When St. Louis Blues fans yell “Play Gloria” after the hockey team takes another remarkable step to a championship, Matt Cella hears them the clearest.
He’s the hottest DJ in St. Louis even though he doesn’t live in St. Louis, has never been to St. Louis and, come to think of it, really isn’t even a DJ. But he hears them.
Cella (pronounced Chella) is a salesman from South Philly, by way of then-St. John Neumann and Penn State-Delco, and he’s caught up like the rest of his Mummers buddies in an unlikely connection to the Blues hockey team.
“It’s mind-boggling,” he said. “It’s amazing how big it’s gotten and how many people from St. Louis appreciate what we gave to them.”
The Jacks New Year’s Brigade, a 43-member club, was still celebrating its initial New Year’s Day first prize when five St. Louis Blues walked into their clubhouse on Jan. 6. The Blues were playing the Flyers the following night, so the fellas were looking for libations.
The Blues came in as the worst team in the Western Conference. They left, unwittingly, with a season-saving rallying cry and are three wins away from the first championship in franchise history. St. Louis will host Boston in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final on Saturday. The series is tied, 1-1.
NBC was making plans Friday to do pregame and (maybe) postgame shows for Saturday’s game from the South Philadelphia clubhouse, which is tucked in a normally quiet pocket just off the bustle of Broad & Oregon. Hang in there, neighbors. It’s almost over.
Cella, one of nine founders of the three-year-old club, plays the music as The Jacks walk up Broad Street on New Year’s Day. He said fellow member Eddie Renzi started playing the 1982 Laura Branigan hit “Gloria” on the club’s jukebox in the weeks leading up to the parade and it just stuck. Cella incorporated it into his playlist.
“I never had a paying DJ gig in my life,” Cella said, laughing. “The only times I’ve ever DJ’d in my life are two parade days, two [post-parade] serenades, the Eagles-Bears game, and now all of these Blues [playoff] games.”
The Blues’ visit coincided with that Eagles playoff win over the Bears in the double-doink game. When they beat the Flyers the following night, the players — Rob Bortuzzo, Joel Edmundson, Robby Fabbri, Jaden Schwartz and Alex Steen — blared the song in the visitor’s locker room.
Schwartz, who had 11 goals during the season, has been a monster with 12 during the playoffs.
As the wins piled up, so did the “Gloria” repetitions. Now it’s played at St. Louis’ arena and every other establishment out there that has the hockey game on. Fans can’t get enough of it, though some fatigue has to set in.
The Blues will play their 22nd playoff game in the last seven weeks on Saturday. The Jacks have hosted a party for just about each of them. Cella joked that the playoffs have been just as grueling for The Jacks as they have for the Blues.
“Sometimes you wake up in the morning and it’s still in your head and you get sick of it for a while,” Cella said. “But then once you’re around everybody and it’s blasting and everybody’s having fun, you kind of start loving it again.”
Blues supporters come from all over to The Jacks clubhouse often just to gawk at its modest interior or to take a picture of the Blues banner out front. It’s become a destination of sorts, the Liberty Bell with a beer box, a roast beef tray and a jersey of former enforcer Reed Low hanging up in the corner.
“I think if they win the whole thing, this place will be like a landmark," Cella said Thursday. "There were people here an hour ago who were taking pictures outside. There’s a possibility somebody could walk in the door right now. That’s how it’s been during this whole run.”
Maybe a minute later, with the clubhouse practically empty because there was no game, a door swung open and another pilgrim indeed stopped in.
“This place is huge in St. Louis,” said Jon Knight, who works for the pharmaceutical support company ERT, which is based in Philadelphia. “I said, ‘I’m in Philly. I gotta go see this place. Whatever it takes.’ This could be something incredibly special when the Blues pull it off. The ‘Play Gloria’ shirts are all over the place.”
As he soaked it all in, Cella handed him a Corona Light. The music was silent, but the beer was cold.
“If you go into any bar in St. Louis right now, it’s all ‘Play Gloria.’ They scream it,” Knight said. “It’s become so much a part of this run. It’s special.”
Knight looked around some more, then thanked Cella and went on his way.