THE FIRST time I went to a Flyers game, guys like Clarke, Parent and Watson were wearing the orange and black, the team had a fierce spirit, and I couldn't drive yet.
And we won the Stanley Cup.
The second time I went to a Flyers game was on Monday - and not much had changed. The jerseys are still Halloween-colored, the team has that same steely courage, I still don't drive.
And the idea that the mythic cup is headed back to Philly is one part dream, two parts reality.
It's tempting to say that time, fickle and fleeting, has frozen in its ice-covered tracks. But that would hardly be accurate. A lot of things have happened since that halcyon run from '73-75, including several trips to the playoffs, crushing tragedies (Barry, Pelle) and some long and extremely uneventful stretches.
But it seems like this year is different, that these Flyers might just recapture that magic from 3 1/2 decades ago when hockey was a novelty for the city and teams were more than the sum of their stars.
I recently caught an amazing documentary on HBO called "The Broad Street Bullies," which, of course, tells the captivating tale of those burly brawlers Ed Snider brought to town.
Some (including my brother) have said that I'm the least likely sports fan. Maybe that's why I was so moved by the show: I reacted as a pure nonfan, not someone who knows stats, trades or salary caps.
Looking at the grainy footage of rough-and-tumble damn-the-penalties type of play that defined the game at Broad and Pattison gave me a longing for an almost ironic sort of innocence - a little brutality and splendor blended with a desire to win for winning's sake. The Broad Street Bullies didn't care so much about money. (Back then, there wasn't so much of it.) They
cared about proving that they were good enough to win it all.
I get that same feeling with this crew, most of whom weren't even born when a gap-toothed Clarke paraded the cup around the Spectrum ice.
Monday's game was just another entry in the inspiring saga of the Little Team That Could. Everyone knows how they battled in the last game of the regular season to win a playoff berth, barely beating the Original 6 Rangers for postseason life.
Then, they came up against the best goalie in the league, Martin Brodeur, with his lock on the Hall of Fame. They beat him - no, they crushed him.
Then, Original 6 Boston. That series is already legend. Doing what only two other teams in the history of the NHL had ever done, they battled back from a 3-0 deficit to win a shot at what everyone considers hockey royalty: the Original 6 Canadiens.
Even I, whose knowledge of the game is as shallow as a rerun of "Sex and the City," understand that Montreal is the Valhalla of the sport, and its storied players are the gods.
But those gods (who've slipped since the days of Lafleur, Dryden and Cournoyer) were vanquished by injury-wracked mortals at the brink of exhaustion.
And they did it Monday night, carried there by the heroics of Gagne, Pronger and Leighton.
They did it with an acrobatic goal from Mike Richards that looked like a move from Cirque du Soleil. And with assistance from injured warriors like Laperriere and Carter.
They did it with yeoman's work from their tired and tested goalie, Michael Leighton. They did it with masterful guidance from General Laviolette.
And they did it, surrounded by screams of encouragement that hovered in air that seemed transplanted from the Spectrum, circa 1974.
IT'S IMPOSSIBLE to tell if this team will win the Stanley Cup, just as it was unthinkable that a team that was once ranked 14th in its conference would even get a chance to play in May.
Too many things can go wrong, too many injuries are yet to be suffered, too many Blackhawks are waiting and healthy and hungry for a prize they haven't tasted since the year I was born.
But no one expected the Original Bullies, challengers to the venerable veterans of the league, to grasp Lord Stanley either.
And we all know how that turned out.