So five St. Louis Blues walk into a South Philly Mummers club in early January. Rather than get tarred with feathers and sequins, they get handed an unlikely lifeline for their season.
They had arrived in Philadelphia dragging the worst record in the Western Conference. Their coach had been fired six weeks before and they were coming off a loss where they gave up two goals in 11 seconds. At home.
The five players — Rob Bortuzzo, Joel Edmundson, Robby Fabbri, Jaden Schwartz and Alex Steen — were invited to the Jacks New Years Club at 16th & Moyamensing by Justin Postiglione and Larry Yadan. Yadan is known as “Larry Flowers” even though he deals in jewelry. He has friends throughout the league, especially in St. Louis.
As low as the Blues were feeling, the Jacks were flying high. They had won first prize in their comic division four days earlier and their unlikely adopted party song — a 1982 Laura Branigan pop hit — was constantly being requested. “Play Gloria,” they’d yell to DJ Matt Cella.
These guys grew up together. They’re like Matt Damon’s crew in Good Will Hunting, except there’s 40 of them. Named the club after the neighborhood playground they all grew up in: Guerin Rec. Center at 16th & Jackson.
Ironically, the place used to be called the Blue Suede Saloon.
It was an unlikely place to find a group of Canadian hockey players. But this whole story is odd. Adding to the energy was an Eagles-Bears playoff game when the Eagles scored the deciding touchdown in the final minute as Bears kicker Cody Parkey double-doinked a potential game-winning field goal off the uprights.
It was just another raucous Mummers Sunday.
“They needed a good night out,” said Jacks member Eddie Renzi, “and where else you gonna go?”
The next night, the Blues shutout the Flyers, 3-0 as goalie Jordan Binnington won the first start of his NHL career. A couple days later, St. Louis started the first three-game winning streak of its season. On Jan. 23, the Blues ran off a franchise record 11-gamer that would vault them into the postseason hunt. They played “Gloria” in the locker room after each game.
Yadan, the jeweler who grew up at Bustleton & Red Lion in the Northeast, asked former Flyer and St. Louis Blue Scottie Upshall if this whole “Gloria” sensation was just silliness.
“He said, ‘No, Larr. When pro athletes have something to lean on, that they can bond together with, that’s very serious,” Yadan said. “It’s something they’ve rallied around.”
Sort of like dog masks.
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The emergence of Binnington and the adaptation to new coach Craig Berube’s system probably has had more to do with the turnaround than that night in South Philly, but The Jacks and that quirky song have galvanized the locker room. The St. Louis arena now plays “Gloria.” When the Blues won Game 7 of the conference semifinals in double overtime, a local radio station played “Gloria” for 24 consecutive hours. Blues’ fans ate it up.
Kathy Golik is Branigan’s former manager and has been the caretaker of Branigan’s online footprint since the singer died in 2004 of a brain aneurysm at 52.
“She’d be humbled by all of the attention,” Golik said. “She was real down-to-earth and is probably looking down on all this and smiling.”
The song is a cover of a 1979 Italian ballad. Branigan and her production crew upped the tempo and changed the lyrics to fit her powerful vocals. In 1982, it reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100.
“It’s a 37-year-old song and it was nice to see that it was up to No. 25 on the iTunes chart, No. 37 across all genres [last week],” Golik said. “That’s totally amazing to me. It’s just unbelievable. If she was around, she would probably go into that club and sit down and have a beer with those guys.”
“Gloria” has a broad meaning. Speculation on the internet ranges from it being about a prostitute to a woman who is trying to escape some sort of abuse. Golik said that Branigan would say that it was about a woman, “who was running too fast for her own steps.”
Seems like an odd topic for a bunch of hockey players and Mummers to use as a rallying song, but Branigan’s enthusiasm puts the “Glory” in “Gloria.”
The guys at Jacks have trademarked “Play Gloria” and are selling t-shirts near and far. Mike Montecalvo shipped a couple up to Ontario just the other day. Butchie Gallagher wants to make Mummers umbrellas with “Play Gloria” adorned. Pat Narducci is bringing out crockpots of roast beef for members and their guests who come to watch the Blues chase their first championship.
It felt more like a Flyers game in the clubhouse on Wednesday night when St. Louis lost to San Jose in overtime to go down 2-1 in the Western Conference finals series. The Blues allowed San Jose to force overtime with a goal in the final minute and lost on a controversial score five minutes into OT. Grrrrrr.
But 15 minutes afterward, plans were being made for Friday night’s Game 4 and Sunday afternoon’s Game 5. “Think we can mount a TV outside?” one member wondered aloud.
“These guys have full-time jobs,” said Steve Leuzzi Jr., a cement contractor who serves as the club’s captain. “This is taking over their whole lives.”