I took a friend of mine with me to last Saturday’s game at the Spectrum. He isn’t much of a sports fan, outside his own passion for cycling, but he wanted to understand why exactly I’m so passionate about hockey. Since my tickets were second row in the corner by the Flyers goal (we usually sit much higher and towards the center over in the Wachovia Center), I figured it was the perfect oppotunity to showcase the greatest game to a newbie. From that angle, he could understand the speed, the physicality, and the power of the game.
As we watched the game, Doug occasionally asked me questions about the rules and the players. Most were pretty basic - offsides, changing on the fly, defensive pairs and forward lines, etc. But in the second period, Doug turned and said, “Who’s that guy down there with the signs? The guy behind the goal. Man, am I glad I’m not sitting behind that guy.”
Doug had discovered the famous Sign Man, a staple of Flyers games ever since the 1970s. He sits behind the goal opposite the Flyers’ end, and he always has the best signs. My favorite - for Marty Biron - “To Infinity and Biron!” Corny? Perhaps. But it’s special and unique, and it has become a part of home games that I look forward to.
And it’s little moments like that pun-laced sign that I will miss when the Spectrum is torn down. I wasn’t around for the Stanley Cup parades or Ed Van Impe’s hit on Kharlamov or even Ron Hextall’s miracle run in 1987. I was only a small kid when Mario Lemieux came back from cancer at the Spectrum. These stories are part of the lore for me, certainly. But they’re not part of my Spectrum stories.
However, I saw my first hockey game in the Spectrum when I was nine. I don’t really remember who the Flyers played. What I do remember is the noise of the crowd, the way they leapt up when the Flyers scored, and the way they bristled when the refs called penalties on the beloved home team. I recall the first time I saw the Sign Man, and the first time I heard Kate Smith’s rendition of “God Bless America.” It’s where I fell in love with hockey.
I will be sad when the Spectrum comes down this spring. That’s when My childhood hockey memories, the ones that are indelibly linked to that building, will become another chapter in the fan lore of the Philadelphia Flyers. Ed Snider is right - the memories are what made the building, and we will take the memories with us.