Tuesday, November 17, 2009

"The Hammer"

The Philadelphia Flyers retired Dave "The Hammer" Schultz's No. 8 last night at The Spectrum. This tribute to the NHL's Super Goon of the 1970's portends either (a) the fall of Western Civilization or (b) the resurrection of Philadelphia hockey. Or both. Quick litmus test, for those on the fence: Do you like gladiator movies?

Schultz was a fighter and a game changer, the defining member of Philly's Broad Street Bullies championship teams of 1973-74 and 1974-75. Bobby Clarke scored the goals and Bernie Parent stood on his head in goal, but it was Schultz's clownish, brawling fisticuffs that set other teams off-balance. His antics not only inspired his own team but set the tone for a generation of brutality-as-comedy vehicles in the popular culture, from Paul Newman's minor league hockey movie Slapshot to Warren Zevon's hockey anthem, Hit Somebody! (The Hockey Song):

          Brains over brawn -- that might work for you,
          But what's a Canadian farm boy to do?

The Hammer's 472 penalty minutes in 1974-75 -- only hockey celebrates its most flagrant lawbreakers -- are still an NHL single-season record. So iconic were Schultz's hockey fights that several exemplary, brutal specimens of his art are posted on his own web site.

Philadelphia built a statue to Rocky, Sylvester Stallone's fictional prizefighter, but it was a real fighter that clutched and punched his way into the city's heart and reaffirmed its combative, working class soul. If the Flyers of Broad Street contend for this year's Stanley Cup, as seems likely, they will do so with two championship banners from four decades ago and Dave Schultz's No. 8 as their visible inspirations from above.

          Hit somebody!

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