On Oct. 12, 1972, Flyers public address announcer Lou Nolan sat at the mic for his first day on the job after spending five years as the team’s press box assistant.
Early in the game between the Flyers and the Vancouver Canucks, winger Bob Kelly and an opponent had a “disagreement,” Nolan said, as Kelly headed to the penalty box. Nolan had a front-row seat to the show as he sat between the boxes.
In a fit of rage, the opponent grabbed a bucket of pucks chilling in ice — yes, that’s how they were kept refrigerated at the time — and tossed them at Kelly. Nolan, in the line of fire, was hit by a few stray pucks and chunks of ice.
“I said to myself, ‘Oh boy, this is gonna be fun,’” Nolan laughed.
On that night, Nolan’s goal was simply to make it through the game and make sure he wasn’t fired by his second. But 50 years later, as members of the organization have come and gone, Nolan remains a constant and the NHL’s longest-serving public address announcer.
The 2021-22 season marks Nolan’s 50th year in the role and his 55th with the Flyers, dating to the team’s inception in 1967-68. On Saturday night before the Flyers’ game against the Anaheim Ducks, the team will honor Nolan’s iconic voice during a pregame ceremony hosted by Jim Jackson, the Flyers’ TV play-by-play announcer, and Steve Coates, the Flyers’ radio color commentator.
During warm-ups, Flyers players will wear custom jerseys with a Nolan nameplate and the No. 50 on the back. Nolan, who frequented minor league Philadelphia Ramblers games before the Flyers came to town, was blown away by the Flyers’ plans for his 50-year tribute.
“I said, ‘Good Lord, you’re gonna put No. 50 on jerseys and my name on the back?’” Nolan said. “I mean, who would ever think that? I’m the kid from southwest Philly that went to the Ramblers, played street hockey. It doesn’t compute, but I tried to earn it. So I guess I have.”
Before the Flyers’ inaugural season, Nolan learned that the team was coming to Philadelphia when he drove down Route 42 to Margate City, N.J., and passed a billboard advertisement. Since then, he’s been amazed by the way the people of Philadelphia took to the Flyers, especially as fans banded around the “lunch pail group of guys” in 1974 and 1975 that won two Stanley Cups.
He credited the late Flyers announcer and broadcaster Gene Hart with teaching the city about the sport of hockey, as he broke down terminology from “offside” to “icing.”
“That really helped people to learn the sport and to take it and say, ‘You know what? These are pretty good guys,” Nolan said. “They’re young, they have fun, they fight, and they defend themselves. They don’t allow themselves to be taken advantage of, which was really important. Give that credit to [former Flyers coach] Fred Shero. And they basically love the sport now, period. As I do.”
On Wednesday after the Flyers took their team photo with a handful of dedicated season ticket holders, Nolan met fans who have been supporting the franchise since its inception. Nolan realizes that without those season ticket holders, he wouldn’t have a job and the Flyers might not exist.
Just like them, Nolan shares an unwavering passion for the team and the sport.
“I would probably be one were I not involved like this, frankly, because my love for the sport began before the first puck was dropped in ‘67,” Nolan said. “So I would probably be here too. So I feel like a part of them. They’re my friends.”
Nolan also shares their frustration regarding the Flyers’ dismal season, which has been underscored by 10-, 13-, and six-game losing streaks and the departure of longtime captain Claude Giroux. For the first time since the early 1990s, the Flyers will not make the playoffs for consecutive seasons.
However, over the last week and a half, Nolan has been encouraged by the emergence of young players including Noah Cates and Ronnie Attard.
“What they’ve done here, I think that there are a lot better times ahead,” Nolan said.
Not only is Nolan synonymous with Flyers hockey to fans, he’s also a “legendary” voice to interim coach Mike Yeo. Even in the heat of a game, Nolan’s voice breaks through, especially when he announces the “Peco Power Play.”
Yeo admitted that he’s been “a little bit more scared” lately when he hears Nolan’s signature announcement — the Flyers’ power play is the worst in the league.
“From coaching against the Flyers and now being part of the Flyers, it’s hard to imagine a game without listening to that voice and hearing that voice,” Yeo said.
According to center Scott Laughton, Nolan’s voice brings a critical sense of energy to the Wells Fargo Center like no one else can. Laughton is excited to celebrate Nolan’s accomplishments because “he’s such a good guy.”
“He’s always asking about my parents, and they’re always talking before games,” Laughton said. “I think that’s one thing that stands out. He always makes people feel welcome.”
From Flyers alumni to his wife, Ellen; sons, Jeff and Matt; and daughter-in-law, Adrienne, plenty of loved ones will be on hand to celebrate Nolan on Saturday night. But no one is more excited for the ceremony than Nolan himself.
“I can’t tell you what this means to me,” Nolan said. “It’s been a fantastic thing for me to get to this point and that the team is doing this to thank me. It’s just terrific.”