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The Complete History of the Philadelphia Flyers Hockey Club
By Jay Greenberg
Dan Diamond and AssociatesCopyright © 2016 Philadelphia Flyers and Jay Greenberg
All rights reserved.
"Soccer Will Never Go in Philadelphia"
Any hockey player who ever trudged back to the Spectrum's visiting locker room after being bloodied, beaten or bedazzled by the Flyers ultimately has had one person to blame for his pain.
It has all been Juggy Gayles's fault.
Gayles took Ed Snider to his first hockey game.
The year was, well ... the Flyers' majority owner isn't exactly sure. But sometime in the early sixties, Snider, a young phonograph record salesman from Washington, D.C., was in New York having what he presumed to be a predinner cocktail at Al & Dick's Bar with Gayles, a buddy who was a sales manager for Carlton Records. As it turned out, Juggy wasn't hungry, which is not to say he didn't have good taste. He announced that rather than dinner, he was taking Snider to a hockey game at Madison Square Garden.
"What's a hockey game?" asked Snider.
"You can't not like it," said Juggy. "It's a great sport."
Snider, the son of a self-made grocery store chain owner, knew Redskins football, and as a kid had enjoyed Senators baseball and Washington Capitols professional basketball. But he had never seen anything like Gump Worsley, the porky little guy bouncing around in the New York Ranger goal that night. "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," says Snider. "But I know I was fascinated with Worsley. I thought, 'This is the greatest spectator sport I've ever seen.'"
Unfortunately, hockey was the greatest spectator sport you couldn't see in Washington, which is where Snider returned to peddle his wares. He and his partner, Gerald Lillienfield, went national, overextended themselves, and soon decided to sell their record company. "I wasn't enjoying it anymore," Snider said. In the meantime, he had met an ambitious young builder named Jerry Wolman, whose attorney, Earl Foreman, had married Snider's sister, Phyllis.
Wolman, Foreman and Snider purchased the Philadelphia Eagles football team in 1964, and Snider, a 7 per cent shareholder, moved to Philadelphia to become the team's treasurer. While visiting Boston one weekend, Snider went to watch basketball's dream matchup-Wilt Chamberlain and the Philadelphia 76ers versus Bill Russell and the Celtics. When Snider came out of the Boston Garden that Sunday afternoon, he saw a long line at a ticket window. "What are those people doing?" he asked his companion.
"Waiting for Bruins tickets. That's the hockey team."
"Are they in the playoffs or something?"
"Oh, no, they're in last place. They put 1,000 tickets on sale on game day. Those are the only tickets you can get."
"People line up for tickets for a last-place team?"
"The game in New York and that Boston ticket line left an indelible impression," Snider says. In 1965, however, he was the chief operating officer of the Eagles, talking business with Bill Putnam, the executive at Morgan Guaranty Trust Company in New York who had helped arrange for the loan that enabled Wolman and Foreman to buy the football team, when Snider learned something that would change his life.
Putnam told Snider that he would soon be leaving his bank job to move to the West Coast to work for Jack Kent Cooke, a minority owner of the Washington Redskins who was applying for a National Hockey League franchise in southern California.
"What do you mean you're applying for a National Hockey League franchise?" Snider asked. "Is one available?"
"Not just one," Putnam said. "Six."
The NHL, a moneymaking but static six-team fiefdom since 1942, was being forced to open its eyes to progress. Within the last decade, baseball and basketball had established franchises on the West Coast, the American Football League had been founded, and national television rights fees for professional sports had swollen. Owners of profitable teams in the Western Hockey League were dropping hints that they might declare the WHL a major league and compete for talent and television money.
In addition, Jim Norris, owner of the NHL's westernmost franchise, the Chicago Blackhawks, owned a large, decrepit arena in St. Louis that he wanted to palm off on an expansion franchise. Gradually, NHL president Clarence Campbell, who for years had answered expansion speculation with warnings of the dangers of diluting a successful product, had begun to speak about television and the future.
