When Jay Greenberg accepted his Elmer Ferguson award last week for excellence in hockey writing, he concluded with humility, marveling at his good fortune about being paid to do something he loves. It was a sentiment that resonated strongly with me.
At the luncheon, I was fortunate enough to be seated at a table with six members of the 1970s, two-time Stanley Cup champion Philadelphia Flyers. They were widely known as the Broad Street Bullies, but on this day they were true gentlemen, former athletes in their 60s and 70s reminiscing about the glory days, chuckling at their golf scores, discussing today’s NHL game and engaging the other guests at the table. It was an absolute treat, even for someone who’s been in the same line of business for 24-plus years.
Don Saleski, Bob ‘Hound’ Kelly, Jim Watson, Gary Dornhoeffer, Orest Kindrachuk and Larry Goodenough were part of a large crew of Flyers’ alumni flown to Toronto, on owner Ed Snider’s private jet, to support and fete a couple of their own. In the afternoon, it was Greenberg, the long-time Philadelphia beat-based hockey writer (and regular THN contributor) who became legendary for his ability to turn a phrase, entertain and inform, all at once. In the evening, it was the main event, a time to pay homage to the late and great Fred Shero, their innovative and much-loved coach.
Bob Clarke, Bernie Parent, Bill Barber, Paul Holmgren, Rick MacLeish were among the others who made the trek in support of the orange and black. So, too, did Jim Watson’s older brother, Joe – eventually. He missed Greenberg’s luncheon after forgetting his passport at home. D’oh.
In absentia, he took some good-natured ribbing from his former teammates, a group that is remarkably tight even nearly 40 years later. Saleski, a member of the Flyers alumni executive board, is credited with helping to lead the cohesive effort, a job he says is “like herding cats”.
The ‘Hound’ at the table, Kelly, still has some sandpaper in his veins. He spotted a certain old-time reporter, one who had apparently been very tough on the ‘Bullies’ back in the day, and expressed his opinion of the scribe. He still remembered being described as a guy whose nose looks like a squished tube of toothpaste. He also fondly remembered the gang playing exhibition games in Europe in the 1980s – and never being invited back anyplace they visited. Then there was the epic 1976 contest against Red Army in which the Bullies had their way, and then some, with the masterful Soviets.
Jim Watson, who helped build and now runs a hockey rink in Aston, Pa., is keenly interested in today’s game and believes it needs more scoring. “It’s the most exciting play in all of sports when a goal in hockey is scored,” he said. “We need more of them.” His solution? Penalize players for dropping to the ice to block a shot.
The gang also had opinions on today’s composite sticks, the decrease in youth hockey enrollment in Canada, the unbelievable speed of the modern-day NHL…football, curling…you get the picture.
And it was my job to sit there, ask a couple questions, eat a meal, and take it all in. Oh, and get paid for it.