In the “old days”, and I’m talking back when M*A*S*H was a hit TV show, the Philadelphia Flyers visiting the Capital Centre always had the same sort of scene play out as the hapless Capitals struggled for respect.
First, it was the crowd.
The capacity for the Cap Centre back in those days was 18,130. With great regularity, a Caps-Flyers game in Landover would draw a sell-out crowd, but 8,000 or more would be decked out in that hideous orange jersey the Philly team would sport on the road in the 1970’s.
They’d show up like rats running through the alley on a hot summer night. You’d know them from the replica jersey they wore, but a Flyers fan was easy to spot in 1979. They looked like they hadn’t showered in days. Probably smelled like it, too. They were routinely two-fisting a beer while making their way down to the lower concourse and their “prime” seats, which back then probably set them back all of $18.00 each.
The Flyers would come out for warm-ups and they would all roar in unison as those scumbags with brass knuckles and razor blades under their socks would skate out on the ice. Bobby Clarke, Rick Leach, Ken Linseman, Bill Barber…punks. Derelicts. Cheaters. All of ‘em.
The Caps would routinely be fired up for those affairs. Back then, a Caps win over a good team was as rare as the Orioles trying to sign a good player these days. It just didn’t happen. But, that didn’t mean Washington didn’t put out their best effort against the likes of the Flyers, Canadiens and Sabres. They tried. They just stunk.
That all said, something weird would happen when the Flyers showed up in D.C. back in the old days.
The Caps would always jump out to a quick 2-0 lead. Denis Maruk would light the lamp and Bob Sirois would scoop up a rebound and tuck it behind Bernie Parent and, just like that, the underdogs would be taking it to the Broad Street Bullies.
Most times, Philadelphia would get a late first period goal to close the gap to 2-1. Tim Kerr or Brian Propp or one of those other clowns would re-direct a pass going through the crease and the little red light would go on and then it would happen — all 8,000 of those creeps in orange would stand up and cheer like mad and give everyone around them the finger and off they’d go to the beer vendors to fuel up some more.
There was nothing worse than walking through the concourse during a Caps-Flyers home game back then. Everywhere you went, another obnoxious guy in an orange jersey was there to make your life miserable. Going to the bathroom? Good luck being able to stomach all the “Philadelphia-ese” you were going to hear in there.
“Yeah, jus wait ta dat nex peer-id when Bab-ee Clock gets goin…we gonna kick dis teams ass ta-night.”
Back to the action, the Caps would almost always score the game’s next goal. That beautiful blue light would flash behind the net and the great (late) Marv Brooks would bellow, “Capitals goal! Scored by #17 Tom Rowe! Assist to #9, Ryan Walter! Time of the goal, 3:35.”
That would put Washington up 3-1. The orange-clad drunks would sink in their seats. Tonight’s the night, it would appear, that the Caps get a small measure of revenge on the Flyers.
Late in the 2nd period, a Flyers power play would result in a goal from Paul Holmgren or some other bum who hadn’t sniffed the net all night but somehow put the puck past Rollie Boutin to cut the Washington lead to 3-2.
That would set the stage for the 3rd period dramatics which, unfortunately, almost always played out the same way.
Washington would have a tenuous 3-2 lead in the final stanza. They’d have a couple of great scoring chances that would have put the game away, but none of them found the net.
With about seven minutes to play, a scramble in front of the Washington goal would result in some scrapper like Dave Hoyda nudging a puck past Boutin that was underneath his pads long enough for you and I to split a soft pretzel and eat it. Now, it was 3-3 and the once seemingly-safe 3-1 lead was long gone.
With 2:37 to play, and the Flyers pressing, the puck would slide behind the Washington net and Linseman would try to pry it from the boards. He’d get a slight bump from behind by Gord Lane…the same kind a player gets fifty times a night…and Linseman would go down like he was George Wallace in the Laurel Shopping Center parking lot. It was the sort of hit that wouldn’t have even fazed Richard Simmons, but somehow Linseman was knocked unconscious from it. There were times when I was almost certain they were going to come out on the ice and put a sheet over that punk and draw a line around his body to depict where the crime had occurred.
With Linseman sprawled out on the ice, the refs arm would immediately shoot up to signal a penalty.
It happened that way every, single time. It was always Linseman. Every. Single. Time.
They didn’t call Ken Linseman “The Rat” for nothin’. He was a prick like that, always doing something just outside the normal course of decency to give his team an advantage they didn’t deserve. He was the wrestler who threw salt in the eyes of his opponent while the referee was distracted by a girl with big boobs in the front row.
