January 29, 2005
Boston And Philadelphia: Old City Foes Reunite
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
”Greer is putting the ball into play. He gets it out deep AND HAVLICEK STEALS IT! OVER TO SAM JONES! HAVLICEK STOLE THE BALL!” -- Johnny Most, April 15, 1965, describing the final seconds of the Boston Celtics’ seven-game victory over the Philadelphia 76ers in the 1965 NBA Eastern Conference Finals
Any Patriot fan out there who thinks it is neat that the Patriots are playing the Eagles need to talk to some Celtics and Bruins fans for some guidance.
Simply stated, what if we told you that Terrell Owens is right up there on the despicable list with such undistinguished gents as Dave Schultz, Andre Dupont, Moses Malone and Bobby Jones? What if David Akers turns into the next Rick MacLeish? Or, pray tell, Brian Dawkins or Jeremiah Trotter start reminding you all of Bernie Parent? Even worse, Donovan McNabb has become the football equivalent of Dr. J.?
With the Red Sox defeating the Cardinals in last fall’s World Series, every Boston pro sports team has defeated a St. Louis team. This is almost true with Boston and Philadelphia. If the Patriots beat the Eagles next Sunday, three of the four Boston teams will have bested outfits from the City of Brotherly Love. Only the Bruins cannot make such a claim, though they almost did some 31 years ago.
The years have dulled some of the enmity, but Boston and Philadelphia went for many years with a great deal of hate between them. When you see message boards, reports and rumours saying that Philadelphia fans are the worst in the nation, there are very good reasons why. Unlike last year, when the good people of Charlotte came by and were largely convivial as well as confident in their team, Philadelphia fans will provide a hard edge to the fan rivalry, as well as rekindle some of the bad blood between these two cities that reached an apex during the 1970s and early 1980s.
The first such matchup between these two cities has no bearing on today. The Red Sox and Phillies met in the 1915 World Series. The Phillies won Game 1, then would not win their next World Series game for another 65 years. The Sox prevailed in five games, and did the same thing to the Brooklyn Robins (later Dodgers) the following year. The Sox and Phillies hook up regularly in interleague play, but nothing to date has come out of this to cause old hard feelings to resurface.
The “old hard feelings” come largely from the rivalries between the Celtics and the 76ers and the Bruins and the Flyers. These two pairs engaged in a string of very lively, emotional, and often times chippy (Fred Cusick loved to use that word when describing Bruins games on TV) battles which dug deep into the psyche of the Boston fans and engendered a deep hatred for the city of Philadelphia and their fan base as well.
The genesis of the hatred came in 1959. The Celtics drafted Bill Russell in 1956 and proceeded to win two NBA titles in three years, the first two of the impending Celtic dynasty. The Philadelphia Warriors (now based in Oakland and called the Golden State Warriors) drafted Wilt Chamberlain out of Kansas and predicted that he alone would bring them one world title after another. Red Auerbach knew better, and the Celtics won championships in every one of Chamberlain’s first seven years in the league. As the Patriots are today, the Celtics were always the better team than the one Chamberlain was on.
In 1964, the Warriors moved to San Francisco, while the Syracuse Nationals moved to Philadelphia and renamed themselves the 76ers. During the 1964-65 season, the Warriors traded Chamberlain back to Philadelphia. That is why Chamberlain was there on that most famous night in Celtic history. If drafting Chamberlain was the genesis, then John Havlicek’s immortal night was the exodus in the hatred between Boston and Philadelphia.
Havlicek’s steal off Greer’s inbound pass secured a frantic 110-109 win in the 1965 East Finals and sent the Celtics onward to an easy seventh straight NBA title. They made it eight in a row in 1966, then the 76ers left their indelible mark on this rivalry in 1967. The Sixers won a then-NBA record 68 games and ended the Celtic championship run in the 1967 East Finals, knocking out the eight-time champs in five games. It would be one of only two championships Chamberlain would win, and in each case it would be during a record-setting win year (the second would be with the 69-13 Lakers of 1972).
The Celtics got revenge in 1968, rallying from down 3-1 to win the East Finals in seven games and then on to another NBA title. The assassination of Martin Luther King had an effect on that series, as both teams took five days off following a Celtic win in Game 1. The layoff sent the Sixers off on a three-game win streak, but the Celtics bounced back and won the final three games to stun the defending champion Sixers.
