Tue May 18 11:00am EDT
(Ed. Note: On baby leave for the week, but will be posting here and there.)
It feels like having a crush on the school lunch lady, or being compelled to put pistachio ice cream on top of a hot dog. It's an unnatural emotion, bordering on oddity, in which wanton desire supersedes better judgment or learned behavior, inevitably leading to simmering regret.
Which pretty much sums up why I'm pissed about enjoying and admiring the Philadelphia Flyers so much these days.
I want to hate them, as a lifelong New Jersey Devils fan predisposed to loathe them.
My hockey teething ring was a soft pretzel in the cheap seats during epic Patrick Division wars between the franchises and their fans. It was a fight for respect when the Devils would play the Rangers, but it was a war against the embodiment of evil when they'd play the Flyers: Allow Philadelphia the victory and it was the equivalent of letting the smoke monster leave the island on "Lost."
I'd prefer to think my affinity for the 2009-10 edition of the Flyers -- the one that's creeping up the playoff ranks like an orange-and-black rash -- is just a new and inventive way for that cursed franchise toannoy this Devils fan. Or that it's some sort of strange hockey-related strain of Stockholm Syndrome, in which the team that eliminated the Devils with blunt force trauma somehow gained my fondness.
But it's more than that. This Flyers team can't really be (gulp) charming, can it?
I want to bash Chris Pronger(notes) for being ... well, Chris Pronger, instead of the minutes-hogging shutdown defenseman who's been an unparalleled leader with uncommon (for Pronger) comportment. So I can't bash him.
I want to ridicule
Daniel Danny Briere(notes) for being a Snuggle-bear-soft player whose results-to-salary ratio makes Chris Drury(notes) look like a bargain basement steal. Instead, he's the guy with 17 points in 13 playoff games, twisting the knife on Montreal Canadiens fans.
I want to flush Daniel Carcillo(notes) and his dirty mustache down the commode, except that every time he agitates a foe or draws a penalty with classless theatrics there's a nagging feeling that I'd feel differently about this sideshow if he wore my team's sweater.
I want to smack the Flyers for being high-priced underachievers, and can't because they're overachievers willing to get their noses bloodied. I want to chant "19-75," but after that comeback against the Boston Bruins it seems more like a battle cry than a mocking dirge.
It's fitting that the Broad Street Bullies of 1975 were recently celebrated on that HBO documentary, because this 2010 Flyers team shares a common thread with those champions: They're respected by as many that are repulsed by them.
True, there are some universally admired players: Ian Laperriere's(notes) veteran whimsy; the ever-underrated defense of Kimmo Timonen(notes); the resurrection of both Brian Boucher(notes) and Michael Leighton(notes) in goal.
But warming up to Mike Richards(notes), if you don't stand between the benches on television and resemble a tortoise? That's tough. Ditto warming up to an Arron Asham(notes) or a Scott Hartnell(notes) or a Braydon Coburn(notes). Hell, we're sure Ville Leino's(notes) Q-rating in Detroit is about as high as Jennifer Granholm's right now.
What changed, I think, were the team's fortunes, entering the playoffs as a No. 7 seed with little buzz as a Cup contender. Eliminating Ilya Kovalchuk(notes) and the Devils earned them goodwill. They banked more of it with that historic comeback against the Bruins. Players that previously seemed annoying and dastardly now seemed tenacious and unwavering. The blue-collar aesthetic of this team was evident. They were underdogs, still might be against the Habs and certainly will be against either the San Jose Sharks or the Chicago Blackhawks.
What the Flyers are this postseason: Everything your disappointing team wasn't.
Their high-priced players came to play. They didn't cry over devastating injuries, whether in the regular season or the postseason. Their general manager put his Salos on the chopping block with a blockbuster trade for Pronger; opting to play with one step up from an empty net in goal; and firing his coach during the season ... and it apparently worked.
And, above all else, they get their hands dirty and their stat sheets soiled with hits, penalties, blocked shots and relentless play. Their miraculous comeback last round wasn't elegant, and neither was the Boston Bruins' humiliating collapse. (The last time we witnessed a reanimation of the dead that ugly, Ed Wood was behind the camera.)
Win pretty, win ugly ... the bottom line is that the Flyers are winning. I'm not into proselytizing, outside of convincing all of humanity that the shootout is an abomination. But I'd ask you, Mr. or Mrs. Philadelphia Flyers basher, to give them a chance in this Eastern Conference final.
There have been times when I've felt a begrudging respect for this franchise; hell, I've even had to tip my cap to Philly fans once or twice, especially when it comes to their ingenuity. Having the "Ole" chant flipped back on the Montreal Canadiens, for example. Or like the time a Flyers fan visiting the Meadowlands once told me, in the middle of a shouting match over hockey nonsense, to stick my mother in my own rectum (but not in those poetic terms). The audacity (and dexterity) of the joke left me in awe; but that's Philly fans for you.
But there's a difference between respect and affection, and I can't help but root for this team, which is really creeping me out. It's likeConan calling Leno the King of Late Night or the Sheriff of Nottingham discussing the virtues of socialism with Robin Hood. It does. Not. Compute.
Maybe seeing the Flyers win the Cup would snap me out of this sunshine and lollipops baloney. Losing ‘1940' back in 1994 hurt; maybe seeing ‘1975' go the way of disco would have the same painful effect, allowing me to loathe the Flyers again and set the world back on its axis.
Because the Philadelphia bandwagon is a scary place. Seriously, it's all Cheese Whiz drippings and burnt McNabb jerseys and guys reading Phillies box scores and snowballs and battery acid. Oh,and David Boreanaz.