Of course, right on cue, Linseman would captain the power play unit even though moments before he was in a coma. He dove so much the Italian National Soccer Club asked him to visit Turin prior to the 1990 World Cup and give them lessons on how to fake an injury.
Now, though, with two minutes and some change remaining, it was time for the Capitals to man-up and kill this penalty.
The Caps would stuff the first thirty five seconds of the power play with ease. The Flyers looked confused. They couldn’t get the puck settled in the Washington end. Back then, there was no overtime, so Washington was playing for a tie and a valuable one point against a solid team.
Then, it happened. Like clockwork. As predictable as Jon Gruden saying, “This guy…” about fifty times during tonight’s Ravens/Lions broadcast on ESPN.
A loose puck in the corner would try to be cleared by Yvon Labre. It would hit Mel Bridgman in the skate, of course, and deflect right to Linseman. He’d one time the puck into the middle of the ice, where Bill Barber would take a shot from 15 feet out that was destined for the net. Pierre Bouchard of the Caps would dive and block it and, for just a second, you’d say, “Holy cow, that might have saved the ga –“.
You’d wouldn’t get the words “saved the game” out of your mouth before Barber would collect the puck that caromed off of Bouchard and slide it past Boutin’s right skate to give the Flyers the lead, 4-3. The replay on the Cap Centre tele-screen would show Barber’s goal ever-so-slightly deflected off of Jack Lynch’s skate before slipping past the goaltender. Of course it did. That goal couldn’t have possibly been “legit”, right? Had to be a cheapie, the same kind that Joffrey Lupul scored in D.C. six years ago to eliminate the Caps and send Philly through to the next round.
Oh, and did I mention that Rollie Boutin or Jim Bedard or Bernie Wolfe — whichever 5.00 GAA goalie the Caps employed that night — was interfered with on Bill Barber’s game-winning goal?
He was. Most likely it was by Bobby Clarke, who “accidentally” stuck his stick in the goalie’s throat just as the puck found its way to Bill Barber in the slot.
Kind of tough to make a save while your adam’s apple is being shoved into your collarbone.
That’s always how it happened.
And then, with the red light still glowing behind the goal, those hooligans in their awful orange sweaters would rise from their seats in unison like the game was actually in the Spectrum and somewhere in section 216, I would throw up a little bit and get my jacket on to prepare for the trip back home to Glen Burnie.
The Caps would pull the goalie. We’d be dreaming of a late-game tying goal from Blair Stewart or Robert Picard, but it never worked out that way. Bernie Parent would kick away a nice scoring chance with 0:14 left on the clock and the puck would careen down the ice and the final seconds would tick off and that, like always, would be how it ended.
The Flyers would stream off the bench and celebrate while the Caps ducked into the tunnel with their feelings hurt.
And, worst of all, you had to endure the cat calls from the drunks from Philadelphia who spilled out into the parking lot looking for a trash can to tip over so they could eat the bones of a discarded rotisserie chicken like rodents do in Every Major City U.S.A.
I always say this and it’s true. And if this doesn’t give you a full glimpse of how much I’ve despised the Flyers forever, nothing would.
If the sports fairy landed on my desk today and said, “I have a deal for you…I’ll make the Flyers go 0-82 this season — that’s no wins and eighty two straight losses — but you have to agree to either let the Redskins or Steelers win two straight Super Bowls”, I’d do that in a heartbeat. I’d reach for a pen to sign that agreement quicker than you can say “Joe Flacco”.
Now — flash forward to December 15, 2013.
Philadelphia leads the Capitals 4-1 in Washington early in the 3rd period.
The creeps from Philly who Stub Hub’d their way into the Verizon Center were ROARING with delight as the Flyers put it on their I-95 rivals.
Then, something beautiful happened.
A Capitals goal cut it to 4-2.
Another one made it 4-3.
Alex Ovechkin knotted the game at 4-4 with less than a minute to play.
And, after a scoreless overtime period, Washington finished off the dramatic comeback with a shootout victory that gave the Caps two points and a memorable Sunday afternoon recovery that usually got played on them 35 years ago.
It didn’t make up for the pain I still feel whenever someone mentions the names Dave Poulin, Brian Propp or Ken Linseman, but coming back from a 4-1 deficit and sending those rat finks back to Philadelphia with their tail between their legs is about the sweetest pre-holiday gift I could receive.
Always remember this: If your daughter shows up at a family dinner and introduces her new boyfriend to you — and he confesses to you he’s a Flyers fan — there’s a good chance he’s going to be charged with a felony at some point during his relationship with your daughter.
Tell her, very simply: Stay away.