By Steve Silverman
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Flat-out hatred can be a good thing in sports.
Especially at the professional level. You had a huge dose of hatred for several years when the Red Sox were a worthy challenger and got together with the Yankees. There was nothing manufactured about the hatred when Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek shoved his glove in the face of Alex Rodriguez.
There is a good dose of hatred between the Jets and the Patriots. In football, great teams always keep their eyes firmly focused on the big prize, and team rivalries don’t mean as much today as they did in past generations. Rex Ryan badly wants to beat Bill Belichick and the Patriots, but he wants an AFC title and a spot in the Super Bowl a lot more.
Hockey leads to hatred. The Rangers have had no more hated rival over the last four decades than the Philadelphia Flyers.
There’s a grudging respect given to the New Jersey Devils, while the New York Islanders are struggling to build a competitive team as they try to survive. But the Rangers and Flyers have hated each other since Dave Schultz, Bobby Clarke and Bernie Parent were lining up against Brad Park, Jean Ratelle and Eddie Giacomin in the early and mid-1970s.
Older Rangers fans will never forget the 1974 loss in the NHL semifinal round to the Flyers. That was the first time that any “original six” team lost a series to one of the expansion teams. The Rangers were excellent that season, but the Flyers were an unstoppable force, as the Broad Street Bullies used their muscle to get by the Rangers.
Two things stand out about that seventh-game loss to the Flyers. One is Schultz’s vicious beating of Dale Rolfe, an action that did not see any other Rangers player come to the defense of his teammate. The Rangers’ defenseman absorbed blow after blow, and that awful display emboldened the Flyers.
Late in the game — with the Rangers trailing 4-3 — the cameras panned the Rangers’ bench. While most of the players were properly downcast as a result of their impending defeat, left wing Vic Hadfield was smiling as if his world was all good. He was traded to the Penguins in the offseason.
The hate between the two teams has never abated.
In recent years, the Rangers have had the edge on the Flyers. Last year, the Rangers swept the six games that the two teams played in the regular season, but that didn’t mean that the Flyers had backed down and accepted their status.
As the playoffs got under way, the Flyers were dreaming of a chance to get revenge on the Rangers.
That seemed like it might come to fruition when the Rangers beat the Ottawa Senators in the opening round of the playoffs, while the Flyers upset the Penguins. However, the Flyers lost in the next round to the Devils and did not earn an opportunity to face the Rangers in the Eastern Conference Finals.
That has stuck in the craw of Philadelphia head coach Peter Laviolette, who was given a two-year extension by the Flyers to remain behind the bench.
Laviolette has two notable achievements on his resume. He led the undermanned Carolina Hurricanes to the only Stanley Cup in their history in 2006. Four years later, his Flyers trailed the Boston Bruins three games to none, and he led them back from that precipice to a seven-game series victory. It’s only happened three times in NHL history, and it had not happened in 35 years.
Laviolette is a formidable coach, and when the cameras were on him during HBO’s 24-7 series — showing preparations for the Winter Classic between the Flyers and the Rangers — it was obvious how much beating the Rangers meant to him.
Everything he did in the month of December was designed to get his team prepared for a peak effort against the Rangers, and things went well early for him, as Philadelphia built a 2-0 lead.
However, that was just temporary joy for the Flyers. The Rangers came back and won the game by a 3-2 margin.
The final installment of the series showed Laviolette off by himself, wiping away a tear or two as a result of the loss.
This from a grown man, at the peak of his profession after a regular-season defeat.
Hatred is a good thing in professional sports.
The first game between the Flyers and Rangers is Nov. 4 at Madison Square Garden. Get your popcorn ready.
Rangers fans, do you unquestionably despise the Flyers more than the team’s other rivals? If it’s not the Flyers, then who is the most hated nemesis? Let us know in the comments section below…