This excerpt from If These Walls Could Talk: Philadelphia Flyers by Lou Nolan, the team's public address announcer, and the Inquirer/Daily News' Sam Carchidi is printed with the permission of Triumph Books. Nolan has been there from the franchise's birth, and he tells stories from his 50 years with the Flyers — from Lou Angotti to Ivan Provorov, and every season in between.
For more information or to order a copy, visit www.triumphbooks.com/WallsFlyers.
For a lot of years, selling securities to banks has been my real job.
But my most rewarding job has been the one that, for a half century, has taken me inside a noisy, percolating South Philadelphia hockey arena during the fall, winter, and spring months.
I have been fortunate enough to have been with the Flyers since their inception in 1967—first as a public relations assistant to Joe Kadlec, and then, since 1972, as their public address announcer.
It's a career that has been fulfilling, exhilarating, and unpredictable.
Witness my first game as public address announcer. There I was, minding my own business and sitting between two players who went to the Spectrum penalty box during a preseason game. They were yapping at each other as they sat down when, suddenly, the visiting player picked up a bucket of ice and heaved it at our guy, Bob Kelly, who was one of our feisty wingers.
The ice never reached the player they called Hound. Instead, it bounced off the side of my head and drenched my sport coat as the fans sitting behind us let out a collective roar.
In a way, it was my baptism into the NHL. Instead of holy water,
I got christened with ice water. Hey, just part of the job. Part of what has been an incredible journey.
The Flyers finished with their first winning record in franchise history during my first year as the PA announcer, and that started an amazing stretch during which Philadelphia fell in love with the Orange and Black.
I have witnessed some great moments along the way: eight trips to the Stanley Cup Finals, consecutive championships in 1974 and 1975, an epic win over the Soviet Red Army team, and key games in the remarkable 35-game unbeaten streak in 1979–80. And who could ever forget our Cinderella run to get to the 2010 Finals?
But it hasn't been all glitz and glamour.
When the Flyers franchise was awarded, Ed Snider and Jerry Wolman were taking a huge risk. You see, I was in the minority—a die-hard hockey fan who had followed the old Philadelphia Ramblers, who played at the Philadelphia Arena in the Eastern Hockey League.
At that time, however, most Philadelphians knew little about hockey.
Across the bridge at the Cherry Hill Arena, the Jersey Devils were playing in the Eastern Hockey League. They were the lone survivors of seven failed Philadelphia-area, minor-league teams over a 38-year period.
But in 1966 (a year before we started playing), Philly landed a franchise at a cost of $2 million, in part because of plans to build a new rink, the Spectrum. That helped offset the fact that Philadelphia was the
only one of six new NHL franchises not to have a high minor-league affiliation.
The team was named "Flyers" by Ed Snider's sister, Phyllis. That was the easy part. The tough part: attracting fans in a city with deep baseball, football, and basketball roots. In addition, several months
of hockey's schedule overlapped with the immensely popular Big Five basketball scene.
In 1967, a parade to welcome the team was held down Broad Street. About 25 people showed up. As defenseman Joe Watson is fond of saying, there were more Flyers personnel in the parade than there were people watching it.
Today, virtually all home games are sellouts and the Flyers have become a huge part of Philadelphia's sports landscape. But in 1967–68, there were growing pains. Lots and lots of growing pains. We lost our
first exhibition game 6–1—to a minor-league team. Well, at least it was our minor-league team, the Quebec Aces.
The regular-season home opener drew 7,812 fans, and we eked out a less-than-artistic 1–0 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins as Bill
Sutherland scored the goal, Doug Favell recorded the shutout, and public-address announcer Gene Hart kept the spectators informed as he explained the icing and offside calls. I announced the goal scorers
and penalties to those who sat in our scarcely filled press box. Today, in the Information Age, there may be 50 to 75 media types at our games. Back then, you could count the reporters on one hand.
I also kept handwritten stats during the season—remember, this was way before computers—and handed them out to reporters after the game. My Catholic school penmanship, drilled into me by the nuns, was actually paying off.
