I never liked Philadelphia. I’ve hated the Flyers for as long as I can remember, but it wasn’t until the third period last night I actually tried to think of a real reason for my feelings other than they were going against the Sabres.
As a kid I always hated Rod Brind’Amour for his stupid nose and his stupid apostrophe and just fact that his name was Rod, but it had to be more than that.
Maybe it started when I was 4 years old on my first-ever vacation. My parents took me and my brother to a few different toddler attractions — Hershey Park and Sesame Place stick out in memory — and the last stop on the trip was to see the historic Liberty Bell.
As you know, the bell cracked after its initial ring. However, I had yet to learn that history lesson.
My dad convinced me that I broke the Liberty Bell. I didn’t remember touching the bell, but my dad would never lie to me, right?
Immediately, I started balling my eyes out. I couldn’t believe I was responsible for that. I found it odd that no one else seemed notice that the bell had such a large crack, or if they did, they didn’t seem too upset about it. I figured it was only a matter of time before security came and locked me up for good. The sooner I could get out of that miserable city, the better.
I don’t remember when I first understood it had been broken for 200-and-some odd years before I ever visited Philadelphia, but maybe I’ve had Philly hatred inside me for a lot longer than I thought.
That disdain got a lot stronger my freshman year of high school. It was spring 2006, and R.J. Umberger was largely concussion-free.
After years of pre-lockout struggle, the success of the ’05-’06 Sabres led to a rampant outbreak of Buffalo fever through the community. Add in a cafeteria full of 400 young, stupid, immature high school freshmen and you have a recipe for
A poor classmate of mine, born in Pennsylvania, made the mistake of coming to school decked out in vomit-orange Philadelphia Flyers apparel. We loved our Sabres and we didn’t hesitate to let anyone know it.
So we booed her.
Four hundred kids in the freshman cafeteria booed a 14-year-old classmate because she wore the wrong shirt at the wrong time. And yes, it was a she.
If your line of thought right now is, “how rude and inconsiderate,” I’m going to need to close out this window right now. This is sports. Hatred and being mean are a lot different than they are in regular settings. Injuring someone in public is looked down upon (generally). On the ice, you set out to cause your opponent pain. Being in the stands (or the lunchroom) isn’t quite like playing, but it’s the same idea.
The poor girl didn’t know what to do. She was an intelligent person, but this moment was psychological overload. She looked like a deer in the headlights, kind of like Peter Laviolette trying to decide which goaltender should play Game Six.
But it didn’t stop there. A kid at the table next to me picked some food off his tray and threw it at her from across the cafeteria (with astonishing accuracy, I might add). Others joined in shortly thereafter. Honestly, it was impressive how dead-on these kids were with tater tots from four rows over.
She finally had the presence of mind to run out of the room after the tears started flowing. We were pumped and we needed a new way to channel our emotions. There was no one else to yell at, so we just started banging on tables and chanting “Let’s go Sabres” for the last 10 or 15 minutes of the period.
Was hatred just the logical opposition of so much passion? Either way, we hated the Flyers and their fans, and sticking it to them was always a reason to celebrate.
Game One of that series was cause for celebration. It started when Brain Campbell nearly ended Umberger’s life in the first overtime. I don’t know how I did it, but I was lying on the couch one second, and the next, I was on my feet screaming “OHHH! OH! OH! OH!” with my brother in the living room. We scared the crap out of my mom, who was bored half to sleep from an overtime game. She didn’t understand why were cheering for violence, but we didn’t expect her to anyway.
(Yeah, I put that video in two posts in a row. I’ve watched it at least 1,000 times in my life. I’m okay with it.)
This hit was awesome, and it great for one of our own guys to finally give the Flyers some of their own medicine.
Every hockey player in Western New York knows about that hit, and monstrous body checks have been dubbed “umbergers” ever since.
I was looking for something in my desk today and I came across a letter I got back from Merriam-Webster in high school when I tried to get the word “umberger” in the dictionary.
It was for a class project — writing a professional letter to a company — but really it was another way to try to stick it to the Flyers. It’s great that a bunch of kids toss the term around. If the entire (English language-speaking) world did too… how awesome would that be?
It turns out a slang word for a few hundred kids in the country’s 70th largest city isn’t enough to get a word into the dictionary, but even today reading this letter made me smile. This was so Buffalo, I thought, something we would do. That hit, and those %$#&ing Flyers.
That’s the same type of feeling I had last night when Tyler Ennis buried Mike Weber’s rebound to put those Flyers against the ropes heading into Game Six. The little guy had gone missing for the better part of the series, but he went hard to the net at the right time and was able to knock in a huge rebound.
Last night’s Game Five wasn’t a defining moment as a Buffalo sports fan, but it did put the Sabres one game away from advancing to the next round of the playoffs. Going through a hated rival to do so makes it that much sweeter.
So maybe I’ve hated Philly longer than I thought. It’s Garth Snow, it’s Eric Lindros, it’s Danny Briere and it’s the 1975 Cup finals. Game Five isn’t making the list of the most influential moments in what it means to be a Sabres fan, but we beat the Flyers and we made it hurt.
You can’t really ask for much more.