Right on, Philadelphia. Though Flyer games are sellouts and Ed Snider says, "I could sell another 100,000 season tickets if I had them," there are other compensations. Every day, for example, the city's TV sportscasters get to lead off with these thrilling words, "In sports news in Philadelphia, city of winners...."
How long that happy opportunity will prevail is a subject that concerns Captain Clarke. He remembers what Harry Sinden, general manager of the Bruins, said way back in the middle of the 1974 cup finals. "If the Flyers win this thing," Sinden said, "wait and see how they are in a couple of years. Wait until they get rich." Clarke is not hurting. He signed a seven-year, $1,050,000 contract in 1974 that calls for the payments to be spread equally over the next 20 years, thereby guaranteeing him an income of at least $50,000 a year until he is 45.
Does that bode complacency? Must the Flyers heed the Shero scribbling that says, "There is plenty of room at the top but not enough room to sit down"? Clarke thinks so. "The enthusiasm is not the same this year," he says. "Unlike losing, you get used to winning. The first year we won the Stanley Cup we were hungry. We had to win to prove to ourselves that we could do it. Last year we had to prove that the previous year wasn't a fluke, like a lot of people said." And this year? "I guess you'd have to say we're the team to beat." He said that before MacLeish was injured and lost for the season, but it's still true.
The Flyers are also a different team to beat, claims Clarke. "This year we're getting away from the aggressiveness," he says. "It was necessary for us to build up a reputation, and now that we have it, teams will let us play hockey. Besides, if you get into brawls three or four times a game you don't get out of the building until past midnight. People don't want to see that. It gets boring."
Perhaps so, but when there are not elements of nationalism involved the Flyers do give hints that they might be relaxing their muscle a mite. Shero has been heard mumbling of late about "those silly penalties." And after a dispiriting loss not too long ago, Clarke complained, "It's the same old story. You lose your momentum when you're killing penalties all night."
In last year's cup finals, in fact, Philadelphia got into only two fights while defeating Buffalo with some good sound hockey. And Schultz, who was used only sparingly in the finals, reports, "Things have changed. Two years ago everybody was willing to fight. Now I'm not saying we're not willing to, I'm just saying we don't have to."
If there is a sucker punch hidden in there somewhere (as of last week the Flyers were, as usual, the NHL's most penalized team), Clarke is not owning up. Indeed, once prone to fire from the lip (two seasons ago he suggested that Campbell resign because "none of the other big leagues have old guys as their heads"), now his "aaw, naaws" cover a multitude of diplomatic hedgings.
In 1974, for example, Defenseman Joe Watson reported, "Heck, sometimes Clarkie gives us more crap when we let down than he does to players on the other team." Now Clarke tends to serve up his intangibles with beer. "Geez," he says, "try and tell a guy that he's not sticking with his man when he comes back to the bench and he's been out there working his butt off, he's going to get mad. But you can talk about mistakes over a few beers. You can say all day how you're going to work your butt off, but you still have to do it. But if I talk to Rick MacLeish and he says he's going to do it, then I feel I have to do it. And then Bill Barber talks to me and he says he'll do it. It's contagious."
Whatever it takes, Clarke seems ready to deliver. Late last season, when he noticed that Parent was not as sharp as usual, he called the goalie aside and told him, "Look, you're the one guy who can win the Stanley Cup for us. Do it and I'll buy you a jeep." Parent won MVP honors—and an orange and black jeep with denim interior was duly delivered. With Parent sidelined by an injury so far this season, Clarke may have a jeep talk on the tip of his tongue for stand-in Wayne Stephenson.
When Clarke was given a new Mercedes for being the 1975 MVP, he exchanged it for the half-ton truck he now drives to the games. Down-home tastes come natural to Bobby. Asked to submit his favorite dish for a story in the Flyer program, his wife Sandy offered "hot dog surprise," which is a frank on a bun with mustard and—surprise—a dash of relish.