It began, appropriately, with boos. It ended that way, too. This is “normalcy” in Philadelphia.

No one booed louder than Marine Sgt. Justin Solorio, with a black No. 11 jersey on his back and a Flyers logo tattoo on his chest.

You’ll have to take our word about the tattoo.

Capitals goalie Ilya Samsonov took the ice first Sunday night at 6:29 p.m., so an enemy was the first player seen by the first fans to attend an indoor professional sporting event in Philadelphia in 362 days. Solorio led the boos.

» READ MORE: Flyers play in front of some home fans, but fade after strong start and lose to Caps, 3-1

Twenty-three minutes later, Solorio draped his Flyers flag around his shoulders and began the first “Let’s Go Flyers!” chant heard at the Wells Fargo Center since March 10, two days before the NHL paused its season, and America paused, period. In the past year, the coronavirus pandemic, social unrest, political sniping, and economic uncertainties have divided this country in ways we haven’t seen for 50 years. Solorio despises division.

“This — sports — this unites us,” Solorio said.

He witnessed most of the division from across the sea.

Solorio, 23, was stationed in the Philippines in March, part of the United States’ security mission to monitor ISIS. By the time the NHL finished its season in a playoff bubble last summer, Solorio was stationed in Japan. He’s spent the past few months training to protect an American embassy. He ships out in seven days. But on Tuesday, when the city of Philadelphia announced that it would allow 3,100 fans into Sunday night’s game against the Capitals, Solorio knew where he’d be.

He hopped in his car in Camp Lejeune, N.C., stopped at Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia, and made it home to Royersford, Pa. on Friday. He spent the night in his black-and-orange room, decorated with signed Flyers photos. Sunday, he and his two best friends — one a fellow Marine, and the Marine’s wife — were among the 3,023 fans scattered around the arena in yellow-backed seats in pods of two, three, and four. He was Flyer’ed up, head to toe: cap, mask, gaiter, jersey, black pants, and even orange-and-black sneakers.

“To see that kind of support is awesome,” said center Sean Couturier. “We’re lucky we have one of the best fan bases in the league. Definitely a true Flyer fan. Dedicated guy to his hometown, and the city, and the team.”

After five years in the service, Solorio has become a wiry, intense fellow; the sort of man you want on that wall, if you will. On second thought, you probably didn’t want him on that wall Sunday night. He was a little distracted.

“My whole life, all I cared about was the Marines and the Flyers,” Solorio said. “After all that’s happened, I can’t believe I’m here.

“I’m on Cloud Nine.”

Cloud Nine was crowded Sunday.

Welcome back

At 6:20 p.m., as the first fans peeked in from the concourse to the seating area, Flyers public address announcer Lou Nolan boomed, “Welcome back to Broad Street!” Ten minutes later, the boos; a minute later, Carter Hart glided onto the ice, and the Flyers heard their first cheers of 2021.

At 7:05, Lauren Hart sang her first national anthem for a live audience in 51 weeks. Twelve seconds in, the first in-game “Let’s go Flyers!” erupted. It sounded like a lot more than 3,100 fans.

At 7:26, Couturier slid a pass to Joel Farabee at the blue line; Farabee carried it the last 75 feet, then feet snuck it through Samsonov’s legs for a 1-0 lead.

Farabee skated away from the goal, looked into the stands, raised his hands with a come-hither motion, asking for adulation. It rained down on him — in drizzles, since 3,023 can’t drench you with adulation. But still.

» READ MORE: At long last, Flyers fans return to the Wells Fargo Center

When Nolan announced the assist, the familiar “Coooooots!” cheer unrolled, and hockey was almost normal again.

“It was only, what, 2,800, 3,000 people? And it was a pretty loud one,” Couturier marveled. “It felt great to be back in front of our fans. Hopefully, we can soon get even more fans, and get some wins here.”

It didn’t feel as great six minutes later, when, during a typically flaccid power play, those same fans crowed, “Shooot!”

By 9 p.m., in the middle of the third period, the Flyers had given up three straight goal. This time, the “Booos” were directed at the home team.

So, totally normal.

So excited

The sergeant from the 2nd Battalion in the 8th Marine Regiment put on almost as good a show as the skaters, but then, he wasn’t playing his sixth game in nine days.

He wasn’t exactly playing by the rules, either, but what did you expect? He was wearing a Konecny jersey, after all.

Before the game, Solorio left his seat in Section 223 to visit a couple in Section 222A, where he had a maskless conversation, completely ignoring pregame warnings from both Nolan and Gritty.

He taunted a trio of Capitals fans in 221, who ignored him at first, then finally satisfied him by blowing him kisses. He turned to go back to his seat, but he fist-bumped every fan on his way back.

By the first intermission, the good Sergeant had been warned to keep his mask on.

By the end of the intermission he’d finally gotten a hold of himself. By the end of the game, he was booing the 3-1 loss with the rest of the fans.

You couldn’t blame them. You couldn’t blame him.

It had been almost a whole year.