'OUR FANS love the game and know we're trying hard every year to get better. Fans aren't stupid. They know when an organization is doing everything possible and when it's not. They probably wouldn't support us if we weren't working our butts off."
These are the words of 80-year-old Ed Snider to the Inquirer and Philly.com last week, spoken from the heart as always. Whether it's the fat deal he gave Chris Pronger or the one he gave Ilya Bryzgalov 2 summers ago, Ed always has backed that heart with his checkbook, and for that he escapes much of the vitriol that fans express toward ownership of our more recent champions, such as the current Phillies.
The Phillies have spent and spent and spent before and since their 2008 world championship, adding Cliff Lee (twice), Doc Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Hunter Pence, Jonathan Papelbon, and locking up home-grown stars like Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins.
But they haven't always spent that way and, well, memories are long in these parts. So right now is not a good time to be Dave Montgomery, or for that matter, Ruben Amaro Jr.
But Ed . . . Mr. Snider escapes most of the vitriol despite being the one and only owner of a team that has existed for 46 years and hasn't won a Stanley Cup championship for the last 38. If you're my age, you remember how much fun it was teasing all those Rangers fans as their drought went from 40 years to 45 years, and then to 54.
Well, that's us now.
And at some point you have to ask: Has Ed Snider become our version of Al Davis, his heart in the right place, his head not so much? Is there something structurally wrong with how the Flyers do things? A philosophy? A lack of one? And if so, does it all trace to its founder and the guy who still calls all the shots?
Davis, who died in 2011, always seemed to be in a hurry to reverse his Oakland Raiders' fortunes. Some years that rush worked well enough to make them a playoff team and some years it was a disaster, but there was no semblance of a structured plan, at least in the later years. Once, he even traded his coach, Jon Gruden to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, for draft picks, only to have Gruden come back and beat him the following season in the Super Bowl.
That hasn't happened to Ed yet, but he has endured watching Mike Keenan win a Cup coaching the Rangers. And he's watched Mark Recchi hoist a Cup in Carolina and Boston, and there was Jeff Carter and Mike Richards raising one over their heads in Los Angeles last spring. And . . . OK, enough.
Although Snider's endorsement of Peter Laviolette the other day mentioned the Cup he won with Carolina and his finals appearance with the Flyers, you have to go back to Scotty Bowman in 2002 to find the last coach to win a Cup with more than one team. Snider also fired another Cup-winning coach, Ken Hitchcock, eight games into the 2006 season, just 2 years removed from Hitchcock taking the team to the seventh game of the Eastern Conference finals.
Like Boston Red Sox teams over the decades preceding 2004, Flyers teams have been built and rebuilt expeditiously to placate not just an impatient fan base but an impatient owner. In doing so, Ed has often sought to catch the latest wave, only to find it had already passed. When the Flyers built a team for speed, the league went bigger. When they built a bigger, meaner team, the league called more penalties. Hitchcock was brought in to trap and beat the Devils. Laviolette to open up a stagnant offense. No matter what the edition, the Flyers carried around that image they built in the '70s, their team perennially characterized as bullies no matter what the size or toughness of their current roster.
And like Davis' later Raiders teams, they accumulated penalties without intimidating anybody.
Like those Rangers teams of the '70s and '80s, the Flyers have perfected the art of coming close. Ed will remind you that the Flyers have made the finals six times over those 38 years and there are a lot of Flyers fans who will make that case as well. That's another peculiarity about this franchise. When it's the Phillies, Eagles and Sixers, mentioning the near-misses only infuriates us further. Not so with the Flyers.
Why? Because of Ed. Ed has opened his wallet since he opened for business and except for that period when he let his son run the team for a while - "The Dark Ages" - he has spent lavishly on all types of players - except for goalies - to get over the hump.
And he finally buckled on that as well, insisting that his general manager go out in the market and get the most expensive goaltender he could find. So what happens? The goalie created more headlines off the ice than on it, didn't make them any better, and now Mr. Snider is once again faced with an offseason decision that, either way, will cost him money.
What you like about Ed, what saves him from the vitriol, is his history. He probably will eat Bryz' contract if it leads to a better defense and a better team.
What you don't like is that if he does, it suggests once again that his wallet is no match for his seat-of-the-pants stewardship of this title-starved franchise.
On Twitter: @samdonnellon