On the day Ed Snider died, South Philadelphia was alive in a manner he would have relished.
Monday was the Phillies' opening game this season at Citizens Bank Park, and Xfinity Live - the six-pub pleasure complex on the site where the Spectrum once stood - was full with patrons. The ballgame was still hours from starting. The customers held beer glasses to their lips and took hellacious bites of buffalo chicken wraps. A Janet Jackson song thumped inside the building; a cover band blasted Dave Matthews Band outside. From the patio, Lincoln Financial Field and the Wells Fargo Center were in easy view. And on a giant TV screen above the main bar was the face of Michael Barkann, anchoring the hours of coverage Comcast SportsNet devoted to Snider's death.
Snider was 83. He was the founder, owner, and chairman of the Flyers; the owner of the Sixers; the treasurer and vice president of the Eagles; a philanthropist; the builder of the Spectrum and the Wells Fargo Center; the possessor of the foresight to create two regional sports-cable channels, PRISM and Comcast SportsNet, before few could conceive of a market for such programming; the kind of man who acted as if the force of his will were enough to achieve whatever he wished. And on the day he died, it was impossible not to think about all the man had done and how he had done it, to contemplate the scenes and anecdotes that told his full story.
On Feb. 1, in a banquet hall at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Cherry Hill, Phillies chairman David Montgomery rose from his chair, walked to a podium, and spoke haltingly about Ed Snider.
Montgomery was receiving an award, in Snider's honor, from the Philadelphia Sportswriters Association that night, for the Phillies' charity work on behalf of ALS research. He had been diagnosed with jaw cancer in May 2014, and the disease and the cure had left his speech a slurry whisper. So the room, with nearly 1,000 people inside, went quiet as he began his remarks.
"I've known him for more than 40 years," Montgomery said that night of Snider. "The Flyers Wives Fight for Lives Carnival set the standard for what everyone else tries to do here."
On Monday, in a news conference room before the Phillies lost their home opener to the San Diego Padres, 4-3, Montgomery spoke again about Snider - their cordial friendship, their business ventures, their shared understanding of the collective psyche of Philadelphia sports fans. There is nothing more important to them, Montgomery said, than having players and teams who try, who fight, who give all they have all the time.
When he learned of Montgomery's diagnosis, Snider called him and revealed that he, too, had cancer. The two stayed in contact from that point on, touching base once a month.
"I'm doing fine," Montgomery told him once. "I hope you are."
"I'm going to win this," he said.
That was Ed Snider.
In March 2009, when the Spectrum was about to be razed, Stan Hochman of the Daily News called Jerry Wolman, Snider's former business partner. Wolman had been instrumental in the Spectrum's construction, but his relationship with Snider had devolved into a bitter feud after Wolman's financial problems allowed Snider to wrest the Flyers and the arena away from him.
"My philosophy was simple," Wolman told Hochman. "I always believed that you do not make any progress on your own, and I always treated everyone the same, be it the president of a bank or the janitor. Snider was a step-on-anyone-in-your-way-to-success."
That was Ed Snider, too. Once you were his friend, you were his friend forever. Once you were his enemy, same thing.
At 8:08 Monday morning, as I drove south on the New Jersey Turnpike - I had stayed in Brooklyn overnight after covering the Flyers-Islanders game - my iPhone pinged with a text message. It was from one of my closest friends and the most devoted Flyers fan I know. He is 41. He played hockey in high school and college and still plays in a men's league, though he is 15 years older than anyone else on the ice with him. For a short time, he worked for the Philadelphia Phantoms, once the Flyers' AHL affiliate. I would have been surprised had I not heard from him Monday morning.
Our exchange went like this:
"Ed Snider died?"
"Sad news . . . Really hit me . . . I owe my love of hockey and the team to him."
That was Ed Snider, to millions of people who barely knew him or never met him.
On May 24, 1980, Ray Didinger covered a Flyers-Islanders game for the Philadelphia Bulletin. This one was not in Brooklyn. It was on Long Island, at the Nassau Coliseum, and it carried a bit more import than Sunday's game. It was Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals, and when Bob Nystrom scored in overtime to end the series, Didinger had a problem.
