Stan Fischler fondly recalls the man who brought hockey to the City of Brotherly Love, and made sure that it was a roaring success.
Ed Snider — friend and foe — who died on Monday was above being just special, he was inimitable.
The man, who helped found the Philadelphia Flyers and helped craft the expansion franchise into the NHL’s first expansion Stanley Cup-winners in 1974 and 1975, blended penultimate passion with supreme sagacity.
Snider and I had a friendly-enemy relationship although we had lots in common: both Jewish, both energetic supporters of the State of Israel, both the same age and both hockey nuts from the first time we watched stick handlers.
Our disagreements were numerous but, in the end, laughable. When the Flyers entered the NHL in the grand, six-to-twelve team 1967-68 expansion, I visited Philly to write a story about the club’s Jewish defenseman, Larry Zeidel, It was November 1967 and the brand new Spectrum was not filled to the brim as it would be in later years.
After casing the joint, I proclaimed to one and all in a column, “Philadelphia will never be a successful big-league hockey town.”
Having read my sage observation, Eddie Snider shot back with utmost intensity, “You are wrong and will be proven wrong.”
And he was right. Thanks to Ed’s fervent leadership, The City of Brotherly Love emerged as one of the NHL’s most successful franchises and every move upward had Snider’s imprint, especially the special branding of “The Broad Street Bullies” which, by the way, was no accident.
“I didn’t like that some of our little guys were being pushed around,” Snider told me decades later during one of my visits to his office. “It was time for our club to have fellows who pushed back, and we got them.”
One by one Snider encouraged the signings of Dave (Hammer) Schultz, Andre (Moose) Dupont and Ed (Watch That Spear) Van Impe, among other toughies. “We became the aggressors,” Ed chuckled, “and it paid off.”
Orchestrated by Freddie (The Fog) Shero, the Flyers successfully intimidated the league’s more talented foes and fearlessly took on Bobby Orr and the Big, Bad Bruins in the 1974 final. Stunning the hockey world to its core, Philly captured the Cup and repeated the feat against Buffalo a year later.
Show business oriented, Snider imported the famed “Songbird of the South,” Kate Smith to sing — in person at The Spectrum — the American alter-anthem, “God Bless America.” It not only became a Flyers good luck charm but a tune that, to this day, is performed before every home game.
Foresight was another of Snider’s fortes. Battling opposition from the NHL’s Old Guard that included President Clarence Campbell, Ed — along with Rangers boss Bill Jennings — championed a merger with the competitive World Hockey Association before any Lords of the NHL saw the light.
“Ed fought the uphill battle,” said Howard Baldwin, then WHA President, “He knew the value of bringing peace between the NHL and our league. The expansion that eventually brought Winnipeg, Edmonton, New England (Hartford) and Quebec City into the NHL fold was inspired by Snider’s persistence.”
My relationship with Ed lasted over the years, especially when I began doing New York Islanders broadcasts and we’d see each other after they played the Flyers. By now every Philly home game was a sellout and Ed never failed to remind me of my failed prediction that his favorite city wouldn’t make it as a big-league hockey town. His wry smile said it all.
But it was good natured kidding although — like others — I learned that it never was wise to encounter The Man after a loss, especially that day when the Islanders beat his Flyers in 1980 to win their first Cup. Snider vocally fumed over a missed offside that led to a key Isles goal and his complaint resonated through the decades with Philly fans.
No question, that Philadelphia fan base that seemed so small in 1967, grew and grew and grew as did Snider’s determination to grow hockey players in and around the inner city. He encouraged rink-building programs that, in time, would sprout not only in Philadelphia but South New Jersey and other nearby precincts.
“Eddie loved hockey,” said his longtime media pal Joe Cohen, “and he helped spread the ice game in places no one would have dreamed of back in the first expansion. He will go down as one of the most significant leaders the NHL ever had.
“I knew Ed for almost a half-century and never met a man so loyal and so smart. Like his Flyers this season, he was never deterred by obstacles when it came to achieving his goals.”
Baldwin, who broke into the hockey business working for the Flyers and who was mentored by Snider, summed up the feelings of many both in and out of Flyers-land when they learned of Ed’s passing.
“From my own experience,” Baldwin concluded, “Eddie was the best owner — not only in hockey — but in all of sports.
“From the day he helped create the Flyers to his passing, there was no one who cared for his club more than him. Hockey — and the NHL — will miss him big-time.”
And that, from my own view as a historian, is an understatement.