AS I SEE IT
Pro Wrestling: Between the Sheets
As many readers, especially in the United States and Canada, know…Philadelphia’s Flyers are tied 2-2 in the Stanley Cup Finals as of this writing on Sunday. This is one more improbable step in a Stanley Cup Playoff series that has seen:
If someone in Hollywood came up with this as the script for a movie, the script writer would be thrown out of the studio executive’s office. If it was used by WWE as a storyline by one of the writers, Stephanie McMahon would be pissed and try to get them to come with something more probable…like Evan Bourne beating HHH on RAW next week. But it’s all happened here in Philadelphia for real this spring and summer. Regardless of the way this all turns out Sunday and the rest of the week, they’ve given Philadelphia a thrill ride this city wil lremember for years to come.
Many have compared this 2009-2010 Flyers team to the legendary “Broad Street Bullies” Philadelphia teams of the mid-1970s; a team known for being the outlaws in a tradition-bound National Hockey League, winning through the brawling of Dave Schultz, Bob Kelly, Moose Dupont and Don Saleski along with the grit of Bobby Clarke, the scoring of Rick McLeish and Bill Barber, along with the coaching of eginmatic coach Fred Shero. They won the Stanley Cup in 1973-1974 and 1974-1975 and made the Finals in 1975-1976 (also beating the Soviet Red Army hockey team that year).
That team was memorialized in a HBO documentary called “Broad Street Bullies” that aired back in May (see it if you can…perhaps on your InDemand on cable or satellite). The Broad Street Bullies became the outlaws in the NHL As much as the league hated it, they were great for business in NHL cities that couldn’t draw crowds in those days. Fans would come to see their team beat the Philadelphia Flyers. The Bullies got death threats on a regular basis. Effigies of Flyers players were hung from the upper decks of arenas. Our Flyers were the league’s bad-asses, and gave a somewhat stagnant sports a badly needed lift.
The Flyers team of this era has far less brawling, due to NHL rule changes….rule changes which came largely out of the actions of those Broad Street Bullies teams, but have had more gutsy comebacks than an entire series of Rocky movies.
In many ways, the appeal of those Broad Street Bully teams and the current Flyers team fits right in with the appeal to Philadelphians of a certain wrestling promotion based in Philadelphia called ECW.
ECW succeeded because of Philadelphia’s mind-set, one seen in its love for the Broad Street Bullies…and in this year’s Philadelphia Flyers team. It was an outlaw promotion back in the mid-1990s, one seen by traditionalists as too violent and too hardcore.
It’s a city that has always had a blue-collar mentality, derived from the manufacturing sector that once existed in Philadelphia. Many of those manufacturing plants left Philadelphia, but the blue-collar mentality never has. Philadelphia is a city of neighborhoods and strong allegiances to those neighboorhoods and to Philadelphia. That creates, in turn, a fierce loyalty to local sports teams…as long as those teams have the same kick-ass, hard-working mind set that Philadelphians have. Philadelphians love unique characters. They loved the local Mob bosses who were larger than life characters back in those 1970s. Hell, they even elected a cartoon character “law and order” type as Mayor in Frank Rizzo.
The Broad Street Bullies had that attitude in large helpings. They had Bernie Parent, superstar goalie, who would go and play street hockey with neighborhood South Jersey kids, and then go watch the Three Stooges. They had a whole squad of players known for hitting Rexy’s Bar in South Jersey nicknamed “Moose’, “Hound”, and “Big Bird”.
ECW clearly had that same attitude of the Bullies of the 1970s…and the current Flyers team. Hell, they even had the same kind of characters. It wouldn’t be a stretch to compare some of ECW’s roster to the legendary “Broad Street Bullies” (in terms of their respective roles). ECW had the brawlers like Schultz, Kelly, Dupont, and Saleski in Ted Petty, Johnny Grunge, Axl and Ian Rotten. For the talented Clarke, McLeish, and Barber, ECW had the talented Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit, and Dean Malenko. As for ECW’s Fred Shero, the master manipulator and philosopher whoe came up with motivational messages (such as the day of the first Stanley Cup win…”Win today and we walk together forever”); who else was better at making a group of guys do the impossible in wrestling on next to nothing than Paul Heyman?
ECW also had the strong real-life characters and personalities both literally and figuratively. A case in point was Jim Fullington whose Sandman character was 98% a shoot…who in real life used to call in to Philadelphia sports shows as “Hack”; and talk about the Phillies, Flyers or what have you like any other over-opinionated Philadelphia sports fan. Who he was wasn’t exactly a secret as his distinctive voice was pretty easy to pick up from sports stations like WIP. Still another (of the many) was Johnny Grunge whose fun-loving character was pretty much a 98% shoot, Grunge hung with the fans because he saw himself as one of them. His character in ECW was pretty much what you’d guess he’d like to see himself if he flicked on the TV and looked for wrestling.
Hopefully this column told a little about what those Broad Street Bullies teams of the mid-1970s, their current incarnation, and a scruffy hardcore promotion like ECW have in common and why they were all popular…in this crazy city called Philadelphia.
Until next time…
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