How do we explain to our kids what just happened? How do we find the right words to make them understand the exquisite nature of this moment for the Flyers, and for our city?
How do we express the joy of having a sports team that simply will not quit? What the Flyers did over the past month doesn’t happen in professional sports. No team had ever qualified for the playoffs by winning a shootout on the last day of the season. Only three teams in North America had come back from a three-game deficit, and none of those were trailing by three goals on the road in Game 7.
There is no historical perspective for this. And there is no reasonable way to describe the unflappable leadership of coach Peter Laviolette, who reacted to the 3-0 avalanche in Game 7 by calling time out, pointing up to the scoreboard and exclaiming: “Just one goal.” They got that goal, and then another, and then another.
Finally, it was left to the man with the magic hands and the battered feet, Simon Gagne, to score the game-winning goal. He can barely walk in the aftermath of foot surgery two months ago, but obviously he can skate very well, thank you. He had already saved the season in Game 4 with an overtime goal. He is a sports hero, now and forever.
Chris Pronger, at 35, has been on the ice for half of every playoff game, where he provides the kind of calm leadership every champion must have. Mike Richards is the Chase Utley of the Flyers — measured in front of the cameras, relentless on the ice. Danny Briere looks like he’s graduating from high school next week, but he’s a grown man in the biggest moments.
It cannot be a coincidence that HBO recently released a documentary called “Broad Street Bullies” that chronicles the magical two-season journey of our only hockey champions. The essence of their success wasn’t the dexterity of their players or the ferocity of their fights. It was something underneath all of that. It was heart.
There is no way to know yet if this team is a true offspring of that one. The odds are very much against it. Even amazing runs like this one don’t necessarily end with two million fans clogging Center City to celebrate. Of course, who’s going to bet against these Flyers after what we just witnessed?
And that’s the lesson for all our kids. Sometimes things happen in sports that defy explanation. It’s why we are all sports fans. And, if our children have been watching these astonishing Flyers, it’s why they will be sports fans for the rest of their lives.
– Angelo Cataldi is host of 610 WIP’s Morning Show, which airs weekdays from 5:30-10 a.m.