With apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, of course.
When I was asked to pen a story on the Penguins fan's most hated team, my immediate reaction was one of conflict for a couple of reasons. You see, I have a pretty decent relationship with those guys over at Broad Street and I'd kind of like to keep it that way. But the other dilemma here is that I wasn't immediately convinced that the Flyers are in fact our hated team.
New Jersey Devils
I mean, there's the New Jersey Devils. They beat the Penguins in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2001 in a 4-1 drubbing that heralded the beginning of the Second Dark Age of Penguins hockey and in the 1995 Conference Semi-Finals, ruining any possible consolation that the season had been shortened by lockout (Look: topical!) and that Le Magnifique hadn't played a game that season due to his Hodgkin's lymphoma treatments.
Not only that, but they had Scott Stevens and Claude Lemieux, two men who, for all their merits, had an eternal disregard for players not wearing the same colors as them.
As if that wasn't enough, there's the neutral zone trap. Sure, they didn't invent it, but there's little question that they popularized it, and nearly anytime the Penguins played the Devils, I fell asleep trying to watch. For years. That this style of play contributed to Mario Lemieux's first retirement hasn't been lost on me.
All in all, though, these days I'm pretty apathetic toward the Devils, which bring me to the...
There are good reasons to hate the Capitals. Some of us go back far enough to remember when Dale Hunter played instead of standing behind the bench looking confused, and he was the kind of player that everyone loved to hate. This coupled with recent arguments about Alex Ovechkin being the best player in the world (which thankfully have fallen by the wayside given his struggles in the past couple of years) and accusations that they'd have had Sidney Crosby (who, by the way, is a whining baby and not worthy of wearing a Capitals sweater anyway) had Gary Bettman not rigged the draft for Pittsburgh, put a bad taste in a lot of people's mouths.
But can we hate a team that's
never only beaten the Penguins once in the playoffs? No, no I don't think we can.
New York Islanders
As tempting as this is after the fiasco a couple years ago and after two absolutely gut-wrenching playoff losses in 1975 and 1993 (I still have nightmares about David Volek), I can't hate a team as hapless as this one. They don't deserve acrimony; they deserve sympathy. Being a Pittsburgh Pirates fan as well, I simply cannot hate a team that's largely been irrelevant for half a decade, who has a revolving door at goal, and yearly faces bankruptcy. Can't do it.
This brings us back to the Flyers.
It is literally impossible not to hate this team. In true "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" fashion, this team is the one thing that can unite Penguins fans, Capitals fans, and Rangers fans to get them to stop sniping at each other for a change.
No team has beaten the Penguins more times than the Flyers have. I remember the days when a trip to the old Spectrum virtually guaranteed a loss. In fact, there's little in professional sports that can compare to the futility of an away game in Philadelphia for the Penguins. The Pens went 43 games in the Spectrum without a win in a streak that lasted from January 20, 1974 to February 3, 1989. That's enough games to fill half a season, and it was spread out over fifteen years.
Then there's the players. Not that the Penguins haven't had their share of players who are rough around the edges, but the Flyers have employed a litany of tough customers who, at times, used extremely questionable methods on the ice, preferring to intimidate the competition through rough play. Dave Schultz. Craig Berube. Glen Cochrane. Derian Hatcher. Dave Brown. Chris Pronger. This attitude is so ingrained in the franchise that it has infiltrated the front office. Consider, if you will, who is making the personnel decisions in Philadelphia. As of now, 6149 people have played at least 1 game in the NHL. Only 91 of them have more penalty minutes in a career than Paul Holmgren. This isn't an inherently bad thing, but I have to think that attitude affects his decision making.
Let's not forget the atmosphere the fans create at the games. Oh, the fans. If I ever go to a Penguins away game at the Wells Fargo Center, I will wear a plain gray shirt and sit for the duration of the game with my arms folded across my chest so as not to bring attention to myself. I've been told that the fans who regular attendees at games are some of the more problematic members of Flyers fandom, which doesn't instill in me a sense of safety.
Last, but certainly not least, is the way that the Flyers seem to bring out the worst in the Penguins. Like most sports fans, occasionally I'm embarrassed by the actions of a player on my favorite team. I've found that most of the times I've been embarrassed by the actions of a Penguin, it's when they're playing the Flyers. I don't know what it is about this rivalry that causes the sort of reckless, nasty play, but I hate that it does this to the Penguins.
So, what say you? Agree with me? Think I should have put the Rangers on the list for the wrist-breaking Adam Graves incident?