PHILADELPHIA — Thank heaven there’s a hockey game tonight. If people here had to wait any longer, they might implode.

I’m not talking about the normal Philadelphians. Normal Philadelphians might have a few other things in their lives, like jobs. The Philadelphians I’m talking about are the rabid fans who have nothing better to do but call into Philly sports talk radio — or as it’s known in the industry, Lawsuit Central.

Now, it’s true, most towns have some kind of sports talk radio station. Many sound like this:

“Hi, this is Sam from Greenville, first-time caller, longtime listener.”

“Hi, Sam.”

“I got a trade for you.”

“Whatcha got? . . .”

In Philly, that conversation goes this way:

“Hi, this is Sam from Greenvil–“

“WHO CARES? DROP DEAD!”

I’m not kidding. Philly radio is known for its teeth marks. The big station here actually broadcasts the Flyers and is being sued by the Flyers at the same time! Talk about a daily double!

I have been listening to these stations since arriving for these Stanley Cup finals. It has been an education. Well, maybe more like recess than an education.

For example, on one morning show, I heard this exchange between caller and hosts:

“Hello, I want to complain.”

“About what?”

“The guy who introduces the Flyers. He’s got no stinkin’ enthusiasm in his voice.”

“What’s that got to do with anything?”

“He’s supposed to pump the team up.”

“Oh, so that’s why they lost? . . . You’re an idiot. Why don’t you go bang your head against the wall until the rocks fall out of your ears? . . .”

Click. This was followed by a female caller.

“Hello, I want to complain about the national anthem singer.’

“What’s the matter with the anthem singer?”

“I think they should play Kate Smith.”

“OH GOD! . . . NOT THIS AGAIN! That was 20 years ago! Why don’t you get a miniskirt, put your husband in bell bottoms, get the Chevelle with a 396 engine and drive down the street!”

Click. Then, having grown tired of the demanding intelligence of his listeners, one of the hosts did some talking himself.

He said, “Kjell Samuelsson, YOU SUCK!”

Murray’s bonehead move

Now, talk shows like to claim that they mirror the city in which they broadcast. But if that’s true, then every single Philadelphian is ready to 1) Kill somebody, 2) Take over the coaching duties, 3) Kill somebody else.

Also, everyone in town must be an “idiot.” Or a “moron.” Or “pathetic.” Or they must “suck” or “blow.” (Personally, I think they should make up their minds on this one, since it would be hard to do both at the same time.)

Anyhow, these verbs and adjectives became quite frequent Monday afternoon, after Flyers coach Terry Murray announced he was switching goaltenders for Game 2, from Ron Hextall to Garth Snow.

The radio in my car almost exploded.

“He’s an idiot!” . . . “He’s a moron!” . . . “Hextall’s pathetic!” . . .
“Hextall blows!” . . . “You’re an idiot for thinking Hextall is any good!” .
. . “You’re an idiot for thinking Murray is any good!” . . . “Snow blows!” . .
.

Wow. And we haven’t even played Game 2.

You’d have thought the series was over. When Murray made that switch, there was panic and despair in fans’ voices here, the kind I haven’t heard since Lions season in Detroit. But the Lions didn’t even make the playoffs; these Flyers made the Stanley Cup finals.

“Hello, I think everyone’s being too hard on Hextall–“

“Hard on him? HE BLEW THE GAME!”

“But he only let in one bad goal–“

“God help me, I can’t take these idiots. Get off my show!”

I’m not making this up.

The beginning of the end

Now, here’s what I don’t understand. Fans wait years — sometimes decades
— for a Stanley Cup chance. So why, when it finally comes, is everyone in a hurry to predict its ending? These Philly stations had people calling in Saturday night and saying, “It’s over.” On Saturday night?

Hey. What’s the hurry? You don’t stop a movie after 10 minutes and say,
“This guy’s gonna die, there’s no point in even watching.” Why can’t Flyers fans enjoy the drama of a series going up and down?

Maybe because, in Philly, the drama is more exciting on the air. After all, how many stations once claimed Eric Lindros was too hung over to skate, then got sued by the team for saying it?

It’s all part of the Flaming Fire of ‘Filadelphia. On Monday, the highly touted morning show here put on one of its regular callers, a screamer named
“Arson Arnie.” He was a few seconds into some rant, when the host put on another caller.

“He wants to rip you,” the host said.

“BRING HIM ON!” yelled Arnie.

“Arnie’s an idiot,” said the new caller. “I’m sick of him screaming. I can yell and scream, too, JUST LIKE ARNIE!”

“You don’t like me, buddy? Get your fingers on the station and change it! It’s people like you that keep me popular, YOU DUMB MORON!”

“I hate you, Arnie!”

And then Arnie yelled something interesting.

“Love me or hate me, it don’t matter!” he said. “As long as you notice I exist!”

Is that what this is all about?

To borrow a phrase, that’s pretty pathetic.

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