October 12, 1999
Lots of fans of the National Hockey League’s Philadelphia Flyers were on hand to see the Flyers play the Washington Capitals on the Caps’ home ice Tuesday night. So were we.
Flyers fans usually walk out of the Caps’ building holding their heads high after another victory, or at least a tie on the road. They can jeer at Caps fans and make fun of their team. But this time, the tables were turned – the Flyers lost.
“Flyers suck!” the fans chanted in the waning minutes, after the Caps had come back from one goal down in the third period.
“Yeah, that’s right! Get your sorry asses back to Philly!” one Caps fan yelled at a bus filling up with people wearing Flyers jerseys.
Anyone wearing Flyers paraphernalia suddenly had a target on their backs, as if cheering for Philly reflected badly on one’s status in life.
Here’s how the night went downhill:
Simon Gagne, a rookie for the Flyers, scored the first two goals of the game – also the first goals of his NHL career – one of them coming in the first minute. The Flyers took a 2-0 lead early in the game, lost it, and took it back in the second period. Then they lost it one more time, frustrating the team and its fans.
As the Caps’ superstar, Peter Bondra, gave his team the lead for good with his third goal, called a hat trick in hockey, fans began raining hats onto the ice.
When Bondra scored the go-ahead goal with less than three minutes remaining in regulation, the fan-a-vision showed hefty Caps owner Ted Leonsis directing a chorus of cheers from his center-ice suite. The screen also caught a Flyer fan attacking the Caps mascot as it handed balloons to a woman. All eyes watched the balloons leave the mascot’s hand and rise to the rafters.
Most disheartening was the poor showing by the Caps fans, an insult to any visiting team. We bought $20 nose-bleed seats but could have moved down to empty seats in the 200-level by the start of the second period – when the MCI Center ushers seemed to disappear. The home-crowd “Let’s go Caps” chant was audible only after the vocal Philly faithful began their off-tune “Let’s go Flyers” routine.
But for a dedicated Washington or Philadelphia hockey fan, the game itself was worth the price of admission. The nine-goal output was entertaining to watch, even if it was the result of bad goalkeeping and defense. The stars were shining on the ice as Flyers captain Eric Lindros scored his first goal of the season and Mark Recchi assisted on all four Flyer goals. Ex-Capital and current Flyer Craig Berube instigated a fight with Washington’s Chris Simon, drawing rowdy applause from the hockey die-hards.
In the end, the 5-4 defeat simply added to the temporary joke that Philly sports teams aren’t too good. When some teenage Caps fans tried to flick us off, we could only chuckle. Still, it didn’t hurt knowing that one could look to the side scoreboards to find a preseason win by the Seventy-Sixers against New York.
For two college students enjoying a game like this – a pretty meaningless early season excuse to watch our team on the road – it wasn’t all disappointment. Even though the Flyers lost, we couldn’t help but feel a little hometown pride.