Spectrum stays with Clarke

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:45 AM ET

It was The House That Clarke Built.

And the one that The Broad St. Bullies protected.

When the first wrecking ball crushed into the concrete and steel girders of the Philadelphia Spectrum on Tuesday, it marked the end of an era in hockey. This, after all, had been the birthplace of the in-your-face, take-no-prisoners image of the Flyers franchise, one the organization still tries to promote — albeit at a more modest level — to this day.

“Anything good that happened in my professional life, it happened there,” reflected Bob Clarke in a phone interview on Saturday. “But, I guess, (the Spectrum) is like an old professional athlete at the end of his rope. It’s time to move on.”

While he no longer is in the forefront of the organization since leaving his post as general manager, Clarke still is, in many ways, the face of the franchise, from the gaptoothed grin of his playing days to his penchant, even now, of saying what’s on his mind, political correctness be damned.

Remember, this is the same Bobby Clarke who, when Pat Quinn was fired by Toronto in 2006, told the Toronto Sun that the coach got “@#%@&-ed by the Maple Leafs.”

For Clarke, watching the Spectrum crumble was just another reminder of how few older “character” buildings remain in the league.

“You have all these new beautiful buildings now,” he said. “They still have that old dump on Long Island, the Coliseum. And Madison Square Garden is still there. But most of the special places such as Maple Leaf Gardens, the Spectrum, the Montreal Forum, the Chicago Stadium, they’re either gone or not used for NHL hockey anymore.

“The thing about the Spectrum was, the fans would start to cheer during warmup and would not stop until the final horn. It was special.”

The characters inside the Spectrum were as unique as the building. For example, who from that era can ever forget Dave Leonardi, the famous sign man who seemed to have a placard for every occasion, including our personal favourite: “Only The Lord Saves More Than Bernie Parent.”

“I think he and his wife bought a ski resort when we changed buildings,” Clarke said. “He still shows up at the odd game.”

Another quirky feature of the Spectrum aside from The Sign Man: The barrier that had to be put up between the dressing rooms.

“It’s true. There was a gate between the lockers,” Clarke said.

“That’s because (Paul) Holmgren and (Wayne) Cashman got into it one night (in the hallway).”

With the Spectrum soon to be nothing more than a heap of rubble, Clarke was asked to list his personal favourite memories and moments from the Spectrum.

1. CUP RUNNETH OVER

On May 19, 1974, the Flyers hoisted the Stanley Cup for the first time with a 1-0 win over the hated Boston Bruins at the Spectrum. “I remember it all,” Clarke said. “I remember Rick MacLeish scoring the only goal. I remember the clock ticking down. It is by far the greatest moment I experienced in that building.”

Just six years earlier, the wind had blown part of the covering off the Spectrum’s roof during a performance of the Ice Capades. Now, on this special moment in Flyers history, it was the celebrating fans and players who blew the roof off the joint.

2. “THEY’RE GOING HOME!”

Those were the immortal words of broadcaster Bob Cole after the Russian Red Army team, on a tour of North America, left the ice during the game of Jan. 11, 1976, feeling the Broad St. Bullies were gooning it up too much. To this day, Clarke rejects that notion and still rips into the Russians for their actions. “They were scared. They came in afraid. They bailed out. They were just looking for an excuse to leave,” Clarke said, still emotional about the incident after all these years. “I didn’t even think we were as physical that night as we usually were.” The

Russians eventualy returned only to be thumped 4-1.

3. OL’ BLUE EYES

“I never attended concerts like many of the other guys,” Clarke said. “But there was one exception. I saw Frank

Sinatra at the Spectrum. It was amazing. That’s something you don’t forget.”

4. DR. J vs. LARRY BIRD

Much like concerts, Clarke wasn’t into basketball much. In fact, the only game he ever went to certainly was a

doozy. “The Celtics with Bird against the Sixers with Julius Erving,” Clarke said. “If you are only going to go to

one basketball game in your life, that was a good one.”

From Clarke to Parent to Dr. J to Dave (The Hammer) Schultz to Kate Smith, the Spectrum was a special place.

One Bob Clarke won’t soon forget.

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/zeisberger


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