THERE USED TO BE AN ARENA – THE SPECTRUM-PHILADELPHIA
Not many NHL players on opposing teams enjoyed playing in the Spectrum, which was one of the most intimidating venues in the NHL. It was located on Broad Street in the South Philadelphia Sports Complex, and was the home of the Philadelphia Flyers, known in the early 1970s as the “Broad Street Bullies,” because of their belligerent and physical style of play. When visiting players, for whatever reason, couldn’t play in a game there, they were accused of having the “Philadelphia Flu,” a fictitious illness.
The Spectrum opened in the fall of 1967 after taking only 11 months to build at a cost of $12 million, or in 2012 dollars, $83.6 million. It was Philadelphia’s first modern indoor sports arena and opening night concession prices featured a hot dog for 35 cents, a roast beef sandwich for 75 cents, an eight ounce soft drink for 15 cents and a 12 ounce soft drink for 25 cents. A regular beer cost 10 cents and a premium beer 40 cents.
The Flyers first-ever home game in the Spectrum featured a 1-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins. The LA Kings first-ever game in the arena was on November 26, 1967, a 7-2 loss to the Flyers, as Terry Gray and Real Lemieux scored Kings’ goals. Wayne Rutledge played 31 minutes in goal and allowed five goals, and Terry Sawchuck played 29 minutes and allowed the final two goals.
My first Kings broadcast in the Spectrum was on November 8, 1973, a 3-2 Kings victory. The Kings scored in each period on goals by Mike Corrigan, Butch Goring and Whitey Widing. Gary Edwards stopped 33 of 35 Flyers shots. The Kings did not win a lot of games in the Spectrum, but one memorable victory took place on opening night, October 10, 1974. The Flyers had become the first of the 1967 expansion teams to win the Stanley Cup the previous season. They planned a huge celebration for that opening night, complete with the Stanley Cup, raising the championship banner, and their “good luck” charm, famous singer Kate Smith, was there in person to sing “God Bless America.” The Kings spoiled the festivities, beating the Flyers, 5-3, on goals by Mike Corrigan, Bob Murdoch, Dan Maloney and two by Tommy Williams. Gary Edwards was the winning Kings goalie facing 37 Flyers shots.
There were several wild occurrences at the Spectrum in games between the Kings and Flyers. When the press box and broadcast location was in the lower bowl, fans would pass by writers and broadcasters on the way to their seats. Every time the Kings played there, an elderly gentleman would stop in front of me with a puppet dressed in a Flyers uniform and say in his German accent, ‘Dis is vat Schultz vill do to de Kings tonight,’ and he would pull a string and the Flyers puppet would throw punches at another puppet dressed in a Kings uniform.
That is exactly what happened on the night of March 11, 1979. In the first period of that game, 372 penalty minutes were handed out and 10 players were ejected from the game. Kings players ejected were: Randy Holt, Mark Heaslip, Steve Jensen, Dave Taylor and Bert Wilson. My biggest memory of that brawl was the Flyers Ken “The Rat” Linseman, skating around players who were paired off fighting. He was trying to trip Kings’ players with his stick. He had an appropriate nickname. At the time that game set NHL records in nine penalty categories. Holt of the Kings still has the NHL individual record for most penalties in one period-9; most penalty minutes in one period-67; and most penalty minutes in one game-67. The Flyers won the game, 6-3, giving them a record of 15-0-4 in the last 19 games vs. the Kings.
Weather has been a factor in Spectrum history. On March 1, 1968, wind blew part of the covering off the roof, forcing the closure of the building for one month. The Flyers hurriedly moved their next “home game” to Madison Square Garden in New York, then played a “home game” in Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens, and finished the remainder of their “home schedule” in the Coliseum in Quebec City, home of their top minor league team. They were able to return to the Spectrum for their first playoff game that season against the St. Louis Blues on April 4, 1968.
Mother Nature showed her wrath again on March 13, 1993, when the Kings played at the Spectrum. During the first period, a storm dubbed “The Storm of the Century,” with 50 mph winds and 12 inches of snow, hit the East Coast. The winds shattered a sizeable pane of glass on the concourse, and the building was deemed unsafe. The game was suspended at the end of the period, with the score tied 1-1. The game was postponed until April 1, and played from the start with the Kings winning 3-1 on goals by Luc Robitaille, Rob Blake and Darryl Sydor.
Weather and poor scheduling also played a part in a Kings game at the Spectrum on January 7, 1979. The night before, the Kings played in Pittsburgh, and the next day they flew to Philadelphia. Due to ice and snow, the Kings plane couldn’t land in Philly, and was diverted to Kennedy airport in New York, all of this on a game day. The Kings scrambled to charter a bus to Philadelphia and went right to the arena, arriving at 5:20 p.m. for a 7 p.m. game. We were live on television at 7 p.m. for the start of the game, when it was announced the game wouldn’t start until 7:30 p.m. The ice wasn’t ready, due to a gymnastics event at the arena earlier in the day, so we had an impromptu 30 minutes to fill.
My partner at the time, Pete Weber, and I filled the half hour with comments, and interviews. At one point while I was “on camera,” I noticed something in my peripheral vision, but I didn’t look away. When we went to a commercial break, Pete said to me, ‘Did you see the size of that rat running along the TV cable?’ Luckily I hadn’t. The late arrival and the delay in starting the game didn’t help the Kings as they lost 3-0, with Flyers goalie Bernie Parent getting his 55th career shutout.
Kings Head Coach Bob Pulford got into trouble at the Spectrum on October 10, 1976. During another fight filled game, a bench-clearing brawl broke out in the first period. During the fight, an incensed Pulford grabbed the jersey of linesman John Brown and shook him. Realizing he was in trouble, Pulford started smoothing out Brown’s shirt. Pulford was ejected and fined the “exorbitant” amount of $350. The Kings had no assistant coaches in those days, so General Manger Jake Milford coached the remainder of the game, which was won by the Flyers, 1-0.
In later years, the broadcast location was moved to the third level of the building and the only bathroom facilities were on the first floor, open to the public, and no elevator. On November 3, 1985, with eight minutes left in the game, I was in trouble as nature was calling and I knew I couldn’t wait until the end of the game, nor could I make it downstairs to the public bathroom. So, just as many announcers have done so during their careers, I was forced to use empty soft drink cups to rescue me.
The Flyers won back to back Stanley Cups in 1974 and 1975, and on January 11, 1976, during the height of the “Cold War,” they became the first NHL team to defeat the vaunted Central Red Army team of the Soviet Union by a score of 4-1 in Philadelphia.
The Flyers truly enjoyed a “home ice” advantage in the Spectrum as they still hold the NHL record for the longest undefeated streak in one season, 35 games in 1979-80 with 25 wins and 10 ties. Many of those wins were achieved in front of the boisterous home crowd.
The Flyers played their final game in the Spectrum in Game 5 of the 1996 Eastern Conference Semifinals, losing to the Florida Panthers in overtime. The Flyers then moved into their new home – then called the Wells Fargo Center – for the 1996-97 season.
The Flyers minor league team, the Phantoms, then played at the Spectrum until the building was demolished, starting in November of 2010. A “wrecking ball ceremony” was held with Flyers greats, including Hall of Famers Bobby Clarke and Bernie Parent, in attendance. The demolition was completed in May of 2011 without the use of explosives.
I’m sure no opposing player shed a tear over the demolition.