April 21, 2016
On Thursday afternoon, Philadelphia — and the hockey world as a whole — said goodbye to Flyers founder and chairman Ed Snider, who passed away last week at the age of 83 after a lengthy battle with cancer, during a public memorial service at the Wells Fargo Center.
Among the speakers were family and friends, as well as businessmen and former colleagues who over time became, at the very least, friends with Snider. Sometimes, they were a part of his extended family.
It was a collection of people who knew Snider best — or in the case of some, knew how important he was both to this city and to the game of hockey — and the stories ranged from heartbreaking to heartwarming, with some funny mixed in along the way.
Let's take a look at some of the best memories, stories and Ayn Rand quotes from a very touching tribute to Snider's life and lasting legacy. But first, we'll start with this performance of Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World," performed by Jacob Snider, Ed's grandson, to close out the service.
And now, the quotes...
On the things that meant most to her father:
“Throughout the centuries there were men who took first steps down new roads armed with nothing but their own vision. Their goals differed, but they all had this in common: that the step was first, the road new, the vision unborrowed.”
This quote by Ayn Rand was a favorite of Dad’s, and it defines what it means to be a visionary – in modern terms, an entrepreneur. It defines Dad in his most public of roles, and we, his family, were so fortunate to have a father to love, admire and want to emulate.
There are five things that truly defined our Dad and all that he did. Have a personal code, a work ethic, courage, love and passion for all that you do, and family. The parallels between the public and private side mirror each other. The values he taught us as children he practiced in his life.
Except the final thing, the last full sentence he ever spoke to me. ... “I can’t thank the Flyers enough for everything they’ve given to me and my family.”
A behind-the-scenes look at life at the Wells Fargo Center ... and dating the boss's daughter:
I want to take you on a very brief journey, a behind-the-scenes glimpse to see what it looked like on what we called the back of the house. To know the measure of the man that this has meant is to understand it was always a blurred line between the public and the personal side of our lives. We grew up with the players and we thought of some of them as our uncles. We grew up side-by-side with their kids.
At eight years old my first crush was on Andre Lacroix. My sister and us played hide and seek under the stands – it was a maze that changed after every event, a wonderland for seven- and eight-year-olds to endlessly explore. We did our homework before games. My brothers played floor hockey in the halls with the players’ kids. We suited up and we did changeovers from the ice to the basketball floor with the guys in the back of the house, and we’d have pizza and beer afterwards. My sister Tina had her ears pierced by the team doctor after a game. Dad walked in and almost passed out at the sight of the blood.
We fed the cats that lived in the Spectrum; Dad always yelled at us to stop feeding them, they’re here to catch the rats. But we fed them anyway. And the good news is there’s no rats in this building other than one, who is Kenny Linseman.
Speaking of Kenny, one of my dearest friends who played here who’s here today – we dated when he played here, and naturally this was utterly forbidden by my father. One night after a date, as usual, we come to the house and we suddenly, shockingly see my dad at the top of the driveway where Kenny would drop me off, because of course we thought he didn’t know we were dating. He marches up to the car and he looks at Kenny through the glass and he says "get out." Kenny just sat there looking stricken. Dad says again, "Get out. Come in for a drink. I’m a father first and I’m a boss second, and that’s family."
On what his father's last words were:
Dad was very ill at the end of his life, to the point where even speaking was a great effort. He asked me to write a few things down, all of which came out in a single word or two. Except the final thing, the last full sentence he ever spoke to me. And this is what he said, not just for me or the family – he told me so I would tell you. “I can’t thank the Flyers enough for everything they’ve given to me and my family.”
A lesson Clarke never forgot:
In '77, we were playing the Bruins in the playoffs and got swept. I and my teammates played lousy. At that time, Barry Ashbee, who had played with us and lost an eye playing with us, was our assistant coach and was in the hospital dying of leukemia. Soon after we were swept, Barry died.
After his funeral, I knew something was messed up in my thinking, but I didn’t know what it was. So I sought Mr. Snider out looking for help. I said Mr. Snider, I apologize for the way our team played and for the way I played. I stunk. But we found it very hard to have the emotion to play the game when our close friend was lying in bed dying. Mr. Snider, in a very fatherly fashion, said, ‘Barry would have never wanted that, and you have no right to use Barry’s illness as a reason for not playing good. If anything, you had the chance to compete that Barry never did. You should have competed harder.’ A lesson in life that I will never forget.
His closing remarks...
When I pass and when we all pass, we don’t know where we’re going. But for me, I really hope that when I get there, I get another chance to play one more game in the Orange and Black under Mr. Snider’s Philadelphia Flyers.
At the age of 13, my future was as bleak as my environment. Crime was a big part of my five-day forecast, neighborhood drug deals were my basic studies in current events and economics, and the increase in dropout rates were my daily lesson in statistics. I had few friends and even fewer caring adults as role models. Now, fortunately for me, this all changed the day I found out about the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation. I had never considered hockey at all, or ice skating, and had no concept at all what forechecking was – and sometimes I still don't. But in all honesty, I had no other option. And once I heard it was free, I knew it was for me. I was in awe. The glimmering lights reflecting off the wide open expanse of the ice, and the warm welcome of the coaches. Hope, promise, and possibilities soon began to displace my previous sense of depression and despair.
