Flyers

Flyers at 50: The story behind the tradition of Kate Smith's 'God Bless America'

Flyers at 50: The story behind the tradition of Kate Smith's 'God Bless America'

The mood across America was anything but cheerful during the winter of 1969.

The draft lottery was reinstated for the first time since World War II while President Nixon ordered 50,000 additional troops to be dispatched to Vietnam.

The Tet Offensive in Vietnam, that had pushed the Americans backwards, was 11 months into its execution with no end in sight.

At home, racial tensions ran high after the U.S. Supreme Court had ordered Mississippi to desegregate its schools, while massive student protests and violence on U.S. college campuses demanding an end to the war became a daily routine.

In Philadelphia, Flyers vice president of business operations Lou Scheinfeld saw firsthand the uneasiness at the Spectrum during games.

The crowd’s indifference to the playing of the national anthem before games seemed an obvious backlash to Vietnam and what was happening on home soil, as well.

“It was a pretty tough, troubled time and there was a lot of unhappiness in the United States,” Scheinfeld said. “People were angry and kind of unpatriotic at the time.”

Perhaps a different song could evoke a new response, Scheinfeld wondered. While rummaging through some LPs at a record store on South Street, he stumbled across Kate Smith’s rendition of Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America” from the late 1930s.

In the days that followed, Scheinfeld arranged for a sound engineer to come to the Spectrum on a night when no event was taking place. Lights off, Smith’s voice bellowed out in total darkness as Scheinfeld and the sound engineer listened.

“When she hit that last note, ‘Home sweet home,’ I got chills,” Scheinfeld recalled.

Though he had previously informed Flyers chairman Ed Snider what he had in mind in substituting “God Bless America” for the Star Spangled Banner, Snider dismissed it as a lark.

“God Bless America” made its debut on Dec. 11, 1969. Snider wasn’t amused even though the Flyers won, 6-3, over Toronto.

“Snider whipped his head around as it started to play, came over and cursed me out,” Scheinfeld recalled.

“I didn’t think you were nuts enough to do it!” Snider yelled.

Between periods, however, fans came up the aisle to Snider’s suite, which was accessible to anyone at the Spectrum, and praised the idea of a Flyers anthem.

Snider sheepishly approached Scheinfeld after the game.

“You son of a b----, I don’t know how you did this, but it worked,” Snider said.

The Flyers had won just one of their previous nine games before Smith made her debut that night.

“We won some after that, got into a dry spell and we had a big game to win and they played her and we won again,” Bob Kelly said. “We didn’t want to burn her out. It became iconic.”

The Flyers would post a 19-1-1 record whenever “God Bless America” played over the next three seasons versus 31-38-28 following the Star Spangled Banner.

Smith’s first live appearance would not happen until the home opener in 1973 against Toronto. Promotion director Jay Seidman had tried for over a year to get Smith to appear, but her agent balked. Then some luck.

“Kate Smith had an elderly uncle living in West Philly and he sent her clips from the Inquirer and Daily News about her being a good-luck charm for the Flyers,” Scheinfeld said.

Smith told her agent she wanted to sing here. This time, he didn’t balk, but wanted a $25,000 appearance fee for her. It was reduced to $5,000.

That October, Smith, who lived in New York City, took a train to Philadelphia and was picked up by limo at 30th Street, then taken to the arena without fanfare.

She almost didn’t appear that first night. The reason? The dress she had packed was wrinkled. The Spectrum had no irons, so Scheinfeld dispatched his secretary, who lived in South Philly, to find one.

“Her aunt lived four blocks away,” Scheinfeld said. “We had everything you could imagine at the Spectrum but no irons.”

Smith would appear live at the Spectrum four times, including the Stanley Cup-clinching Game 6 against Boston in 1974.

Her appearance that afternoon drew an obscenity-laced tirade after the game from Bruins coach Bep Guidolin, even though several Bruins, among them Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito, lauded Smith’s elegance as a performer.

“We got to know her history and what she stood for and it was a domino effect,” Kelly recalled. “There was a bond there.”

Going into this, the 50th Anniversary season, Smith’s record with the Flyers is 100-29-5, as compiled by flyershistory.com.

“God Bless America signified invincibility,” Bill Clement said. “In the sports world, that trumps every other meaning.”

Rod Brind’Amour, who came to symbolize what it meant to be a Flyer in the 1990s, found it to be a moving experience for anyone present.

“It’s about the fans and how much they get into it,” Brind’Amour said. “The song naturally evokes a sense of pride for your country.

“When you combine it on top of the passion Flyer fans have, it takes the song to a whole new level for everyone in the building.”

In the years that followed, the club would add Lauren Hart via videotape as a duet.

“That set the arena on fire,” Brind’Amour said. “It’s one of the great traditions of hockey.”

When Smith died at age 79 in 1986 from diabetes, Snider, who was a pallbearer at her funeral, remarked, “She was a wonderful person and an important part of the Flyers' history. We will always have a special place in our hearts for her. She will be deeply missed by the Flyers and our fans.”

Smith’s statue, originally installed in 1987 outside the Spectrum, now stands outside XFINITY Live! facing the Wells Fargo Center.

Despite protests from succeeding generations of Flyers fans who feel the club should move on from Smith, the Flyers still present the Smith-Hart duet version of  “God Bless America” on the scoreboard for special occasions and the playoffs.

