Ed Snider's legacy is best seen among Flyers' fans
On an April night in 1973, a kid from Roxborough stood in front of the Spectrum and listened to a muffled roar explode through its walls. He did not go in. Could not go in, really. Hell, they couldn't even watch it on TV. They were Roxborough kids, the so
On an April night in 1973, a kid from Roxborough stood in front of the Spectrum and listened to a muffled roar explode through its walls. He did not go in. Could not go in, really. Hell, they couldn't even watch it on TV. They were Roxborough kids, the sons of machinists, of factory foremen, of Marine Corps vets who returned from Korea and spent the rest of their lives cobbling together a living on the ground floor of the industrial complex that enabled such entanglements. Funny how it works: You risk your life to protect the capital, you manufacture the material to construct the building, and then you stand outside and listen to the crowd. At least the energy trickles down: Gary Dornhoefer, Game 5, overtime, the scream of a siren, the flash of a light, a kid suddenly in love.
They returned to Roxborough, started a team, found a kid from Poland who could skate a bit.
"We were just city kids," Steve Tangradi says, "but we were determined that we were going to play hockey."
This is how it happens. A guy goes from selling albums to selling an idea: a building, a team, a passion. A kid buys in. Kids become men. Men become fathers. A sport takes root. Legacies are exponential, their testaments told in orders of magnitude.
Or, perhaps, they are not told at all. They sit in silence behind plexiglass display cases, or hang from ceilings on bright-orange banners, or linger on photographed faces frozen in time. Twenty-four hours after their founder deemed his work complete, the Flyers took the ice in preparation for a playoff game. They did so on a rainy Tuesday morning, in an office park in New Jersey, on a sheet of ice surrounded by the footprints of a life. There was all of the talk you have come to expect in these types of situations, verbal manifestations of the mind's inability to comprehend its own existence. He held on until we clinched, they said. Come Thursday, he'll be looking down from a seat in hockey's ultimate skybox. Death is the ultimate cliché, isn't it? There are no original men, and thus no original thoughts, just a lurking realization that all we ever are is what we leave behind. Maybe sports are nothing more than an existential coping mechanism. Not for death, but for life. Ten grown men chasing a frozen piece of rubber around an oval cage, but with a goal clearly defined.
You walk around the Flyers' practice facility and you wonder how much of this Ed Snider envisioned when he brought hockey to Philadelphia 49 years ago. The men on the ice, sure. The orange-and-black-clad fans leaning against the glass, perhaps. But the rest of it? The youth league teams that will take the ice later in the day, both here in Voorhees and at similar Flyers-sponsored rinks around the Delaware Valley? The community skating sessions? The kids in the Roxborough alleyways clacking sticks on concrete in Claude Giroux jerseys?
This is how it happens. This is where legacies lie. Something is missing in professional sports these days, and Snider's death Monday at age 83 serves as a symbol of the times. You do not have to be a crotchety, old man to believe in such statements. As death is to life, so is the endgame in this system of ours. Passion begets markets, markets beget money, and money begets itself. Once upon a time, wildcatters drilled for oil. Snider drilled for hockey. Now, the oil men own hockey teams. And the hedge funds own them all.
There will be no more Sniders. There can be no more Sniders. And while that reality is something to which we all grant our tacit consent, it is well within our rights to mourn. No doubt, Snider was a businessman, a salesman, a billionaire. But he was local - or, at least he became local - and however you feel about the process employed by the other tenants of the building, a local is not something they aspire to be. Maybe that is the source of the vitriol surrounding Josh Harris and the Sixers. Perhaps it comes from the same place as the distrust this city has always felt for Jeffrey Lurie, a sense that our teams are not as "ours" as they used to be. On Tuesday, any fan in a Flyers jersey could walk in from the street and stand an inch of plexiglass away from a team preparing for a playoff game. Compare that with the fortified compound in which the Eagles practice, their security guards patrolling the borders for those peeking through the hedges. The football team has reached a point at which it can do what it wants without fear of economic reprisal. As for the emotional angst that every now and then occasions a grumble? They would be wise to consider what a recent holy visitor to the city had to say about walls.
Speaking of which, that Roxborough kid? Six years ago, he watched a kid of his own make the trek to South Philly. Steve was in the stands this time. His son Eric was on the ice, a 21-year-old forward for the Penguins, playing against his boyhood team.
"The greatest thing in the world was to get in that car on Tuesdays and Thursdays and take him to the rink," Steve says. "Forty-five minutes there, 45 minutes back: I got two hours a day to talk with my son."
Some sons become players. The rest remain fans. More than any playoff series, they are the legacy of a man.