I got the job, which was part-time, partly because of my friendship with Joe Kadlec. Joe had been working for the Daily News sports department and was hired as the Flyers' first public-relations director.
I had met Joe the previous year down in Margate, New Jersey. We were young, single, and carefree, and we partied and chased women together.
To be honest, I found out about the Flyers because of a big billboard on Route 42 in South Jersey that read, The Flyers Are Coming! I looked into it because I had a little bit of a background in hockey. The goal judge for the Ramblers—a team that was here from 1955 to 1964—was a guy named George Lennon. George was the uncle of a classmate of mine in grade school, also named George Lennon. We used to go to the games with his uncle on Friday nights at the arena on 45th and Market. We'd watch the games and run around the rink. We'd get the broken sticks, take them home, and tape them up and play street hockey behind the school. We did that for years. We'd put on our shoe-skates—you put the skates on your shoes—and we'd play all the time.
As I mentioned, I was a rarity at that time. I was hooked on hockey even though we didn't have our own NHL team. I lived in a Southwest Philadelphia row home at the time, and I'd take the 36 Trolley downtown to buy hockey books. I'd watch the Original Six teams—Montreal, Boston, Toronto, Detroit, Chicago, and the New York Rangers—on TV and I just loved the sport. I got to know the league and read all the hockey books, which they only sold at 13th and Market. And then one day when I was talking to Joe, he told me he just got the job with the Flyers as the PR director. I said, "Hey, if you need any help, I'd be glad to help you. I know a little bit about the sport." Joe told me to come to this cocktail party where they were celebrating the team's arrival. Joe was a North Catholic guy and I was a West Catholic guy, but we became buddies down Margate through some mutual friends.
It's strange how your life can take a turn by fate. I'm sure everybody can look back to an unscripted event that changed their lives in some way. For me, if it wasn't for some friends bringing Joe and me together, I probably would never have been a part of the Flyers.
Hearing from the Boss
I would see our owner, Ed Snider, in locker rooms after games in our first year. That was a tradition that started in 1967 and continued until he passed away in 2016. He always loved being around the players, loved getting to know them and finding out about their families and their lives. Ed wasn't just some corporate guy whomthe players never saw. The franchise was his baby and he was totally immersed in it, and it showed in his deep respect and admiration for the players.
Back in our first year, I would see the guys from the group who ran the team—Ed, Joe Scott, and Bill Putnam. They were all excited about making the Flyers become a big part of Philadelphia.
I always called Ed by his first name, but to some—like Bob Clarke—he was always Mr. Snider. And when I got the PA job, Ed would call me on my phone in the box if things got really strange
down on the ice. He never called me if he agreed with a call, but he'd call me if he wanted a clarification on something that happened. A lot. He might ask me why one of his players was getting a penalty or
what it looked like from my level on the ice. I would say, "I don't quite understand it, Ed. I know what you mean." But I would never say that to the referee. I had to stay professional with the ref.
I remember one game when there was a huge brawl, and Bob Myers was the ref. He came over to me and started telling me all the penalties he was handing out so I could announce them. This went on for a while because there were a lot of penalties. Just then, the phone rang and it was Ed. I said, "Just a minute, Ed," and I put the phone down because Myers wanted to finish up. When Myers finished, I got back on the phone with Ed. He said, "Lou, there's something you and I have to get straight between us." I said, "Sure, Ed, what's that?" And he said, "When I call you, I want the referee put on hold."
That was Ed. He just wanted to blow off some steam. Everybody used to kid me that I was on his speed dial from his suite.
There wasn't much Ed missed. A couple years ago, I was introducing the Mites-on-Ice before they took the ice between periods of our game. Somebody handed me a piece of paper with the kids' names and I announced them as they skate out. Well, I announced a couple of kids and said they were from a certain playground in thearea—but it turned out they were from the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation. That immediately sparked a phone call from Ed. Hesaid, "Where did you get that information?" He just wanted to know whose responsibility it was and we quickly settled it. Ed wanted the
foundation to be credited—and they deserved it because they are a fantastic organization. But that was Ed. He was involved in every aspect and he was so excited about the foundation and took so much pride in it.