The NHL owners had originally envisioned adding two teams at a time, starting with Los Angeles and San Francisco, but after hiring a media consultant and receiving expressions of interest from several cities, they began to see a windfall in a mass expansion. "It was really the same plan that Branch Rickey (the legendary executive) had wanted for a third major baseball league," recalls Putnam. "Create a bunch of teams at once so they can at least be instantly competitive among themselves."
On March 11, 1965, when NHL owners met at the Plaza Hotel in New York and announced that they hoped to give birth to a second six-team division, Putnam was in attendance shaking hands and taking notes.
Born in Twin Falls, Idaho, Putnam had spent his high school years in Fort Worth, Texas, where he was a star quarterback and a prized recruit by the University of Texas. Injuries prematurely ended his football days, but Putnam earned his degree, entered a training course at Morgan, and worked his way up from the mail room to a vice presidency. He had seen some minor-league hockey games in Fort Worth that whetted his appetite for the sport when he got to New York, where, as both a Ranger regular and a banker specializing in financing sports franchises, Putnam had heard rumblings about the NHL's expansion.
He had first met Cooke when the Canadian-born multimillionaire had approached Putnam's bank about financing a bid to buy out Redskins majority owner George Preston Marshall. Although that effort was unsuccessful, Putnam later negotiated Cooke's purchase of the National Basketball Association's Los Angeles Lakers from Robert Short. Cooke took a liking to the young banker and hired him even before the sale of the basketball team was finalized. "I decided sports was more fun than banking," Putnam recalls. His next project was to handle Cooke's NHL bid.
On June 25, 1965, at another meeting in New York, the NHL detailed its expansion plans and announced it was taking applications. The next day, the report made only one Philadelphia paper, a six-paragraph story buried in the Daily News.
As he spoke to Putnam, Snider could not remember seeing that report. Be he did recall the Boston ticket line, the Gumper and a conversation he had with Ike Richman, part owner of the 76ers, six months earlier.
After becoming the Eagles' chief operating officer, Snider had been involved in the planning of Philadelphia's new multipurpose stadium which, pending the next gust of ever-changing political winds, was scheduled to rise at the south end of Broad Street. Snider was so identified with the stadium project — his influence had helped kill another suggested site over the Pennsylvania Railroad tracks at 30th and Market Streets — that Richman had come to Snider to ask if Wolman had any interest in building an arena.
Snider had told Richman, who wanted to move the 76ers out of Convention Hall near Franklin Field, that the Eagles were only interested in a lease at a city-owned stadium, not in building their own facility.
Now, with Putnam telling Snider that major-league hockey teams were for sale, the wheels between his ears were turning. A hockey team would need an arena, which would probably require another regular tenant, like a basketball team.
On a whim, Snider asked Putnam if he thought Philadelphia had a chance to get one of the NHL teams. Putnam said the guy with the answers was Bill Jennings, president of the New York Rangers and chairman of the NHL's expansion committee.
Snider went to Wolman and told him they should build an arena and apply for a hockey franchise. Wolman, who owned Yellow Cab of Philadelphia and Connie Mack Stadium, was financing the building of the John Hancock Center in Chicago, and had extensive plans for redeveloping Camden, thought it was a great idea. The two men pledged a partnership. "With his reputation as a developer and entrepreneur, and my ideas, we went forward," Snider said. "It became my project."
Snider phoned Jennings, introduced himself, and set up a meeting in New York. During their visit, Jennings outlined what had already gone down. Applications were expected from groups in Pittsburgh, Minnesota, Los Angeles, San Francisco-Oakland, Buffalo, Vancouver and Baltimore. The fee to apply was $10,000; the required minimum seating capacity for any home arena was 12,500. The league had no specific timetable, but hoped to grant six franchises on or before June 30, 1968.