“You see the excitement from fans — it brought so much energy into the building and the players fed off that,” Rick Tocchet said.

Smith’s 100th career victory song came last April 20 against Washington in the playoffs.

“It still gets a tremendous reaction, but there are a lot of young people who are our fans and never heard of Kate Smith,” Scheinfeld said.

Many Flyers from the Cup years have said in recent times it’s time for the team to move on from past traditions. The long drought between winning Cups doesn’t sit well with today’s fan base.

In that respect, the Flyers have been careful in how and when they resurrect Smith's song.

“I still get chills when they do the duet with Lauren, but I think it’s time to let it rest,” said Kelly, who reflects the opinion of many.

“It’s all new hockey and it’s been that way for 40 years. Find something new.”

Kevin Hayes impresses, scrapping for spots, more observations from Flyers' preseason loss to Islanders

Kevin Hayes impresses, scrapping for spots, more observations from Flyers' preseason loss to Islanders

BOX SCORE 

Hockey was back in South Philadelphia as the Flyers unveiled head coach Alain Vigneault and center Kevin Hayes at the Wells Fargo Center on Monday night.

The Flyers lost their preseason opener, 3-1, to the Islanders, starting a stretch of four games in six days. They have seven exhibition games overall.

Let's get into some observations from the first one:

• On the Flyers' first goal of the game, the team saw exactly why it was drawn to Kevin Hayes. Thanks to his long reach and big frame, Hayes corralled a pass behind him and then shielded his man to eventually ignite the goal.

He found Jakub Voracek, who quickly fed James van Riemsdyk right in front to draw the Flyers even at 1-1 in the second period.

Those qualities are what make Hayes a difference-maker. Maybe it's not flashy, but size and smarts can lead to possession and quality playmaking. The Flyers' front office must have loved that opening goal.

• Speaking of Hayes, he's disruptive out front on the penalty kill because of the aforementioned reach. He can be a workhorse type of player for the Flyers, similar to Sean Couturier and his responsibilities of playing both special teams units.

"I saw him at the rookie game and I thought he played well. He had good pace to his game and good hockey sense. He's playing with two good players and it will be fun to see what he can do."

Both Couturier and Hayes impact the game in all areas. Ideally, the Hayes addition should lighten the load for Couturier, which could make the 26-year-old even better.

• Joel Farabee has another gear and when he changes to it, the 2018 first-round pick really stands out. During the second period, he made an explosive burst to the net with the puck on his stick and nearly scored. Moments later, he impressively took a sharp pass and wrapped it around to a streaking Cal O'Reilly for another scoring chance.

Good stuff from Farabee in his first Wells Fargo Center game action.

• Chris Stewart, with the Flyers on a pro tryout, dropped the gloves in the second period and landed some heavy punches. He's a big dude at 6-foot-3, 243 pounds, and general manager Chuck Fletcher knows him well from time together in Minnesota.

The 31-year-old will have to show more than just that to make the club but toughness doesn't hurt when you're aiming for a bottom-six job.

• Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher spoke highly about Egor Zamula during rookie camp. There's a lot to like with the 6-foot-3, 172-pound defenseman. He looked cool and comfortable playing alongside Philippe Myers and there's offensive upside, as well.

• German Rubtsov did some good things. The 21-year-old forward can kill penalties and has deceiving offensive abilities. Fresh off a two-goal rookie game, he didn't hurt his chances Monday.

"I saw him at the rookie game and I thought he played well," Vigneault said last week. "He had good pace to his game and good hockey sense."

 • Isaac Ratcliffe seems likely to spend the entire 2019-20 season in Lehigh Valley. His game stood out in junior hockey, but now everyone is bigger and faster at this level.

He's had a tough time showing off his skill because there's less time and space. Still plenty of promise with the 6-foot-6 winger. Scott Gordon and the AHL will be good for him.

• Brian Elliott allowed an early goal but settled in, making eight saves in 26 minutes. He gave way to Alex Lyon, who allowed a Luca Sbisa blast past him for the game's decisive goal. New York's third goal was an empty-netter.

• Travis Konecny has a new contract. When might we see him?

• The new scoreboard is really cool and really big.

• The Flyers and Islanders will square off again Tuesday at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum (7 p.m., NBCSP+).

The team's game group will skate in Voorhees, New Jersey, at 10:30 a.m., while the non-game groups hit the ice at 8:30-9:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.

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Travis Konecny, Flyers agree to new contract and fans go into a frenzy on social media

Travis Konecny, Flyers agree to new contract and fans go into a frenzy on social media

Flyers Twitter has officially gone into a frenzy thanks to the team's Twitter account.

Let's break it down from the beginning.

First, the Flyers tweeted this GIF of Travis Konecny. Considering a deal was not done at this point (that we knew of), it caused some chaos. 

With no other information in the tweet aside from the single emoji, one of two things were possible — their social media manager has a degree in A-plus trolling, or the team was about to drop some major news.

Turns out, they were right. Just 15 minutes later, the news officially broke — Konecny and the Flyers agreed to terms on a six-year deal with an average annual value of $5.5 million. Eat up, bud.

Fans began expressing their excitement throughout Twitter and it doesn't look like it's going to stop anytime soon.

Heck, even the Flyers social media team joined in on the fun.

Now, all contracts are set for the Flyers before the start of the regular season. Everyone is locked in, ready to go and it's time to Fly or Die

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