barack Obama had to win Pennsylvania was to flat-out rake in Philadelphia and its suburbs, and he didn't.
Sen. Obama knows Philadelphia is a sports town -- everybody knows Philadelphia is a sports town -- and he made the moves he had to make. The candidate went on WIP, the AM sports radio station. He talked ball and did it well, but the decks were stacked. Hillary had the endorsement of the mayor as well as the governor. Plus, there was the Hugh Rodham factor.
Barry Obama played basketball for his private school in Honolulu. Very nice. Hugh Rodham played football at Penn State.
As for Philadelphia, the city's getting its groove back, sporting and otherwise. As April expired on Wednesday night in a cool wind, the Phillies were at Citizens Bank Park, losing to the Padres, but so what? Last year, they won the NL East. This year, they went 15-13 in the cruelest month. Their usual thing is to take off the month completely. Two games over .500? Break out the good stuff.
Meanwhile, the 76ers were preparing to play a May basketball game. That, too, may sound modest. But at the start of the season, you would have said Dennis Kucinich had a better chance of still being in action in May than the Sixers. Yes, they were likely getting near the end, trailing the Pistons three games to two in the first round of the playoffs. The point is, they were in the playoffs, and Samuel Dalembert was carving his initials in his hair line and pointing out that his initials also stood for "strong defense."
Which gets us to the sporting soul of the city: the hockey team.
On Wednesday night -- a school night -- at the Wachovia Center, there were thousands of kids, some of them with faces painted orange. There were thousands of grown men wearing bright-orange cardboard helmets. Wearing it on the sleeve is not enough here. You wear it on your head.
On Wednesday night, the Flyers did an unlikely thing against the Candadiens. Montreal skated better, moved the puck better, got off at least a dozen more good shots than the Flyers. And the Flyers won, 4-2, in a second-round playoff game. After four games, the Flyers improbably led the series, 3-1.
When a better team plays well and loses, you have to figure emotion or some other thing you can't measure has swept the night, and the Flyers did trot out Kate Smith. Long dead, yes, but what a voice. The Flyers have used a taped version of the bespectacled Kate singing "God Bless America" as the pre-game rallying anthem seven times this year, including Wednesday night. She sings to a 6-1 record. The house was in a state of frenzy, from start to finish.
You could write a book about the Flyers and Philadelphia, and people have. In the '70s, when the Flyers, Phillies and Sixers were last all good at the same time, the City of Brotherly Love still had a ruling elite and a working-class base and both groups flocked to the Flyers. Now those broad distinctions are all but gone, yet the passion for the hockey team -- in the arena -- is the same as forever.
Bernie Parent, goaltending mainstay of the old 1970s Broad Street Bullies, inducted 20 years ago into the Hall of Fame with teammate Bobby Clarke, was making the rounds at the Wachovia Center, shaking hands with his five-pound mitts, showing off his Stanley Cup ring the size of a golf ball, and glowing as only a true legend -- in his house, surrounded by his people -- can. You see Bernie P. at a signing show in Cherry Hill, N.J., and that's one thing. You see him at the arena with his old club skating hard right below him, that's another.
You could see Ed Snider, the club's longtime chairman, in his private box: white hair, dark suit, white shirt, orange tie, much angst. The Flyers went up 2-0 and everybody in his box was on their feet, fiving and fisting. Snider didn't look too comfortable. He quickly sat down. He's been at this a long time, decades and decades. He knows better. He knows the Flyers never make it easy. It's not the Philadelphia way.
Sure enough, the Canadiens came back and tied the game, scoring twice within a minute late in the second period. Then the Flyers scored twice, chiefly on pluck. Snider smoothed his hair and straightened his orange tie and got in a crowded elevator with a dozen other celebrants. All it was was a playoff win. In Philadelphia, playoff wins are city holidays, in any sport, most especially hockey.
The new mayor, Michael Nutter, was leaving the arena, shaking hands, smiling, having a good time. He's a smart guy, a smart guy who likes sports. Somebody said to him, "Seems like the Seventies again around here, doesn't it?"
"Absolutely," the mayor said.
He got in his car and headed south on Broad Street in the direction of City Hall, past the lights of the ballpark where the Phillies and Padres were still at it. People were cheering for him almost as if he had scored the winning goal himself.