Read an Excerpt
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Philadelphia Flyers
Heart-Pounding, Jaw-Dropping, and Gut-Wrenching Moments in Philadelphia Flyers History
By Adam Kimelman
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2013 Adam Kimelman
All rights reserved.
In the early 1960s Ed Snider wasn't the multimillionaire sports and entertainment mogul he is today.
Snider was living in Washington, D.C., where he co-owned a record company. In New York on business, Snider met up with a friend, Juggy Gayles, presumably to go to dinner. However, Gayles had a different idea.
"He had seats at the old [Madison Square] Garden," Snider said, "and he said, "Come on, my buddies and I are going to the game and I'll take you.' I said, "What game?' He said, "Rangers and Montreal.' I said, "What are you talking about?' That's how little I knew."
For Ed Snider, hockey was love at first sight. Actually, it was love for Gump Worsley.
Growing up in Washington, Snider followed the Washington Redskins, and as a kid enjoyed the old Washington Senators, but he had never seen anything like pint-sized Gumper the goalie.
"Maybe it was the fact that he didn't look like an athlete or that he wasn't wearing a mask, I'm not sure," Snider said in Full Spectrum. "But I know I was fascinated with Worsley. I thought, "This is the greatest spectator sport I've ever seen.'"
Not long after that, Snider's record company hit a bad patch, and he and his partner sold out.
In 1964, Snider, along with a brother-in-law, Earl Foreman, and one of Foreman's law clients, developer Jerry Wolman, purchased the Philadelphia Eagles. Snider, who owned a 7-percent stake in the team, moved to Philadelphia to become the team's treasurer.
That winter Snider was in Boston on business when he went with friends to a Celtics–76ers NBA game. Who won was irrelevant; in the end, it was the city of Philadelphia that came out on top.
As Snider's group was leaving Boston Garden, Snider noticed a line at the ticket window. It was a remarkably long line for a late Sunday afternoon.
"I asked my friend, "What is that line for?'" Snider said. "And he said, "It's for the hockey game tomorrow.' I said, "Are they in the playoffs? Big rivalry?' He said no, they put a thousand seats on sale for every game and people line up the night before to buy them. They're in last place, but it doesn't matter, the fans here just love hockey."
By 1965 Snider's main task was financing Wolman's dream of a multi-purpose stadium that could house his Eagles and the Philadelphia Phillies (Wolman also owned their home, Connie Mack Stadium). The building was going to be erected on the south end of Broad Street, near the Philadelphia Navy Yard.
During a meeting with Bill Putnam, an executive with Morgan Guaranty Trust Company in New York — Putnam had helped set up the loan that allowed Wolman's group to buy the Eagles — Putnam told Snider he was leaving Morgan to move to Los Angeles and run Jack Kent Cooke's sports properties. Cooke was a minority owner of the Redskins and also owned the Los Angeles Lakers. He was planning on building a new home for his basketball team in suburban Inglewood, California. For a second tenant in his Fabulous Forum, Cooke had applied for a National Hockey League expansion franchise.
Snider was shocked. "I said, "Wait, what did you say? They're expanding in the National Hockey League?' There was nothing in the papers here — the only story had been a six-paragraph blurb buried in the Philadelphia Daily News. Nobody knew anything. He said the National Hockey League is going to double in size, and he named a bunch of cities. I asked about Philadelphia, and he said, "I'm sure Philadelphia would be one they would consider, but there's no arena, there's no anything.'"
While Putnam was explaining the NHL's grand plan to add six new teams, an earlier meeting with Philadelphia 76ers owner Ike Richman rebounded into Snider's mind. Richman had approached Snider about convincing Wolman to build a new home for his basketball team. The 76ers had been playing at Convention Hall, near the University of Pennsylvania, but he wanted a new, modern building. At the time, Snider had told Richman that the Eagles weren't in the arena-construction business.
Suddenly pieces of a puzzle began coming together in Snider's mind — the NHL's expansion, the growing population of the Philadelphia region thanks to the rapidly developing southern New Jersey suburbs, and an NBA team looking for a new building.
Snider was sure hockey would work in Philadelphia. He knew the passion of Philadelphia sports fans, how they lived and died with the local teams. If Boston fans would stand in the cold to buy tickets for a last-place hockey team, he knew Philadelphia fans would love the NHL just as much if they were exposed to it.
What Snider didn't know was the ignominious history of hockey in Philadelphia. Most fans don't know the Flyers were not Philadelphia's first NHL team.
In the 1920s former light-heavyweight boxing champion Benny Leonard owned the Pittsburgh Pirates, but by the end of that decade, the team needed a new arena. During construction, the team was moved to Philadelphia and renamed the Quakers.
The Philadelphia Quakers' one season of existence, the 1930–31 season, was historical for one reason: sheer ineptitude. In 44 games, the team went 4–36–4. The four wins are the fewest ever posted by an NHL team, and the .136 winning percentage remains the second-lowest in league history. After the season, Leonard folded the franchise. He lost so much money on the team he was forced to return to prizefighting.