The applicants would have to pitch their plans and provide evidence of their financial wherewithal — $2 million for the franchise fee, another $1 million for operating expenses — at an as-yet unscheduled meeting. Los Angeles, with its new arena, and St. Louis, with the Arena burning a hole in the pockets of Norris, the Chicago owner, already satisfied the building size requirements and had been publicly declared front-runners by Campbell.
"What do you think Philadelphia's chances would be?" Snider asked Jennings. Jennings said he was aware of the size of the market (fourth largest in the country), but expressed concern about the city's checkered history with the sport. All the other applicants were from cities that liked hockey. Philadelphia, from all appearances, did not.
The Jersey Devils of the Eastern Hockey League were the surviving descendents of seven failed Philadelphia minor-league teams over thirty-eight seasons. The Devils, playing at the Cherry Hill Arena in Haddonfield, were existing on an average of about 2,000 fans and what seemed like two hundred fights per game.
A Philadelphia NHL franchise had been brought to the city from Pittsburgh in 1930 by Benny Leonard, the former light-heavyweight champion, but had lasted only one year. "It's the coming sport in Philadelphia," Leonard had declared after renaming his Pirates the "Quakers." But when the team won only 4 of its 44 games and was outdrawn by the minor-league Philadelphia Arrows of the Canadian-American Hockey League, the Quakers folded, forcing Leonard, $80,000 poorer, to return to the ring.
Philadelphia remained a minor-league hockey town, and not a particularly good one. As the Arrows, Falcons, Rockets and Ramblers struggled through various iterations of the American and Eastern Hockey Leagues, the only constants in Philadelphia hockey were Hall of Famer Herb Gardiner who coached every team that represented the city from 1929 to 1947, and complaints about the ramshackle Philadelphia Arena at 46th and Market Streets, the city's hockey home through 1964.
Snider pitched Jennings that Philadelphia was too strong a sports town to turn its back on a major-league team playing in the modern 15,000-seat building that Wolman was pledging to build. Snider agreed to submit the $10,000 franchise application fee on the condition that the Philadelphia bid remain a secret.
"We didn't want competition," Snider recalls. "There must have been ten groups that had expressed interest in the Eagles when Wolman bought them, driving up the price. I knew Cooke (who planned to build an arena in Inglewood, California) already had competition for the L.A. franchise. Dan Reeves (the Rams owner) had applied for one to play in the Los Angeles Sports Arena. Nobody else in Philadelphia seemed to be aware that the NHL was even expanding. That's the way I wanted to keep it."
Snider went to Paul D'Ortona, the Philadelphia City Council president who had worked with the Eagles on the stadium project, and presented his idea. The city had already purchased the land for the South Philadelphia stadium; Snider said he wanted to put an arena in the parking lot planned between the new facility and JFK Stadium. Wolman's group would lease the land and parking lots from the city, but the building would be privately constructed and owned.
"You have to understand, I was talking to a guy who had been involved with a stadium project that had been delayed ten years in haggling over the use of city funds," Snider said. "It had become a huge political football. And I'm talking about putting down an arena at no cost to the city, that would generate all kinds of revenues to help pay off the (stadium) debt. Well, D'Ortona flipped out. He thought it was wonderful and took me to see Mayor (James) Tate.
"Tate said he loved it, and called in his finance director and instructed him to work up a plan whereby the total cost of the land and prime interest would be divided by the term of the lease. That was the principle by which they determined how much it would cost to lease the land. Tate then turned to the city solicitor and said, 'I want you to do everything humanly possible to cut through all the garbage so that they can get this thing done.' I asked the mayor to follow up with a call and letter to both Campbell and Jennings and tell them what he had done. He did that while I was sitting there."
Snider then had to prepare the franchise bid. "At this point," he recalls, "I'm in over my head because I'm still, remember, running the Eagles. So when I happened to talk to Putnam and he told me that the job with Cooke was not working out the way he thought it would, I told him I had the perfect opportunity for him."
