I have dreaded this day for 12 years.
I knew it was coming. You can’t escape your past, no matter how far you run. Remember that movie, “Sommersby,” where Richard Gere is this local hero, until someone comes out of the shadows and yells, “Wait! I know your dirty little secret!”
This is my dirty little secret. I am a Philly kid, but a Detroit man. And now Detroit is battling Philadelphia for the Stanley Cup.
And I’m being yanked like a wishbone.
“I can’t believe you would even consider rooting against the Flyers,” a childhood friend says to me. “Don’t you remember where you come from?”
“I can’t believe you would even consider rooting against the Wings,” a Detroit buddy says to me. “Don’t you know where you live?”
I knew this would happen. I knew it! I knew it! I knew it! I thought I might get lucky, because since I arrived in 1985, the Tigers haven’t had to face Philadelphia, the Pistons haven’t had to worry about Philadelphia, and the Lions had only one big game against Philadelphia. Remember? Two years ago? The first round in the playoffs?
I had a Philly friend with me at that game. My oldest pal. His name, or rather the name we call him, because where I grew up, no one actually used real names, we used nicknames — and today, some of those same friends don’t use their real names either, because they’re in the Witness Protection Program
— anyhow, his nickname is “The Kid.”
And every time the Eagles completed a pass, The Kid cheered. And then he looked at me as if to say, “Whazza matter? You got laryngitis?”
And I reminded him I was not rooting for Philly. And he looked at me as if to say, “Drop dead, you spineless, gutless, low-life worm.”
This, by the way, is the Philadelphia attitude. They do not take kindly to outside opinions. If you’re from Philly, there is . . .
1) The way you think
2) The way morons think.
The morons being everyone else.
Now I know some people say the only thing Philadelphia has contributed to America this century is the movie “Rocky.” This is unfair. There was also
But once a Philadelphian, always a Philadelphian — or so people there like to think. Never mind their nasal Philly accents, or the fact that their most historic landmark is a bell with a crack in it.
Philadelphians are proud people. Which makes it hard for an expatriate like myself. I try to tell my old gang that I haven’t lived in Philadelphia in 20 years. I try to explain that I know players on these Red Wings, that I cover players on these Red Wings, that I have shared interesting interviews and the occasional laugh with these Red Wings.
And what do they say?
“These are the Flyers, man! Broad Street Bullies! Whazza matter with you?”
I should point out that I did not grow up with the most open-minded of friends.
Which is typical of my hometown. For example, in Philadelphia, certain foods are almost religious. Take a cheesesteak. It is nothing more than thin slices of steak, grilled with melted cheese and maybe onions. Trust me, it’s not like preparing coq au vin.
But a Philadelphian will take one bite of any cheesesteak that was not made in Philadelphia, and he will spit it out in disgust, and say, “That ain’t no cheesesteak. Whazza matter with you?”
Or take what we called Water Ice. It is basically chopped ice and syrup. Not hard. Not rocket science. But give a Philadelphian some other city’s version, and he will take one lick, spit it out, and say, “That ain’t Water Ice, it’s sherbet! It’s sorbet! It’s a slushee! It’s a Slurpee! Whazza matter with you?”
Perhaps the most difficult Philadelphia tradition to explain is something called the Mummers Parade. On this day, grown men — who presumably hold jobs the rest of the year — dress up like giant feathered animals and flap their wings through the streets, to the thumping beat of marching bands. Their outfits, I am told, take all year to make, which means on any given night in Philadelphia, someone finishes dinner and says, “Thanks, Hon. I’ll be in the garage, working on my giant chicken suit.”
And nobody says a word!
Love that Motown
So you can see why logic carries little weight with my childhood chums. They say things like, “What has Detroit ever done for you?”
And I say it has given me a wonderful life.
And they say, “Oh, yeah? We remember when Willie Hernandez from the Tigers dumped water on your head. Yuck! Yuck!”
And I say he also played for the Phillies.
And they say, “Don’t you remember when we were kids, and we rooted for Bobby Clarke and Bernie Parent and Dave Schultz with the Flyers? Don’t you remember the parade? Don’t you remember wearing your Flyers jersey?”
And I say, yes. I remember wearing puffed sleeve shirts, too.
And they look at me. And they shake their heads. And they finally say,
“Wait a minute. You mean you’re really gonna come back home . . . and you ain’t gonna root for the Flyers?”
And I say that’s right.
And they say, “OK, but don’t blame us if you get hurt . . .”
I knew this day was coming. My past crashes my future. It is my own “Tale of Two Cities,” and as I board the plane, rooting for the Red Wings, I can only hope that what Charles Dickens wrote is true, “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done.”
If I don’t come back, send a search party.