Flyers fans still bullish on their Bullies

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — In an era when hockey games may as well have been held inside the squared circle, the Broad Street Bullies spilled enough blood to fill a decade's worth of Stanley Cups.

They embraced their moniker as the most despised team in the NHL, crushed their rivals to a pulp, and rubbed salt in their busted-open wounds by winning a pair of titles.

More than that, the Bullies pounded their way into the hearts of Philadelphia Flyers fans.

It's a love affair spanning more than 35 years that kicked off with those 1974 and 1975 Stanley Cup winners that so captured the spirit of gritty Philly, more than 2 million fans packed city streets for each of their championship parades.

Long past their pugilist primes, the former champs are ready to make room in the rafters for another championship banner. No one outside the organization wants the Flyers to defeat — oh, let's say, beat — the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup finals more than the players who still sport the scars, carry the aches and wear the rings of their glory days.

"My freaking shoulders are getting tired. It's time to pass the torch around," Hall of Fame goalie Bernie Parent said. "It's been a long time, but it's the right time."

The Bullies' style intimidated opponents, enraged visiting fans and, more than anything, meant the Stanley Cup stayed in Philadelphia.

Lord Stanley's Cup hasn't called Philadelphia home since the brawlers left town. The Flyers have lost their past five appearances in the Stanley Cup finals — a trend they'll try to reverse starting with Game 1 on Saturday in Chicago.

The Broad Street Bullies are enjoying a renaissance throughout the city. They're in demand thanks to the Flyers' run to the finals — Bob "the Hound" Kelly, Dave "the Hammer" Schultz and Joe Watson rallied the fans Thursday at Geno's Steaks — and the Flyers were celebrated in the HBO documentary "Broad Street Bullies" that is airing now. It's the first NHL documentary aired by the premium cable network.

"We're riding a crest, just like the boys are," Parent said.

And they're setting the record straight.

Yes, they loved to fight. But the Flyers from that era were more than a bunch of thuggish brawlers who some accused of cheapening the game. They boasted Hall of Famers such as Parent and Bobby Clarke, and won 50 and 51 games in their championship seasons — numbers not achieved simply by throwing punches and camping out in the penalty box.

This year's Flyers won a shootout in the last game of the season to clinch the seventh seed.

"We might have pushed a little bit to the extreme," Kelly said, laughing. "People look at our fighting, but we had talent. We had good talent."

The nickname was coined by a writer and a headline in the Philadelphia Bulletin and it soon became their calling card. Broad Street is a major arterial street in Philadelphia and runs past the soon-to-be demolished Spectrum.

It took three hours for the 1974 parade motorcade to travel a few miles down Broad from the Spectrum to City Hall.

The Flyers won their first Stanley Cup in 1974, only six years after Ed Snider founded the expansion team. They beat the Bruins 1-0 in Game 6 on a goal by Rick MacLeish at the Spectrum. Parent won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

In '75, the Flyers went back-to-back. They defeated the Buffalo Sabres 2-0 in Game 6 to clinch a second straight championship. Parent became the first player in NHL history to win the Conn Smythe in consecutive seasons.

On the flight home from Buffalo, the Flyers plopped the Stanley Cup in the middle of the aisle. For close to 90 minutes, the Flyers couldn't take their eyes off the ultimate prize.

"We were able to just sit back, look at the Stanley Cup and just savor it," said Parent, who phoned in from his boat, smoking a cigar. "It was just a special time."

While the brutal rough-and-tumble style faded, the nickname has had an on-and-off relationship with the franchise. Every fight, every suspension involving the orange-and-black conjures up the old Bullies image. Flattened by rule changes, the days of the sadistic enforcer have mostly gone the way of the dinosaur.

"You're not really allowed to do any of that nowadays. That doesn't go over too well," Flyers star Jeff Carter said. "We got guys who are going to stand up there and not take anything from anybody as well. We're going to stand up for ourselves and if it comes to blows, it does."

Sure enough, the Flyers led the league with 402 penalty minutes this season. If that sounds like a lot, consider this. Schultz, who often wrapped his hands in tape for protection, set an NHL record in the 1974-75 season with 472 penalty minutes. The Flyers put stitches on faces that looked as if they came right off a baseball.

"A lot of people look at it, particularly if they're not a Flyers fan, a little negative," Schultz said. "Sometimes, I'm almost tired of hearing some of these people cry. Like we were thugs? Yeah, right. I was 6-1, 195. I guess it was the scowl on my face."

Schultz said the Flyers had the support of their coach, Fred Shero. Shero holds every major team coaching record, including years coached (seven), wins (308), winning percentage (.642), and playoff wins (48).

"Some coaches would have said, 'Whoa, guys. Let's tone this down. We're getting a bad reputation,'" Schultz said. "He never said that for one second."

For all he did on the bench, Shero's best remembered for his motivational sentence on Philadelphia's blackboard before Game 6 of the 1974 Stanley Cup series:

"Win together today, and we walk together forever."

It's a phrase that resonates more than any punch.

The Flyers have walked together, seemingly forever. Most of them still live in the Philadelphia area and are always planning some sort of dinner, function, or lacing up the skates for charity hockey games. They could have stopped in one downtown eatery on Thursday and had a taste of the Broad Street Bully sandwich — marinated chicken, barbecue sauce, cheddar cheese and sweet potato on black Russian bread.

No matter where they walk, Broad Street Bullies is a name they wear with pride.

"It embodies that's we're a tight-knit group; a group that sacrificed for each other," Kelly said.

Schultz knows the true definition of the Broad Street Bullies.

"We were a phenomenal team. Two Stanley Cups and we didn't take anything from anyone," he said.