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Witnessing History In The Front Row

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flyers win1 Witnessing History In The Front RowThere was about nine-feet of inch-thick plexiglass separating Jack Mannion Jr. and his younger brother Mike from the Flyers’ bench last Friday night in Boston’s TD Garden, but the two were very hard to miss. Anyone watching the Flyers-Bruins Game 7 could pick them out easily–the two guys going nuts in bright orange Flyers’ T-shirts each time something good happened to the guys wearing orange and black.

There is a great German word, schadenfreude, which means taking great glee in the misery of others. Jack Mannion and his brother lived it. They went through a tumult of emotion, first sullen over the first five minutes, and then giddy like two children on a Christmas morning in the final five minutes. In between, they got rare glimpses of what we couldn’t see on TV.

For example, the din of the TD Garden was so loud with Boston up 3-0, Flyers’ coach Peter Laviolette could be heard during his first-period timeout not only by the Mannions, just a row behind the Flyers’ bench, but by anyone seated a few rows up from the ice. Laviolette let his team have it … “Let’s put it this way,” Jack remembers, “every other word was an F-bomb, and the first guy he spoke to was [Michael] Leighton, telling him, ‘Don’t let anymore bleeping pucks into the net.’ Laviolette kept telling them let’s get this done. Up to that point, the Boston fans were laughing and thinking they were going to stomp the Flyers. There was this one guy with his girlfriend seated a few rows behind really letting us have it. They thought it was over.”

Apparently, they thought wrong.

After James van Riemsdyk’s first career playoff goal drew the Flyers to within 3-1, the Mannions could sense a sway in the Boston crowd.  “It turns out exactly everything that Laviolette had been saying during the timeout, get that first goal, get that first goal, was correct. You could feel in the crowd they started getting scared. You could feel it later after the second period that the Boston fans really didn’t know what to do.”

But the Mannions did. They started cheering even harder for their hometown team, banging on the plexiglass, and sensing a change was coming. It eventually did when Simon Gagne flipped home the game-winner–sucking the life out of the Boston crowd. For once, Philadelphia fans got to turn the tables and it was Philadelphia rejoicing over the collapse of another team–a team from smugland Boston.

“You heard nothing but one huge grown,” Jack said, laughing. “I’m 30 and a lifelong Philadelphia sports fan, even though I work in New York now, but Mike still lives in Philly, and a lot of our family is still there. Being a Philadelphia fan, you get to live with a lot of heartache and a lot of near misses. Not this time. And I got to witness live and up close. This falls right behind Game 5 of the 2008 World Series against Tampa, walking out of Citizens Bank Park seeing a world championship live for the first time in my life. This falls second to that, but to be that close, it was by far the most intense and rewarding sports event I’ve ever gone to.”

The Mannions, however, didn’t exactly escape scot-free. Boston fans were so angry, anarchy seemed to break loose everywhere on the main concourse of the TD Garden. Jack himself broke a personal golden rule and cursed at a sports event, because “People were going completely nuts,” recalled Mannion, now able to laugh about the experience. “I’m 6-3, around 220, and my brother is about the same size, so no one is going to mess with us too much. There might have been about 500 to 1,000 Flyers fans there.

“I’m not saying we feared for our lives, but there was one time I got hip checked by this one kid in his 20s when I was carrying a beer back to my seat during the game. Those people were pissed after the game. I’ll just say there was a lot of high anxiety walking through that concourse and getting out of there. That’s what the cops told us, ‘Get out of here as fast as possible.’ They were certain something would happen with us standing around there wearing Flyers T-shirts.”

Jack and Mike shook a few hands of Boston fans walking out, congratulating them on the Flyers’ victory and telling them to finish the job against the Canadiens. But soon upon getting out of the TD Garden, they were reminded again of the anger flying through the air. The cab they grabbed had its windshield shattered into a spiderweb–courtesy of a Bruins fan trying to put his fist through it.

For once, schadenfreude fell in the favor of two lifelong Philadelphia fans who had seen more than their share of fists flying over the frustration of their teams losing.

For once, it was nice to go home a winner.

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