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as seen on phillyBurbs.com

Where did the Flyers' passion go?
At $85 a ticket, fans deserve more than a half-hearted effort from the team.

It had all the makings of a great game.

The New York Rangers, after buying up the best talent they could lay their hands on, charged into the FU center on March 22 loaded for bear and hungry for a playoff spot.

The Flyers, my lifelong favorite team, armed themselves with the always-dangerous Tony Amonte, the struggling but still potent Sami Kapanen and John LeClair, newly resurgent after months off with a separated shoulder.

The Fly boys were to face off against softheaded Eric Lindros, their controversial former captain.

This was my brother's birthday gift to me - two tickets to the first Flyers game of my adult life - and I had been waiting three months to see them play live.

Two years ago, this would have been a war. Winger Rick Tocchet would have smashed heads into the boards. Defensemen Luke Richardson and Dan McGillis would have flattened any Ranger who dared approach the net.

All three are gone now, along with about a third of that former team. The Flyers' passion for playing before their home crowd - and the legend of the Broad Street bullies - apparently went with them.

With a coach named Hitchcock, you would have expected to see at least a little Ranger blood on the ice.

But the near-capacity crowd was "treated" instead to a game of passionless up and down passing, unspirited zone defense and plodding power plays befitting an expansion team.

The only life in the nationally televised game seemed to come from the Flyers' fans.

Every time Lindros - whom I've long considered a lazy cherry picker - touched the puck, he was loudly booed. When he was finally hit hard enough to momentarily knock him to the ice late in the third, the crowd roared its approval.

For the most part, though, Lindros had his way with his former team, repeatedly knocking Flyers down hard.

The Flyers poured 15 shots on back-up goalie Dan Blackburn in the third, but failed to find the back of the net. A garbage goal - from Peter Nedved off the end of goalie Robert Esche's stick with 3:12 left - sealed their fate. They fell 2-1.

Even coach Ken Hitchcock could tell his team lacked the will to win. "We did a lot of things well, but we did not beat the goaltender," Hitchcock told Wayne Fish, our Flyers reporter. "I told the players that moving on in the playoffs, that is a step you have to make ... you have to find a way."

You can say it was a late season game that meant little. That the Flyers were already assured of their playoff spot. That the real season has yet to start.

But at $85 a ticket, fans deserve more than a half-hearted effort from the team.

That's the same amount I shell out monthly to Comcast - who also owns the team and the arena - for my home computer's cable modem and basic cable TV, so I can do work at home and watch the Flyers play. (Can you say, Monopoly?)

Fans can't find a game on during the week on UHF like they did when I was a kid, and forget about following the playoffs without cable TV.

This does not bode well for a sport where some - the Red Wing's Brett Hull and the Flyers' Jeremy Roenick among them - claim the players make too much money and are heading for a lockout when their contract expires next year.

The Buffalo Sabres have declared bankruptcy because they couldn't get enough butts in the stands to bankroll the team. Others - namely Ottawa and Pittsburgh - teeter on the edge.

But the Flyers have been blessed with loyal fans. It's about time they started listening to them.


"Good friends we have, oh, good friends we've lost
Along the way."

- Bob Marley

I'm sorry if this column isn't up to par today. News of John Fisher's death Friday from an aneurysm hit me like a ton of bricks.

Words, our shared stock and trade, now fail and I cannot adequately express what he meant to me.

John was more than simply my colleague and boss when I ran the Courier Times' Web site the last three years. He became a mentor, a confidant and a good friend.

John helped to hire me as a manager when I had little experience, and then went to bat for me more times than I can count. While working long days and nights to resolve technical problems, our minds would lock together and we would finish each other's sentences.

Not that we always saw eye to eye.

During long, crowded, contentious meetings about the future of this Web site, John was the ice to my fire.

While I thought nothing of tossing verbal gasoline onto the fire to illustrate a point, John would simply sit back, smile and quietly state his case. He shared the same passion for writing and the Web, but 30 years of working here had taught him that change takes time and tact.

Maybe it was because we were very much opposites that we worked so well together.

John was musical, light-hearted, a team player and spiritual.

I am largely tone deaf, prone to dark moods (what the existential French call ennui) and a bit of a loner. Any faith I might have had was lost when cancer claimed my mom and when one of my high school tennis partners ate a self-inflicted bullet.

Many friends and acquaintances have come and gone since then, most - like John - many years before it should have been their time.

An ordained minister, John trusted that none of us can know God's plan. But I am left with only questions, memories and another hole in my heart.

Dave Ralis' Pave The Grass column appears on Mondays. You can send him an e-mail at . To read his previous columns, click here.

March 31, 2003