There also were a number of failed minor-league hockey experiments in town.
The Philadelphia Arrows of the Canadian-American Hockey League played at the Philadelphia Arena on Market Street from 1927 to 1935; the team later became a minor-league affiliate of the New York Rangers and was renamed the Ramblers. The Ramblers played until 1941, when they were renamed the Rockets, then folded in 1942.
The Philadelphia Comets of the Tri-State Hockey League blinked in and out of existence in four months, just in time to lose all 16 games they played in the 1932–33 season.
The Philadelphia Falcons played in the Eastern Amateur Hockey League from 1942 to 1946, and then ceased play until the 1951–52 season. The second version of the Falcons, though, didn't make it to the 1952 part of their schedule, as the team was disbanded in December 1951 due to poor attendance.
According to Philadelphia hockey historian Bruce Cooper, hockey's death knell in the city could best be summarized in a quote from Peter A. Tyrell, president and general manager of the Philadelphia Arena, when he announced the Falcons' folding: "The attendance this season to date has proven that there are not enough Philadelphians interested in hockey to warrant its continuance."
The Philadelphia Rockets of the American Hockey League gave the town another shot, playing from 1946 to 1949. They barely lasted the first season, though, as the Rockets went 5–52–7, for a winning percentage of .078, an all-level record of futility that remains today.
The Philadelphia Ramblers of the Eastern Hockey League played decent but undistinguished hockey from 1955 to 1964 before moving to Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and becoming the Jersey Devils.
Snider knew nothing of this inglorious hockey history; for today's Flyers fans, his ignorance is their bliss.
"I was young and full of enthusiasm," Snider said in the Flyers video, Twenty-Five Years of Pride and Tradition. "I had seen hockey and loved it. I had seen its success in the six cities that had it. But I didn't realize the history of hockey in Philadelphia or in other places. Maybe if I had, I wouldn't have gone through with it."
Snider suggested to Wolman that they should build an arena — the parking lot of the previously planned stadium was a desired location — and apply for an NHL franchise. Wolman thought it would be a good idea, and they planned to move forward.
First for Snider was a visit to Bill Jennings, president of the New York Rangers and the head of the expansion committee.
A number of cities already had submitted bids, among them Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Los Angeles, Baltimore, and Vancouver, but Snider said Jennings was ecstatic when the idea of a team in Philadelphia was mentioned.
"He was just glad I showed up," Snider said. "It's a great metropolitan area, a great rivalry for New York. He was great to me from the day I met him."
Jennings gave Snider the bid parameters. First, there was a $10,000 application fee. Also, there needed to be an arena with a seating capacity of at least 12,500. All applicants would have to make presentations to the NHL Board of Governors, outlining why the NHL would work in their area. And there was a $2 million franchise fee.
Snider was on board, and said his only request was that his bid be kept secret so it would be the only one coming out of Philadelphia. Jennings agreed.
Snider took his arena plan to Philadelphia city councilman Paul D'Ortona and Mayor James Tate. The mayor especially was pleased that a 15,000-seat, privately financed arena could be built in the parking lot of what eventually would become Veterans Stadium, and fast-tracked the project.
Now all Snider had to do was prepare the franchise presentation.
First he enlisted Putnam, who decided working for the demanding Cooke was not the job for him. He joined Snider, Wolman, and Jerry Schiff, a brother-in-law of Snider, as the nascent club owners. It was agreed Putnam would own 25 percent and hold the title of team president, while Schiff, Wolman and Snider each would own 22 percent. The remaining nine percent was purchased by friends of Wolman and Snider.
A five-page brochure was printed to explain to NHL owners that with a population base of 5.5 million and three established professional sports franchises, the hockey team could join the Phillies, Eagles and 76ers in the pantheon of Philadelphia sports.
On February 8, 1966, at the St. Regis Hotel in New York, Wolman and Putnam met with the NHL Board of Governors and made their pitch.
The next day, the phone rang in Putnam's hotel room. It was Jennings. "You're in," was all he said.
Snider, who had stayed behind in Philadelphia, joined Mayor Tate at City Hall to announce plans for the new arena. Not long after, office space was rented on the ground floor of the Life of Pennsylvania Building, at 15th and Locust Street. Bud Poile, the 42-year-old general manager of the San Francisco Seals of the Western Hockey League, was hired as the club's first general manager. The first coach was 43-year-old Keith Allen, then the coach/GM of the Western League's Seattle Totems.
Team colors of orange, black and white were chosen, and uniforms and a logo — a winged P with an orange puck in the center — were unveiled, as was the name — the Philadelphia Flyers, a suggestion first made by Phyllis Foreman, Snider's sister.
The foundation was set, but one item still remained — raising the $2 million franchise fee.