He had watched the game from an auxiliary press box high above the rink, and a media relations representative was supposed to shepherd him and several other sportswriters down to the locker room area on the Coliseum's ground floor. But on the arena's narrow main concourse, amid the chaos caused by thousands of Islanders fans celebrating their team's first championship, Didinger became separated from the chaperone. He saw a door marked Security Area, opened it, descended a staircase, and found himself in a small hallway behind the Flyers' locker room. The only other person there was Snider, pacing back and forth.
There had been some questionable officiating in the game. All of it seemed to go against the Flyers - lineman Leon Stickle's non-offside call was the most infamous example - and Snider was a bubbling, burping volcano ready to blow. Didinger just happened to be there with his notepad and pen.
"The officials killed us, the bastards," Snider told him. "It was an absolute, total, [expletive] disgrace."
Didinger's column was 33 paragraphs long. Twelve of the first 25 graphs were nothing but quotes from Snider. He would have been delinquent to write the article any other way. As Didinger scribbled for all he was worth, Snider punctuated his harangue with this comment about Scotty Morrison, then the director of NHL officiating: "He should be shot."
That was Ed Snider. There is a fine line between passion and gracelessness. He sometimes crossed it. He rarely apologized for it.
When Phil Jasner, the longtime Sixers beat writer for the Daily News, was hospitalized with the cancer that eventually killed him, Snider offered to put Jasner in a private room and cover all the expenses.
"Dad politely declined the offer," Jasner's son, Andy, said Monday in a post on his Facebook page. "But wow what a wonderful gesture. Mr. Snider told me we take care of each other in this community. I will never forget it."
That was Ed Snider.
For a week after the Sixers traded Allen Iverson to the Denver Nuggets in 2006, the word would come down to the newsroom at Comcast SportsNet: Enough about Iverson. He's gone. We got some good players in the trade. Talk about them. The mysterious edict contradicted every instinct and principle of journalism or newsworthiness or good ol' fashioned sports talk, but it came down nonetheless. Allen Iverson was fascinating. Allen Iverson meant ratings and the viewing public's piqued interest. Allen Iverson was the only thing that made the Sixers interesting then. But Allen Iverson was gone, so the edict was to talk about someone else.
That was Ed Snider, too. At least, people were pretty sure it was.
At 1 p.m. Monday, the Wells Fargo Center was mostly empty and silent. The event floor was not covered in Flyers ice or Sixers hardwood but green synthetic turf: the Philadelphia Soul, of the Arena Football League, were scheduled to play their first home game of the 2016 season hours later, against the Jacksonville Sharks. Eight maintenance workers tended to the field. One pushed a broom along the floor in Section 114. It wasn't long before they left.
Standing in the Center's lower bowl when no one else is around gives scale to its enormity. Sports arenas are enormous. The undertaking required to build one is enormous. You forget that fact when you're in them often. High above, hanging from the ceiling, were 20 banners, in that signature orange-and-black combination: five listing the members of the Flyers' Hall of Fame, five honoring the players whose numbers the franchise has retired, eight recognizing the Flyers' regular-season and postseason conference championships, two for their Stanley Cups in 1974 and 1975.
In the still silence of the place, it was easier to notice something: While 18 of those banners were clustered together, those final two dangled from opposite sides of the arena's videoboard, isolated from the rest. There was ample room to hang more Stanley Cup banners, and surely Ed Snider hoped he would see at least one more one raised over the 40 years since the last one went up.
No, he expected he would, and he did everything he thought he should do to make it happen, and how many times did he himself stare up at that ceiling, his shock of white hair making it appear as if his picture belonged on a piece of American currency, pumping his fist after another Flyers victory, telling himself that this was it, this was the year, because dammit, after all he'd done, he and his team and this city deserved one more parade, and he would be the one to deliver it?
On the day Ed Snider died, it was impossible to think about much of anything else.