Jack Chevalier, who while writing for the Philadelphia Bulletin coined arguably the most famous nickname in Philadelphia sports history, died Saturday of an apparent heart attack. He was 83.
“He was fair and that’s all you could ask for,” said Bill Barber, a star left winger on the Flyers’ 1974 and 1975 Stanley Cup champions.
Mr. Chevalier drove his grandson to work at 9 a.m. Saturday and later died of an apparent heart attack at his home in Turnersville, N.J., according to his cousin, Kathy Smith. Speaking Sunday from her home in San Luis Obispo, Calif., Smith said Mr. Chevalier was found unresponsive by his son, Sam, at around 1 p.m.
In February, Mr. Chevalier had suffered an aneurysm and was hospitalized, his cousin said.
But he seemed sharp and in good spirits, said one of his former Bulletin co-workers, Pete Cafone, when they talked about three weeks ago.
Born in Springfield, Mass., Mr. Chevalier followed his dad, Earl, and an uncle into the sports-writing world.
“I always have said we’re a newspaper family,” said Smith, who used to write for the Charleston (West Virginia) Gazette. “Jack put himself through college working at newspapers, and one of the reasons we were so close is that I did the same thing.”
In addition to the Bulletin, Mr. Chevalier, who served as a mentor to many young reporters, wrote for the Springfield Republican, the Baltimore Sun, the Wilmington News Journal, and the Philadelphia Tribune, and he was a sports copy editor at The Inquirer. In later years, he drove a taxi before retiring a little over two years ago.
“I used to tell him he should write a book about his cab-driving days,” Smith said. “He could have fun with anything, and he did with his cab days. He would haul around some questionable people, like ladies of the night, and he had lots of stories he’d tell.”
In 1974, he wrote “The Broad Street Bullies” about the Flyers’ stunning, seven-year rise from an expansion team to Stanley Cup champions.
Mr. Chevalier died 3½ months after the death of Bill Fleischman, who covered the Flyers for the Daily News. Both covered the team during their Cup-winning seasons.
“They’re going to be missed. They were great writers and they were honest,” Barber said. “We kind of had a unique team, and it wasn’t the easiest team to write about all the time, either.”
Mr. Chevalier and the other beat writers gave the Flyers, who were known for their fighting and physical style of play in the 1970s, colorful nicknames.
Fleischman called the team The Mad Squad, a play on The Mod Squad, a popular TV crime series at the time. The Inquirer’s Chuck Newman referred to the Fred Shero-coached Flyers as Freddy’s Philistines.
Midway through the 1972-73 season, after a 3-1 win in Atlanta, Mr. Chevalier created a nickname of his own, calling the Flyers the Blue Line Bandidos in the copy he sent to the Bulletin. He had second thoughts on the plane ride home and changed it to Bullies of Broad Street.
Cafone, a sports copy editor, re-arranged the words to make the nickname (Broad Street Bullies) fit into the Bulletin headline – and it became a part of the Flyers’ identity, a part of their brand. The nickname magnified after they won Stanley Cups in 1974 and 1975.
“In those days, we never even thought about putting a trademark on a name,” Cafone said in phone interview Sunday, adding that Mr. Chevalier was a versatile writer, columnist and copy editor, and someone who loved music and would travel far to watch a band perform.
Mark Whicker, a former columnist with the Bulletin, called Chevalier “my running mate” in a Facebook post. He said Mr. Chevalier was a “columnist who could write about anything, anytime, and never took himself too seriously, which is unusual in Philly. … I will never forget one night when the Flyers were happy about tying somebody on the road and Chevy was getting tired of that particular cliché. His lead was, ‘Like the hitchhikers in Bangkok like to say, it’s great to pick up a Thai on the road.’ ”
Bruce Cooper, who has worked mostly behind the scenes with the Flyers for several decades, called Mr. Chevalier a “big teddy bear kind of guy. Outgoing and friendly. Very casual. Never dressed very formally. … He was completely unpretentious. Laughed a lot and got along with everybody. He was a guy the players were not afraid to talk to and (didn’t) think he was looking for some angle that would make his story look good but might embarrass the players.”
When he was about 12 years old, Bob “Boop” Vetrone Jr. used to tag along with his dad, writer Bob Vetrone, Sr., to the Bulletin sports department, where Chevalier would make the youngster feel at home.
“Jack always treated me great, and years later when we got to be co-workers, it was like I already had a friend in the newsroom,” Vetrone said. “One of my favorite Chevy stories is from 1980. Springsteen was here, and Chevy had tickets for a Saturday show and I had tickets for the Monday show. He was the assistant sports editor and he came to me and said, ‘Listen, it’s really, really busy on Saturday and we need you to work. How about if we switch tickets?’ So Chevy and his wife went on Saturday, and I went with John McBride on Monday.”
During this spring’s Stanley Cup Finals, Vetrone said, he posted on Facebook that he was watching the St. Louis Blues face the Boston Bruins at a Maple Shade bar. Midway through the first period, an old friend walked into the bar and greeted Vetrone.
It was Chevalier.
“He stayed at the bar for a couple periods and talked about the old times,” Vetrone said, “and what was different about sports these days. He was as personable as ever and as opinionated about sports as ever. It was neat because he’s such a big hockey guy and to have him there talking about this phenomenal Blues run was probably the highlight of my summer. That was Jack, coming out of left field for people, like young guys in our newsroom.”
Vetrone said he started working at the Bulletin when he was 15, “and it was like joining the major leagues with the ’27 Yankees, with (Jim) Barniak and Chevy and (Frank) Brady and guys like that.”
Mr. Chevalier’s wife, Anita, died on May 31 at age 73. They had been married for 52 years and had three children, David, Sam, and Karen, and two grandchildren.
A celebration-of-life ceremony is being planned at a still-to-be-determined date.