"Hey Dad, why is everyone from both teams fighting on the ice"? asked one of my nine-year-old twins as just about everyone from the Flyers and Bruins pounded each other as the referees stood by hopelessly.
"Well, Cole, back then they didn't have a rule against bench-clearing brawls," I informed him. "If you wanted to fight somebody, you just jumped over the boards. You got a penalty, but you weren't suspended." The kid was incredulous.
Even to this longtime NHL observer who defends the occasional fistfight during a game, it sounded positively neanderthal.
This is the 1970s era that Broad Street Bullies so effectively evokes. What Boogie Nights was to the adult film industry, HBO's doc is to the most notorious team in NHL history.
The piece, produced by George Roy and written by Erik Kesten, works well because it is not a 60-minute collection of hockey brawls and interviews only with the Flyers' frequent fighters. Broad Street Bullies sets the stage with detailed background on the birth of Philadelphia's hockey franchise in 1967, illustrating how the team eventually came to mean so much to the City of Brotherly Love.
It took a little time, as longtime Flyers writer Jay Greenberg notes in the film. "They had a reception at City Hall for them," said Greenberg, talking about the prelude to the Flyers' first season. "They put them in open convertibles for a ride down Broad Street. There were no more than 20 people on the parade route."
When anyone thinks of the Bullies, they recall Bobby Clarke, the great star; Freddy "The Fog" Shero, the revolutionary head coach; and, of course, lead pugilists Dave "Hammer" Schultz and Bob Kelly ("There's nothing like driving somebody's head through the boards to make you feel good," says Kelly in the film).
But make no mistake: like any sports franchise, the direction of the team comes from the top. For the Flyers, that was founder and chairman Ed Snider. The team's owner may not have been a pure "hockey man" like original general manager Keith Allen. However, Snider endorsed the franchise's culture after watching his team get routinely beat on the scoreboard and beaten up during their first two years of existence.
"We realized that we would have to become tougher, stronger and bigger," Snider says in the documentary. "We may not be able to win a lot of games as we're growing, but we certainly didn't have to get beat up. So we decided that no team would intimidate us ever again. We conducted our drafts and we conducted our philosophy in that direction."
It worked brutally and spectacularly. Much to the dismay of the game's purists, the Flyers won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1974 and '75.
As Broad Street Bullies documents, like The Sopranos, the Philadelphia Flyers franchise has always been a family business.
Broad Street Bullies debuts on HBO on Tuesday, May 4 at 10:00 pm and will be re-broadcast throughout the month on HBO and HBO2. It will also be available on HBO on Demand from May 5 - June 7.