Snider's Bullies: Only the strong survived

Near the messy end of the contentious Eric Lindros era, something I wrote upset Ed Snider. Worse in his view, the offending article was front-page news while the story on the previous night's Flyers game had been buried inside The Inquirer's sports section.

Incensed by this double-barreled indignity and eager to counter what he saw as this newspaper's vendetta, the Flyers chairman invited beat writer Tim Panaccio and me to his office. There, in a smartly furnished conference room, Snider, a club lawyer and a catered lunch awaited.

The other three dug into what admittedly was an appealing buffet. But, more curious than hungry, I refused the food, further infuriating Snider.

"Why won't you eat?" he asked, somehow making that question sound like a threat.

Eventually, we got to the meat of the meeting. The owner picked up a sports section. He began to angrily poke it as he pointedly vented his frustrations about The Inquirer's coverage. His voice rose. His face reddened like one of the uneaten tomatoes.

At one point in this swelling tirade, he paused and looked toward my still-empty plate.

"Have some goddamned shrimp!" he commanded.

Resuming, Snider pounded the mahogany table a few more times then stormed from the room, claiming he couldn't stand to look at us anymore.

Several uneasy seconds passed before the lawyer broke the silence.

"Mr. Snider is really [ticked] off."

Now, following Snider's death, as I ponder the long and notable career of this Philadelphia sports giant, it seems clear the episode was a staged effort to intimidate us into more favorable coverage.

Through all his business building, through all his philanthropy and his half century of providing Philadelphia with entertainment, that was how Snider operated. Beneath the tailored suits and the financial acumen beat the heart of a street fighter. And he never apologized for it.

"I tend to overreact to opposition, to respond too strongly when people or events challenge me," he said in 1986. "Because of that, I've hurt people without meaning to. I guess it's a holdover from my childhood."

As a boy growing up near Washington, Snider joined a gang to retaliate against those who called him "Jew boy."

"Fighting back was almost necessary for your survival," he remembered.

The Broad Street Bullies didn't suddenly materialize out of the Spectrum mists to terrorize the NHL. They were the creation of this man who had learned how to give as good as he got, who realized that if you really wanted something, you had to fight, claw and, yes, bully to get it.

Jerry Wolman, an amiable man who brought Snider to Philadelphia in the early 1960s, was himself a savvy businessman but one who lacked his friend's fierceness. When their relationship devolved into a bitter, bloody feud that time would never heal, it was Snider who emerged from the battle with two of the prizes in his ex-boss' crumbling empire, the Flyers and the Spectrum.

"I took him out of the gutter," Wolman said years later, "and he screwed me."

When in its early days, his NHL team was beaten up, literally and figuratively, by the St. Louis Blues, it was Snider, perhaps recalling his childhood tormentors, who demanded that his personnel people bring in brawling bruisers to counterpunch.

And so the Bullies were born in his likeness.

This overpowering sense that only the strong survive would grow when he discovered Ayn Rand and Objectivism. It worked for him. He scrapped and fought his way to a business empire and two Stanley Cup championships.

When in the early 1990s, he saw Lindros, a teenager as tough and feisty as he was skilled, Snider coveted him as he had no other player.

But the rules temporarily got in his way. The Quebec Nordiques had the No. 1 pick in the '91 draft, and they chose Lindros. Snider was undeterred. At the '92 draft, he and the New York Rangers worked out near-simultaneous deals to obtain the talented youngster.

At that point, Snider was in his element. He had a fight on his hands. And he wasn't about to lose it.

In all the legal wrangling and boardroom battling that followed, Snider was as relentless, aggressive and determined as some of the hockey brawlers he had uncovered in Western Canada. Eventually, his pugnacious persistence paid off. On June 30, 1992, the league awarded Lindros to his Flyers.

He won some more battles through the final decades of his life. He persuaded the city and state to help pay for the Wells Fargo Center. He got Xfinity Live built.

He lost a few, too, but, in doing so, never once raised a white flag.

Snider and I butted heads a few more times before Lindros, perhaps his greatest disappointment, finally left town. He'd yell and threaten and bully when he didn't like what I wrote or what he was sure I was going to write.

But he never invited me to lunch again. If he had, I'm certain that this time he wouldn't have left the room until I tried the shrimp.