Points by Ben Simmons during Game 3 victory over Nets

Snider’s love affair

Posted by Eric Fisher On April 12

Fisher column logo2The team battles for its playoff life while its owner literally battles for his life. The owner draws strength from his team’s spirited fight for a playoff berth, refusing to succumb to cancer until his team – yes, his team – overcomes huge odds to qualify for the playoffs on the final weekend of the regular season.

It sounds hokey, like a made-for-TV movie.

But it only seems hokey if you never watched Ed Snider thrusting his fist in the air after a big goal.

It only seems hokey if you never saw Snider – or the picture of Snider – making a “choke” gesture toward a referee after a particularly egregious penalty call against his beloved Flyers.

It only seems hokey if you never saw Snider high-fiving fans as they walked up the aisle past his perch at the edge of the “Superbox” at the Spectrum after an important victory. Snider once told me that the intimacy with fans is one of the things he missed after the Flyer moved from the Spectrum to the more corporate-friendly arena, equipped with a multitude of suites, now known as Wells Fargo Center.

Snider died at 83 years old after a battle with bladder cancer, but not before seeing the Flyers clinch a playoff berth with a 3-1 triumph over the Penguins on Saturday. In an emotional moment, anthem singer Lauren Hart connected with Snider via Facetime as she and a recorded version of the late Kate Smith formed a duet for a performance of “God Bless America,” the Flyers’ good luck song from their Stanley Cup runs of the mid-1970s.

Captain Claude Giroux spoke of how the Flyers were playing for Mr. Snider, the term of reverence used by so many current and former Flyers when speaking of the man in charge of the franchise for 50 years, from the time of its creation until his death.

Forward Wayne Simmonds said. “He loved the Flyers, and this is what he wanted. He stuck with us through everything this year, and I’m extremely happy that we got into the playoffs for him. Although we will be playing with heavy hearts, we’re going to do everything we possibly can to be successful in the playoffs because that’s what Mr. Snider would want.”

Earlier this spring, Simmonds spoke of feeling Snider’s presence at the official team photo, even though the chairman was missing from the picture for the first time in franchise history. When the Flyers were on a west coast trip in December, Snider invited the entire team to his California home, a memorable event for all of them.

In the wake of Snider’s death, many players, both past and present, described Snider as the best owner they’ve ever had. Some owners never speak with their players. Snider would come to the locker room after games and shake every player’s hand.

The patriarch of the Flyers family was a father figure to many Flyers, but, as Bob Clarke said, he was halfway between a father and a friend. He offered encouragement after a tough loss. He offered support when players were going through tough times, on and off the ice.

Snider loved his team. He loved his players. And he loved Flyers fans.

At heart, Snider was a fan. As with most Flyers fans, Snider was emotional and passionate about his team. He wore his emotions on his sleeve, whether criticizing referees, reacting to a slight against one of his players or responding to pointed questions from the media.

During games, Snider was all business. Former Flyers and Comcast-Spectacor vice president Lou Scheinfeld related after Snider’s death that there was no “chit-chat” allowed during Flyers games in the Directors Lounge at Wells Fargo Center. During the game, conversation was supposed to be limited to the game. Other topics could wait until in between periods.

I recall requests for security guards in the Spectrum’s Superbox, a semi-private seating area at the top of the first level opposite the press box, to switch channels on the television sets so fans could check the scores of NCAA Tournament games (this is before cell phones). The guards would nervously explain that Mr. Snider doesn’t want the channel changed from the Flyers game. They appeared more willing to remove their uniforms and streak across the ice than risk Snider’s wrath by changing the channel.

The superstitious Snider also would make sure people remained in the same seats when the Flyers were doing well.

Snider’s passion and superstition resonate with Flyers fans. Growing up as a Flyers fan, and having had the privilege of attending hundreds of games through my father’s season tickets, his firm’s season tickets and, eventually, my own season tickets, I, too, am annoyed by idle chit-chat about work, girlfriends and other mundane topics while the game is taking place. I also subscribe to the “same seating” superstition, as the family in the row in front of us at one particular playoff game can attest, as a friend and I hounded them into returning to their original seats when the opposition rallied (they finally changed seats after the second straight goal by the Flyers’ opponent).

Snider was an incredibly wealthy man, but Flyers fans felt a kinship with him because they realized he was, at heart, a fan. For some owners, their team is an investment. For others, it’s a toy. For others, owning a sports franchise feeds their ego, providing them with a level of public recognition they can’t get from their other businesses.

For Snider, his team was about family. Again, it may sound hokey, but, when you hear the former Flyers speak about the franchise and its leader, you know the family feeling is genuine.

Look at all the former Flyers who work for the organization. From general manager Ron Hextall to president Paul Holmgren to senior vice president Bob Clarke to all the former Flyers who serve as good-will ambassadors. Listen to the words of players such as Rod Brind’Amour and Jim Watson as they entered the Flyers Hall of Fame this season. Listen to the words of these men, current Flyers and former Flyers as they speak of what Snider meant to their careers and their lives.

The innovative Snider had other creations. Some, such as the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation, he looked upon with more fondness and pride than others, such as WIP’s launch as an all-sports station. (Watching WIP evolve, Snider once said he felt like Dr. Frankenstein after seeing his creation turn into a monster.)

But the Flyers were his first love. They were his enduring love.

And that 50-year love affair lasted right until the very end of Snider’s life.

Although he eventually succumbed in his fight with cancer, Snider lives on through the spirit of his franchise, which, under the guidance of Hextall and Holmgren, will continue to reflect the high standards set by its creator.

And if that sounds a little hokey, then you didn’t understand the relationship between Ed Snider and his hockey team.

It truly is a love story.

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