The ABA folded in 1976, the New York (now New Jersey) Nets came into the league, and could not afford to keep former UMass star Julius Erving. He wound up getting traded to the 76ers for George McGinnis, and the 76ers were now back in championship contention. This led to a rekindling of the rivalry, and the years that followed provided the most contentious of battles between these two teams. In 1977 the Celtics won a stunning Game 1 of the East Finals in the Spectrum before falling in seven games. In 1980, the Celtics rode the shoulders of rookie Larry Bird to the best record in the league, but the 76ers took the Celtics in six games in the East Finals.
1981 and 1982 provided some of the most gripping drama in the rivalry, or at least the keenest since the Havlicek steal. Like 1968, the Celtics found themselves down 3-1 in games to the Sixers in the East Finals, but rallied to win. A 100-96 win in Game 6 at Philadelphia forced a Game 7 which ranks as one of the most exciting games ever at the Boston Garden. The Celtics outscored the Sixers 9-1 in the last 5:23 to win, 91-90 and advance to an NBA Finals which they would win. They were also down 3-1 in games in 1982, won Game 6 in Philly, 88-75 to force Game 7 at home, but this time the Sixers cut down the Celtics at home in the finale, 120-106. The despondent fans amazingly congratulated the Sixers by inventing the “Beat LA!” chant at game’s end (the Lakers won the finals nevertheless).
The 76ers would take the NBA by storm next year, winning the NBA Finals in four straight over the Lakers. Other than a finals appearance in 2001, the Sixers have been a shell of their old selves. After winning their 16th NBA title in 1986, the Celtics have been to only one finals since (1987). These teams have never recaptured the fever pitch during the 1977-83 apex of this bitter rivalry. Still, many Celtic fans might claim that they despise the Sixers worse than the Lakers.
A much briefer, but far more bitter rivalry, was the war between the Bruins and the Flyers between 1974 and 1977. Three times in these four years did these teams meet in the playoffs, one of them being the Stanley Cup Finals. It was one of the rare times where pure brawn won out over brains and slick scoring, and the Flyers won two Cups in a row (1974, 1975). Along the way, the Flyers enraged Bruin fans, as well as hockey fans nationwide, with their aggressive style of play which earned them the nickname “The Broad Street Bullies”.
Schultz, Dupont, Don Saleski and Bob Kelly were the ringleaders who went at it every game with Bruin tough guys like Terry O’Reilly, Ken Hodge, Wayne Cashman, and later Stan Jonathan and John Wensink. Schultz perfected the fine art of driving a player into the boards with his gloves already off before the check was finished. The Flyers made this their style, much the same way the Detroit Pistons did in the late 1980s.
Fortunately for the Flyers, they had a hot goalie to back it all up, which usually is the key ingredient if you want to contend for a Cup. Bernie Parent stymied the Bruins just as well as Ken Dryden ever did. The 1974 Cup Finals saw Parent cop the Smythe Trophy, though the series turned on an overtime game-winning goal by Jim Watson in Game 2, the only time the visiting team won in the six games. The Bruins could never regain the home ice advantage, and Philly rode Kate Smith’s lucky charm with God Bless America and MacLeish’s second period goal to a 1-0 win and the 1974 Cup.
Two years later, the teams met in the Wales Conference Finals, with the Flyers prevailing in five games. And in 1977, the Bruins parlayed overtime wins at home in the first two games to a four-game sweep to advance to the Cup Finals (they would then get swept by the Canadiens). Following 1977, these two teams never recaptured the fury of the preceding three years as the bullies eventually rode off into the sunset. But Bruin fans will never forget the fisticuff tactics of the Flyer goons who helped win two regrettable Stanley Cups, the only ones the Flyers have ever won (they have been to five finals since their last Cup).
Next weekend, the Patriots and Eagles will add their special chapter to this city rivalry with its spirited history. So far, it’s off to a good start, with Owens and his militant stand on his ankle and Freddie Mitchell calling out Rodney Harrison (we’re not kidding). The next nine days might not remind you of Dave Schultz or Bobby (who, according to Johnny Most was “The most pampered player in the NBA!!!”) Jones, but the fans will be into it before long, if they aren’t already.
And once again, you’ll think of the words “brotherly love” and realize that the framers of the Constitution never heard of any bullies on Broad Street.
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