Now, soon after this experience, I began writing a handwritten letter to the man responsible for all of this, and I began it by saying, "Dear Mr. Snider - Before Snider Hockey, I had no hope in life. I was lost, and quite frankly I did not see a reason in living." I ended the letter with a simple, "Thank you, sir." Within a week or two, I received a personal invitation to meet Mr. Snider in person. I couldn't believe it, I must say. He was as cool, calm, and collected as all the coaches I’d [met]. By the end of our meeting, he looked at me and said, "Virlen, be happy." I smiled in response and said, "Will do."
What the Flyers meant to him as kid growing up in South Philly:
The Flyers, to me, were the team, the organization, that gave me and gave us identity, enthusiasm and fun. Although I love this building, my father was a firefighter and security guard who worked part-time at the Spectrum, which is actually my favorite building of all time. And we were street hockey rats. We played hockey at the playground, on the street, in the neighborhoods. Everywhere we played, morning, noon, and night. My father came home from work at the Spectrum one night and gave me one of the best presents I had ever received and may ever receive. You have to be a Flyers fan to understand this. It was a slightly cracked stick of Gary Dornhoefer. It was my prized possession. I taped that little crack and I used that stick for four years on the streets of Philadelphia to the point where the blade got so thin, I had to saw it off and put a replacement blade on it, and I used it for two more seasons.
Apparently, Ed Snider wasn't so different from the fans who cheered on his team:
Did you know that Ed Snider once kicked Donald Trump out of a suite at a hockey playoff game? ... There’s nothing that comes between Ed Snider and his hockey games.
While any one of his entrepreneurial endeavors would represent a great career, he created a collection of achievements that deserves its own museum. And in fact, we’re all in that museum today. It’s called the Wells Fargo Center. Ed Snider accomplished all of these things and more. He also even found a way to privately finance this magnificent building which serves as the home on a regular basis of more than 19,000 Flyer fans who, I can tell you first-hand, referee every single game that’s played here. [cheers]
In that vein, I remember a Flyers-Rangers playoff game here in the 1990s. Let me set the scene. It was a spring Sunday afternoon, it may have been sometime around Mother’s Day, as I recall it. I drove down here for the playoff game with my wife and my three children who at the time were a teenager, a pre-teen, and a little one. The Flyers were clearly the better team, but the Rangers were clutching and grabbing and hooking and holding all game. The end result was the Rangers won in a one-goal game that had not been decided on the basis of skill, and Ed, as you can imagine, was infuriated, as I soon learned.
The game ends, and I’m trying to get out of town as quickly as possible… my wife, kids, and I get in the car and I’m just about ready to get out of the parking lot when I see this car blocking the exit. It looked like a police car with flashing lights and it was the arena security. The driver gets out, comes over to me, and says ‘Mr. Snider wants to see you. Now.’ And I get escorted back to the main entrance and I go inside, and there’s Ed waiting for me in the lobby. He generously offers me a detailed opinion of the game and the officiating and asks me point-blank ‘Do you really want your games played like that?’
I stood there for about 20 minutes before I was permitted to answer the question, because there was a fair amount of animated gesticulation going on, none of it by me. My family, including my little kids, is watching all this through the windows. By the time I got out to the car, I couldn’t tell whether they were amused or horrified. Probably both. I start the car, the parking lot’s virtually empty, and before we start moving, a very drunk individual threw himself across the hood of my car and douses us with beer. Ed tells me it was a Rangers fan. It was a fragrant ride home to say the least.
Did you know that Ed Snider once kicked Donald Trump out of a suite at a hockey playoff game? It had nothing to do with his political views. I don’t even think his political views had formed then. It had to do with the fact that Donald would not stop talking to Ed during the game. There’s nothing that comes between Ed Snider and his hockey games. To all the players, coaches, Flyers Alumni, the Flyers family, you all know this, but since he told it to me three weeks ago and I mentioned it to Coach before the service started, I wanted to repeat it – as grateful as we all are of him, Ed Snider could not be more appreciative of the Flyers organization, the alumni, and the fans for giving him everything in life – a sense of purpose, an outlet for his passion, and an unconditional love like no other.
The most upset I ever saw Ed was one night at a Sixers game. Some fans threw a couple cans of beer from an upper level somewhere and they sailed right over our heads and his court side seats and exploded on the floor. On the way home from the game we were listening to WIP, which reported the incident by stating that the flying objects barely missed hitting two elderly gentlemen sitting in the front row. He was tough, he was passionate, he was driven. He was not elderly.
This truly is an amazing event here today, and I’m not surprised. I have never seen such an outpouring of love and remembrances that we have seen on TV, on radio, and in practically every corner of our city and around the nation. All of these farewells and tributes reflect the fact that Ed touched something special, something very profound and very deep, in all of us. For 50 years, he made it possible for us to experience uncountable moments of sheer magic and beauty together, and he did so because he not only shared his team with us, he shared himself. Ed, we will always love you and be grateful for being part of our lives, and most of all, for creating joy and passion in all things Flyers. When I was a kid, every game ended – and Ed, I’m thinking of you now – with the great Gene Hart saying, "Good Night and Good Hockey." And if I may add, "Good Life."
Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin