Lyon: Snider brought championships to Philly

Hockey.

Beg pardon?

Hockey, he repeated. Hockey.

He confessed later that he wasn't sold on it, but it looked like there was an opening and if there was anything he could spot, Ed Snider - a dapper, feisty bulldog - could sniff out an opening.

And then pounce on it.

And this promising opening was a team of professional athletes in a game of whooshing speed and concussive collisions, played on ice by toothless men ready, willing and able to drop gloves and bleed at the first instigation, and bleeding plays big on Broad Street.

Ed Snider wanted to own a professional franchise. It was that simple. Having your own private jet and mansions on both coasts would be nice, but there was nothing that spelled wealth and power quite like watching your team from one of those Nero boxes.

The problem was, he was locked out. The three pro teams - the Eagles, Phillies and 76ers - were not of a mind to sell. So if you can't buy a team, then the next thing is to start one. So the new business cards identified the bearer as "Founding Owner." It fairly sparkled.

Now then, where to play? Up North, where the game was invented. The old established firms, the Montreals, the Torontos, agreed to admit this American with the silver hair to their club. What was left unsaid was this: "New team, uh? Fresh meat, eh?"

You wonder if they noticed how much like a silver fox the American resembled. It didn't take long for them to be wary of the interloper.

(A writer from Toronto once told me: "You know what they say about him up here? They say if you're caught in a poker game with him, make sure to get the seat with your back against the wall. And they mean that as a compliment.")

The league expanded. More fresh meat, eh? The Blade Runners set up headquarters in South Philadelphia and in what looked like some sport of omen the roof blew off the Spectrum.

Ed Snider, in many ways, was the model of what you want in an owner. He was a man of great passion. He poured himself into his team and more than once yielded to volatility. Incensed by what from his Nero box was perceived to be an outlandish call, he would storm out, ruddy face turning fire engine red.

Ed Snider introduced the city to hockey, taught it, and was rewarded for his efforts by a select fan base, a fiercely loyal following that achieved cult status.

The Flyers debuted their new sport by getting the pudding pounded out of them. The owner, frequently a prisoner of his temper, searched for an antidote.

Behold the Bullies.

They were an instant smash.

As soon as the puck was dropped, so were the gloves, followed by bodies.

The National Hockey League guardians watched in horror as the body count rose, police blotters filled up and games dragged on forever.

The Flyers coach at the time, the enigmatic Fred (The Fog) Shero, coined a line for the ages in response to the public's outrage over how his team's brawling style of his team sullied such a pristine sport: "If it's fancy skating they want, let them go to the Ice Capades."

The owner beamed, glorying in the chaos. It was a perfect pairing, and the fans took to the toothless Canadians with gusto and made cult heroes from Dave (the Hammer) Schultz and the captain, Bobby Clarke, instigator and agitator. And Bernard Marcel Parent, whose goaltending was rhapsodized in license plates around the area: Only the Lord Saves More Than Bernie. The roster of colorful characters went on and on and on: Hound Kelly and Big Bird Saleski and the Watson Brothers . . . the town was theirs and many of them settled here . . . and they haven't had to buy a round yet.

The owner was big on loyalty and when someone came to the end of the line there always seemed to be a spot for him in the OrganIzation.

The payoff, of course, came on a late day in May with a caravan of convertibles bearing a bright golden trophy from which much was drunk. It was called a parade and if you are on the far side of forty, give or take, you have only heard about them.

Ed Snider's team, that mismatched group of expansion castoffs and punching bags turned bullies, to the great dismay of the NHL Poohpahs, won the Stanley Cup.

And did so as the first to do so.

And did so in only their seventh year of existence.

And did so the very next year.

Since then, the well has only dust. It's almost as though the Devil offered two Cups back-to-back but you'll be barren for a long, long time.

Ed Snider might have taken that, for rarely will you find an owner so consumed by the pursuit of another parade.

That very trait is what cost him, that raging impatience that led to questionable trades, the continuing coaching carousel and the owner starting the season every year with a pledge to go for the Cup and nothing but the Cup, no matter the cost, no matter the wisdom or the lack thereof. Of course you want to aim high, but why use a shotgun just hoping to hit something . . . anything?

In the end, you think perhaps Ed Snider may have cared too much, tried too hard.

But he brought the city championships, and perhaps his greatest legacy is that those other three teams, those ones he couldn't buy his way into, were forced to awake from their small market complacency. Soon after the Cup years, in 1980, all of them, the Eagles, Phillies and 76ers were playing for world championships, all made possible by those Flyers.

Ed Snider had a remarkable run. He was the only owner the Flyers ever had, a span of more than half a century. And to his dying days they were on his mind.

One image endures, that of the Flyers' global match at the Spectrum against the monolithic Red Army team, with the Cold War very hot. The Flyers played the way they always did, and the Russians, frustrated and fed up, finally stormed off, threatening to stay away.

Tell the Comrade, Ed Snider said, no play, no pay.

Comrade skulked off, and Ed Snider's approval rating went through the roof.