WALKING INTO the Wachovia Center last night, Broad Street Bully felt he was in an all-faiths Lourdes scene - thousands of fervent true believers fingering their black and orange beads, drinking sacred potions (and sacred potions lite), wearing the Flyered-up garb of the faithful, hoping for a miracle.
But the hockey gods don't always reward the prayers of the faithful. The Flyers fell in overtime, 4-3. Thousands of diehards filed sadly into the rainy world outside. Bully did not hear any of them talk of jumping off the Bandwagon, though. The 2010 Cup hopes died last night. The dream lives on.
GUNG-HO GRAZIANOS: Mike Graziano, 45, of South Philly, who kept section 208 Flyered-up with mighty blasts of his air horn, shared the Flyers love with son Mike; sister Gerri; niece Karen and her boyfriend, Kevin; and Graziano's best friend and fellow diehard, "Donnie Rags."
"No Blackhawks fans in my section," said Graziano, whose Rambolike intensity included a Flyers headband, black-and-orange war paint gleaming beneath his eyes and an air horn in his fist. "They would be harassed all night long. We don't put our hands on them. But we make sure they shut up."
The playoffs stole most of his voice, but Graziano left nothing in the locker room last night.
"We get loud, we go nuts, we get everybody going nuts," he said. "Me and Rosenthal over there."
Across the aisle, Cary Rosenthal, 42, of Newark, Del., had the same crazed gleam in his eyes as Graziano. His Flyers jersey said it all: Rosenthal.
"By the time I'm through going crazy here, the crowd is chanting my name," he said.
Loud as the lower level is, the nosebleed seats, ruled by diehards like Graziano and Rosenthal, are pure, unadulterated Flyers madness.
"I'm 'Puckhead,' " said John Stokarski, 40, in section 207, pointing to the unmistakable evidence - a gigantic black foam puck on his orange-wigged head and a Flyers jersey with "Puckhead" on the back. "Everybody loves me up here," he said.
Just then, as if on cue, a neighboring fan yelled, "Puckhead! Love ya man!"
DAD & DAUGHTER DIEHARDS: "Whatever happens, we will continue to support our team no matter what," said Monica Giovanetti, 29, of South Philly, attending the game with her dad, Joe "Rock" Giovanetti, 62, as they've done together over many seasons.
"We bleed orange and black, and always will," she said fiercely.
FAN, NOT DIE-HARD: Phil Spector, 72, who grew up in Strawberry Mansion and now lives in Cherry Hill, had a ticket for last night's game but stayed home because, he said, "it's not worth getting chest pains unless it's a chance to win the Cup."
"I can't watch a playoff game without getting chest pains," Spector explained. "I want to be a diehard fan, but I don't want to die watching a tight game."