As far as the Philadelphia Flyers know, their enigmatic coach, Fred Shero, actually does hate ice cream and thinks that beer is the real breakfast of champions. Shero, in fact, is such a heretic that he is the only soul around Philadelphia who will publicly admit to preferring the Beatles to Kate Smith. The Flyers reverently call him "Anatoli" because Shero professes to be a latter-day disciple of Anatoli Tarasov, the father of hockey in the Soviet Union. At the same time they irreverently call him Freddie the Fog because behind those photo-gray bifocals, that Fu Manchu mustache and those early-American Bandstand clothes, Shero indeed seems to be living somewhere offshore in a pea-souper. By any name, though, Shero has molded the Flyers in his image, operating on the tenets that 1) Baloney baffles brains; 2) An aphorism a day keeps defeat away; 3) All players should not be treated equally; and 4) The best weapon in hockey is a yellow legal pad. Whatever. Under Shero, Philadelphia won the Stanley Cup in 1974 and could well make it two in a row this year. Somewhere in that fogbank someone knows where he is going and it is Shero's hand on the tiller.
Witness Shero last week when the Flyers finally rubbed out the pesky New York Islanders in the seventh game of their semifinal Stanley Cup series and then rode Bernie Parent's spectacular goaltending and Shero's foolscap carpet to victory in the first two games of the cup finals against the Buffalo Sabres.
Early in the week, having just lost three straight games to the phoenix-like Islanders, the Flyers were understandably quiet and depressed as they skated out for what could have been their final practice of the season. But black armbands?
"What're they for?" Shero snapped.
"The guys are in mourning because Rexy's burned down last night," said Captain Bobby Clarke.
For the Flyers, losing Rexy's, their preferred watering hole across the Walt Whitman Bridge in New Jersey, was almost as traumatic as losing the three games to the Islanders. Considering the gloomy mood of his teammates, Clarke suggested to Shero that the Flyers spend the night in seclusion at a motel in Valley Forge. Reluctantly, Shero approved. " Montreal always hides in the mountains before big games but all the players ever do is stare at each other," Shero said. "What good is that? Why run away from people? I'd rather take them into the heart of traffic, let them see the girls and relax. I've told players to do that before. Oh, well, if they want to be out at Valley Forge, I'll be with them. Besides, it's a free meal."
On the day of the final game against the Islanders, the Flyers lounged around the motel, listened to some of Kate Smith's Goldies but Oldies album, hummed God Bless America
and wondered aloud: Will she or won't she? Will Kate the Great arrive just before game time in Owner Ed Snider's limousine, take to the ice, sing God Bless America
, collect her $5,000 fee and then cheer the Flyers to another victory? Or will she do it on tape? In living color Kate the Great had a perfect record: undefeated, untied and unscored upon in two appearances, including a cup-winning 1-0 decision over Boston a year ago. On tape she had a 40-3-1 record.
Shero feigned outrage at the suggestion that Kate the Great was a seventh skater. "If she really means that much," he grumbled, "I think we ought to put her on the payroll. I like the song, but it won't put the puck in the net." Shero was sitting behind a stack of books in his cubbyhole office off the Flyers' dressing room, below a sign that read: "O, the despair of Pygmalion, who might have created a statue and only made a woman." Shero is very big on aphorisms. Before; each Philadelphia game, home or road, big or ordinary, he pores through books, selects a particularly pointed sentence or phrase and then chalks it onto a green blackboard for the edification of his players. For the Islanders, he flooded the small board with three messages:
?"Only he deserves power who every day justifies it."—Dag Hammarskj�ld.
?"When I find myself in time of trouble, there's a light that shines on me...shines until tomorrow...let it be."—The Beatles.