The press sheet for the upcoming HBO Sports documentary ‘Broad Street Bullies’ calls the Philadelphia Flyers championship teams of 1974 and 1975 “polarizing” – a term no one can disagree with. And as someone who grew up around Philly hearing legendary stories about Dave “The Hammer” Schultz, Bobby Clarke and Bernie Parent, I can say without a doubt that this team brought our dying city together and united us against everyone else – and we love them for it.
While this special (May 4th at 10/9c) certainly tells the story of the bruising Flyers from the early to mid 1970’s, this is a story way too many people know only one side of.
So, for a Flyers fan, this hour-long HBO doc is almost as much fun as seeing the Flyers end both the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils’ seasons this year. For everyone else, this documentary is here to show you that other side and just how the ‘Broad Street Bullies’ came to be.
It begins, like many success stories, with no one having a clue what they were getting into. It’s 1967 with Philadelphia having a rough and tumble time financially. At a time when its citizens would watch their sports teams repeatedly get their backsides handed to them. This is a decade before the Phillies would win their first championship, and the Eagles and Sixers tanking. It was even before ‘Rocky.’
Philadelphia had no sports identity – it was a city of losers.
Then came The Hammer, Clarke, Parent, Ed Van Impe, Bill Clement, Rick MacLeish, “Moose” Dupont, Bob Kelly, Joe Watson and Gary Dornhoefer – and everything changed.
It was as talented a hockey club as you’d ever watch play. But not everyone could see that these kids had exceptional talent, heart, and the will to win, people only saw the way the Flyers were winning games – with fists, elbows, sticks in the wrong places, and hair pulls.
But they were winning – and it all started with Dave Schultz building a reputation as a player who would drive your head through the ice in order to prove to other teams that these Flyers were not going to be intimidated – a hockey player any fan would love to have on their team at the time.
“We used to play and fight and win and then go drink their beer,” said Schultz. A fan’s dream come true.
As the story goes on, through how crazy Perant was to how rough the entire team was or how skilled Clarke was through the Flyers first Stanley Cup championship and then on through their second, you get the almost disappointing sense that it was a strong group of talented hockey players, and not the bruising, that made this team a back-to-back champions.
“You can be the Broad Street Bullies, you can be the Joe Bollino Bullies,” says Boston’s Phil Esposito during the documentary. “You can be anybody you want. Unless you have the talent you’re not going to win. Period. And they had the talent. ”
Yeah, you want to believe it was the talent and maybe it was. But these Flyers were known for their bruising and when the Russians came calling it was expected, and any hatred for the Flyers was put on hold. Because now it’s the ultra-fast, ultra-cocky Soviet Red Army club that’s been tearing through the NHL on a North American tour coming to town for an exhibition, and it’s 1976, and it’s Kate Smith’s “God Bless America” and it’s personal.
“If we win I’m going to be sky-high,” Flyers coach Freddie “The Fog” Shero said before facing the Russian team. “If we lose it’ll be worse than dying.”
While I could go on and on about what happens next – how for one day this Flyers team had everyone , not just Philadelphians, on their side or the size of the NHL rulebook before and after these Flyers took to the ice. I won’t.
Because it’s a story – and it’ll be fun to watch for any Flyers fan, hockey fan or fan of a great story – one that has it all.