Snider thought he'd get half that amount from Wolman, but when Wolman tried to sell the team out from under him, Snider decided to trade his 40 percent stake in the arena for Wolman's 22 percent share of the franchise. Snider also bought out Schiff, becoming majority owner of the club.
The moves left Snider in a difficult spot. "I had never wanted to own more than 22 percent of the team," he recalled in Full Spectrum. "I didn't think I could afford it."
In fact, he couldn't. Snider remortgaged his home and started borrowing money from banks: $25,000 from one, $50,000 from another.
Despite not being part of the ownership group, Snider still thought Wolman would make good on his promise to foot half the expansion fee. But with the June 5, 1967, deadline approaching and Wolman having financial difficulties, Snider knew something was wrong.
"To my recollections," Snider said in Full Spectrum, "It was seven to 10 days before the money was due that Jerry told me he didn't have it."
Snider previously had lined up a $1 million loan from Fidelity Bank. Now he needed to scramble to replace Wolman's money.
The team's television rights for the first three seasons were sold to Kaiser Broadcasting, which owned Channel 48, for $350,000. Snider also took out a $150,000 loan independently.
Still a half-million dollars short, Snider went to Bill Fishman, president and founder of ARA Services (today known as ARAMARK), which already had invested $2 million to provide food services at the planned arena. Snider asked Fishman for a loan, and Fishman was agreeable if a bank would take his personal ARA stock as collateral. Provident Bank said yes, and on deadline day, Fishman wrote a check for $500,000 to the Philadelphia Hockey Club.
Snider took the check, plus the other $1.5 million, to Fidelity Bank to make the wire transfer to Putnam, who had gone to Montreal to deliver the franchise fee to the NHL and for the expansion draft.
And then the lights went out.
"There was a blackout in Philadelphia," Snider said. "Everything went dead. They couldn't wire [the money]. They're waiting in Montreal and nothing's happening. We couldn't communicate by any way, phone or otherwise."
At approximately 10:23 am, a power failure shut down a 15,000-square mile area, ranging from New Jersey south to Maryland and west to Harrisburg.
The NHL needed confirmation of the Flyers' money by 2:00 pm, or all the hard work put in by Snider, Putnam and others would go for naught.
At noon the power came back on in Center City Philadelphia. Fidelity was able to establish a communication link with a bank in New York, which was able to wire the money to Royal Bank of Canada in Montreal. Putnam ran the $2 million check to the Queen Elizabeth Hotel, saving the day — and the Flyers — for Philadelphia.
"How could something like that happen?" Snider asks now with a laugh that only 45-plus years of success can allow. "It happened. That's how we started."
The Expansion Draft
The first step in building the Flyers' inaugural roster was Snider's purchase of the Quebec Aces of the American Hockey League for $350,000.
Then came the NHL's first-ever expansion draft, held June 6, 1967, in Montreal. The six established clubs each were allowed to protect 11 skaters and one goalie. After a team lost a skater or a goalie, it could protect one more of the like. After it lost a second player, it could add one more to its protected list. After that, every remaining player was up for grabs, with the exception of players with fewer than two years of professional experience (NHL or minor leagues).
The Flyers were to pick second among the six new clubs — the California Seals, Los Angeles Kings, Pittsburgh Penguins, St. Louis Blues and Minnesota North Stars were the others — in the two-round goaltender portion of the draft, and fifth in the 18-round skater-selection process.
The Flyers, led by general manager Bud Poile and coach Keith Allen, focused on young players.
"I think we reached a consensus almost from the start that we were going to think young," Poile said in Full Spectrum. "We didn't just want to have a team that could be competitive with the new clubs, but one that in a few years could compete with the old ones."
Allen, Poile and top scout Marcel Pelletier had spent the 1966–67 season scouring minor-league outposts throughout North America.
"We'd go on the road, usually alone, for as many as two weeks at a time," Pelletier recalled in Full Spectrum. "I'd played in St. Paul [in the Central League], so I had a real good idea of the players in that league. Bud and Keith had been in the Western League, so they knew that, too. We also scouted the American League heavily. The National League we did less. We knew what was there."
One of the players Pelletier, a former minor-league goalie, had seen was a Boston Bruins goaltending prospect toiling for the Oklahoma City Blazers of the Central Hockey League. After Los Angeles took veteran goalie Terry Sawchuk with the first pick, the Flyers shocked the draft room by taking 22-year-old Bernard Parent.
In 39 games as a rookie in the 1965–66 season, Parent had posted a 3.69 goals-against average for a Bruins team that finished fifth in the six-team NHL. He fared slightly better in his second campaign, in Oklahoma City, finishing with a 2.70 GAA and four shutouts in 14 games after winning just four of his 18 games with the Bruins.
Excerpted from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Philadelphia Flyers by Adam Kimelman. Copyright © 2013 Adam Kimelman. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.