Falling behind two reviled creations of football coach Jimmy Johnson (the Miami Hurricanes and the Dallas Cowboys) along with the “Bad Boys” era Detroit Pistons, Sports Illustrated named the Broad Street Bullies the fourth “most hated” sports team of all-time. (Eh, I think this is a case of bigger sports getting the nod because the Pistons were basically a diluted hardwood version of the Bullies but that’s another discussion for another time.)
While I’m not totally convinced that the team was “the first to use intimidation as a tactic” in a brutal and bloody sport with as long a history as hockey, there’s little doubt that the Flyers’ glory era was a gory era. They scared (and beat) the bejesus out of other teams on their way to two consecutive Stanley Cups. Take a look at a portion of SI’s write-up.
Urged by coach Fred Shero to “take the shortest route to the puck carrier and arrive in ill humor,” rugged enforcers like Dave (The Hammer) Schultz (pictured), Bob (Hound) Kelly, Don (Big Bird) Saleski and Andre (Moose) Dupont racked up penalty minutes in record quantities while clearing the way for skill players like Reggie Leach, Bill Barber and three-time NHL MVP Bobby Clarke.
They were nicknamed by Jack Chevalier and Pete Cafone of the Philadelphia Bulletin, who wrote in 1973 that “the image of the fightin’ Flyers is spreading gradually around the NHL, and people are dreaming up wild nicknames. They’re the Mean Machine, the Bullies of Broad Street and Freddy’s Philistines.” The Flyers captured back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1974 and ’75 and remained one of the league’s biggest road draws for years to come, but many traditionalists contend their legacy was corruptive on hockey.
The fantastic HBO documentary revealed just how beloved the team was in Philadelphia, which makes sense since you could argue that the team still leans toward knuckleheads and knuckle-chuckers to fill out some of their ranks. For a while, I thought that enforcers were going the way of the dodo but the Atlantic division in particular seems to defy that trend.
This list also made me wonder: does the NHL have a truly “hated” team? People despise the Detroit Red Wings (and Sidney Crosby, I guess) but I think much of that irritation is rooted in the fact that they’re just so good. I knew something weird was happening when I found myself actually liking the 2010 playoffs edition of the Philadelphia Flyers.
Perhaps true villainy can only be constrained to individuals such as Jarkko Ruutu and Sean Avery in the salary cap era? Either way, it will take a perfect storm of pugilists and pretty play for a team to put together a group quite like the Broad Street Bullies ever again.