Back in our first year, it was fun to see the young and old guys try to blend together. During training camp, Keith Allen, our coach, issued what he called his 10 commandments. Among them: players weren't permitted to go to local taverns, and they were told to curb their use of profanity on the ice and not to break sticks in fits of anger.
I'm not sure how many "commandments" were broken.
I remember being on a couple of charter flights and going to some road games in that first season, including our first matchup in Montreal. I sat in the press box, did stats, and accommodated our beat writers if they had any questions.
Now, remember; Montreal was the Mecca of the hockey world—like the Yankees were to baseball back then.
In just our ninth game of our first season, we went into Montreal on November 4. This was only our second game against an established team, and we were obviously heavy underdogs.
None of the established teams wanted to lose to one of the new guys because, quite frankly, it would be a big embarrassment.
Especially at home.
But there we are, in the hallowed Forum, taking the lead against the mighty Habs. Bernie Parent and Leon Rochefort were playing out of their minds. Bernie was from Montreal, and Rochefort had been
drafted from the Canadiens, so both had extra incentive, and we took a 2–1 lead going into the third period. Rochefort scored two goals in the third period to complete his hat trick and give us a 4–1 lead
against Rogie Vachon, the Canadiens goalie who would later go into the Hall of Fame.
As Al Michaels would later ask, "Do you believe in miracles?"
In the press box, John Brogan, the Flyers beat writer for the Bulletin, gave me an assignment. There were about five minutes left in the game and I guess he was on deadline and didn't have time to go downstairs for postgame interviews and file his story on time, so he asked me to grab him a couple of quotes from Allen, our coach.
I must preface what happened next. I was not a newspaper reporter and, at that time, I had had no idea about the protocol for interviewing the coach or the players. So I went down the steps, ran through a corridor, and worked my way to the Flyers' bench and walked right up to Keith Allen with about two minutes to go. Keith is in the middle of trying to coach his team to a monumental victory, and I say, "Keith, can I talk to you for a minute?"
Keith replied with a simple question. "What the hell are you doing here?"
"John Brogan sent me down to get a couple quotes from you."
Keith was flabbergasted. He shooed me away in a polite way. Sort of. "Tell him I'm really happy that things are going well for us. Now get the hell out of here!" And as he's talking to me, he's yelling to his players and making a line change. It was pure naiveté on my part.
Later, Brogan tells me he was up in the press box watching me talk to Keith and he's shaking his head in disbelief. But I didn't know any different. I didn't know I was supposed to wait until the game was finished and talk to him in the locker room. Afterward, Keith saw me in the locker room and said, "Lou, if we would have lost that game, you were walking back to Philadelphia."
Nolan and Carchidi will be doing several book signings. Here is the list, with others expected to be added along the way:
Nov. 2 (5 p.m.): Hilton City Avenue Hotel, 4200 City Ave., Philadelphia.
Nov. 4 (1 to 3 p.m.): Barnes & Noble, Neshaminy Mall, Bensalem, Pa.
Nov. 11 (noon to 2 p.m.): Barnes & Noble, 911 Haddonfield Rd., Cherry Hill.
Nov. 11 (4:30 to 6:15 p.m.): Wells Fargo Center store before Flyers game.
Nov. 25 (2 to 4 p.m.): Main Point Books, Wayne, Pa.
Nov. 29 (7 to 9 p.m.): Barnes & Noble, Willow Grove, Pa.
Dec. 2 (5:30 to 7:30 pm): Barnes & Noble, Plymouth Meeting, Pa.
Dec. 13 (7 to 9 p.m.): Barnes & Noble 1311 Nixon Dr., Moorestown.
Dec. 16 (1 to 3 p.m.): Barnes & Noble, 1553 Almonesson Rd., Deptford.