by Kevin Franklin
Well, if your name is Trent Steele, Chest Rockwell or Max Power, quite a hell of a lot. Some names just give themselves over to legendary status the moment they are notarized. Not to sound misogynistic, but I would gather the father had a lot to do with the first name – and practically everything to do with the last. Put a “Jack” or “Nick” in front of almost any last name and you have the makings of a bar brawler, boat captain or hard-boiled detective who plays by his own rules.
But, this isn’t about given names, so you basically read that last paragraph for no reason. I’m talking about nicknames. You just don’t hear any good nicknames these days, especially for athletes. We’re saddled with lame, lazy substitutions like “A-Rod,” “T.O.” and “Hartsy”. What kind of wimpy nicknames are they? LaDanian Tomlinson has a nickname that isn’t even original within his own sport. Lawrence Taylor is the original “L.T.” and the only way that name would have been unique is if he put a “B” at the front of it.
That is why I am so glad to hear HBO will be showing a documentary on The Broad Street Bullies. That’s right, it was an organization so cool that the ENTIRE TEAM had a nickname – and it was well-earned. With a lineup that included Moose, Big Bird and The Hound, you would think this menagerie was a team of animals. Some opponents would have agreed. There were locker room nicknames you probably never knew, like “Whitey” (Bobby Clarke), “Arnie” (Bill Barber) and “Bennie” (Bernie Parent). There was Chief, Little O, The Rifle and Cowboy Bill Flett. And let’s not forget The Hammer, the man who was the driving force behind the sobriquet. It is no surprise that team is so revered within its fan base and so notorious outside of it. Nicknames back then were earned, not sloppily coined like they are today. They beat them in the middle of the ice, along the boards and in the hallways to the lockers. And they beat them where it mattered most – on the scoreboard. It has been 35 years since the Flyers have raised the Stanley Cup, however, and that silver chalice has been the elusive Holy Grail for this city ever since.
Frankly, I have been waiting for a documentary of this team. About 10 years ago or so, fueled by the wisdom of one too many Michelobs, I buttonholed another Flyers fan and said there are two sports movies I would like to see: one on the 1980 U.S.A. Olympic hockey team and one about the Cup-winning Flyers. Years later, Kurt Russell put in an impressive turn as coach Herb Brooks in the former and Home Box Office is paying homage to the latter. I am glad it is HBO making this. Hockey players are about as saintly as Tex Cobb in Raising Arizona, so I am looking forward to Joe “Thundermouth” Watson dropping a few F-bombs and I’m sure the swear filter will be in the “off” position throughout. HBO is justifiably regarded for its excellent original series, sports shows and documentaries. They are severely lacking in the late-night fare, but that’s why we have Cinemax…and the Internet.
I don’t need to tell you about the greatness of that team. You already know. Fans born long after the last Cup-winning years know the Bullies; know all about them. The memory of those teams passed down from fathers, mothers, uncles and aunts like a family heirloom. They have been co-opted by new generations, unlike the 1960 Eagles and Wilt Chamberlain 76ers. It is an ex post facto ownership embraced by the younger fans, a yearning for what once was, even though they were not around at the time, and it was all brought to us by the operatic baritone of Gene Hart, a voice so strong and unique, with an unforgettable crisp, machine gun delivery. For many fans, Gene Hart was the reason to be a fan. Like the late Harry Kalas, whenever you re-ran the memories in your mind, Gene was narrating.
Like you, I’ll be recording this program and re-watching it long after the current version of the team is busy lining up their putts. As it is, they’ll be hitting the links well before this program initially airs. Cartsy, Richie and Gags are good, but they are no LCB line (yes, I realize they do not all play on the same unit). There is no epic quality about this team, which brings The Broad Street Bullies into stronger relief. There are those who thought the 1980 Phillies champions could never have another baseball team to equal its love affair with its fans. This version of the Phils has proved that wrong many times over. Hell, the Series-losing 1993 team is still celebrated today. The Eagles are one long Sisyphean season after another and the Sixers are about as relevant as Carrot Top. The Flyers, however frustrating and underachieving they are today, have the mea culpa memories of probably the most fondly remembered local team in my lifetime.
The Broad Street Bullies belong to us all, even if you were never there. Like a fine bottle of wine, they are better when they are shared, regardless of your age. And now, those fans who never had the privilege of seeing them firsthand like the fortunate old fogies of my generation, will get a chance to experience the reliving of those times just like they were there themselves.
The Broad Street Bullies didn’t need a nickname, but it was well-earned just the same.