Putnam, who had found working for the demanding Cooke both educational and impossible, was offered by Snider the job of president of Philadelphia's team-to-be. Putnam firmed up his deal with all the partners-Snider, Wolman and Snider's brother-in-law, Jerry Schiff — during a meeting at the 1965 NFL Pro Bowl in Los Angeles. It was decided that Putnam would own 25 percent of the team and Schiff, Wolman and Snider each 22 percent. Several friends of Wolman and Snider came in as small investors to account for the remaining 9 percent.
Wolman's job was to secure financing for the team and construction of the new arena. Snider's responsibility was to keep the project moving through city channels. Putnam's task was to follow up on Snider's application and obtain the franchise.
A five-page brochure for presentation to the NHL owners was prepared by Hal Freeman, the Eagles' director of special events and publications. On the cover was a picture of a hockey player in a red and grey uniform, with a yellow Liberty Bell in a circle on the front of the jersey. Entitled "The NHL in Philadelphia," it blamed the city's past hockey failures on the poor facilities. The brochure emphasized the area's 5.5-million population and the base of established spectator support for the other major-league teams-the Eagles, 76ers and Phillies.
"Philadelphia has residents representing a wide variety of national origins," the brochure read, "including many from Canada and Scandinavia, countries where hockey is so popular." The pamphlet closed outlining Wolman's credentials as a developer and Philadelphia's role as a major economic center. "I remain," it was signed, "William R. Putnam, President of Philadelphia Professional Hockey Club."
Amidst speculation that the six-team expansion might be cut to two or even postponed a year in the hopes of driving up the franchise price, NHL owners convened three days of meetings on February 7, 1966, at New York's St. Regis Hotel to interview applicants and make decisions. The governors first heard presentations from Baltimore, considered the front-runner for the additional Northeast Corridor franchise the NHL was expected to award, San Francisco, Buffalo, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh and Oakland. The next day, groups from Minneapolis-St. Paul, Cleveland, Louisville, plus additional applicants from Pittsburgh and Los Angeles were interviewed along with Wolman and Putnam. The owners promised a decision the following morning.
Asked about Philadelphia's chances as he left the meeting, David Molson, president of the Montreal Canadiens, said, "You have to be impressed by anyone who offers to build a new rink." Putnam, however, does not remember any enthusiasm from the owners as he and Wolman made their pitch. "I remember Norris pounding his fist on the table and saying, 'Philadelphia is a lousy sports town,'" Putnam said. "But they did seem impressed with the arena proposal. I was hopeful, but I wouldn't say I was optimistic."
Putnam and Wolman's presence at the New York meeting finally blew the cover off the Philadelphia group's application. The Evening Bulletin broke the news at the top-of-the-sports-page: "Local TV Market Could Influence NHL." An enthusiastic column by the Bulletin's Hugh Brown was headlined, "Who Says We Don't Like Ice?"
Snider had remained in Philadelphia so that if the Philadelphia group secured a franchise, he could be at City Hall to immediately announce plans for the new 15,000-seat arena. Putnam, meanwhile, spent the fateful morning of Wednesday, February 9, pacing the floor in his suite at the Plaza Hotel. He had just told his wife, Josie, "in about ten minutes that phone will ring and I'll be out of business again," when the call came. It was Jennings.
Excerpted from Full Spectrum by Jay Greenberg. Copyright © 2016 Philadelphia Flyers and Jay Greenberg. Excerpted by permission of Dan Diamond and Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsSoccer Will Never Go in Philadelphia 1965-67,
The Regular Guys 1967-68,
The First Coming 1968-71,
The Breeding of the Bullies 1972-73,
The Cup Years 1973-75,
Dethroned and Defogged 1975-78,
The Magical Ride 1978-81,
Long Pants and Long Faces 1981-84,
Close Enough to Cry 1984-88,
No One Monkey Stops the Show 1988-92,
The Second Coming 1992-94,
Doom and Bloom 1995-96,
Acknowledgments and Photo Credits,