Friday, June 4, 2010


Flyers History - Kate Smith

When good luck charms are mentioned in professional sports, the one name that always comes up is "Kate Smith". Never in professional sports has there ever been an unlikely combination that has worked so well. The radio star of yesteryear and the "Broad Street Bullies". But you couldn't argue the results and the love affair that grew between Flyer Fans and that first class lady.

Kathryn Elizabeth Smith was born in Greenville, Virginia, on May 1, 1909. She started signing before audiences as a child, and would end up on Broadway then with her own radio and television shows on top of her recordings including 19 Gold albums. The one song she is most associated with is Irving Berlin's "God Bless America". She first sang that song on Armistice Day, 1938. She did such a good job that Berlin gave her exclusive broadcast rights to sing that song for many years.

On December 11th, 1969 when Flyers vice president Lou Schienfield ordered the playing of Kate Smith's "God Bless America" in place of "The Star Spangled Banner". He tested several Patriotic songs in an empty arena earlier and it was Kate's song that sounded the best. This was a day when American patriotism was at an all time low and to spark fans that had appear to be disinterested earlier during the playing of the national anthem, a different song was played. There were several angry comments during that first playing, but a Flyers 6-3 win over Toronto changed their tune as well. The Flyers lost their next home game without Kate, but the subsequent home game and Kate's song resulted in another win - and the legend started.

It was up to Lou Schienfield to choose which games to play Kate. Generally it was a game by game decision - with Lou deciding on instinct or if the game was important. The first 3 years saw an incredible difference in the home records - 19-1-1 with Kate and a losing 31-38-28 record without Kate (including playoffs)

Kate's first live performance was the home opener of the 1973-74 season. Fortunately for the Flyers, Kate's 88-year-old uncle was sending Kate newspaper clippings detailing her growing relationship for the Flyers. For $ 5,000 she agreed to play live. When the red carpet rolled out , Leaf's goaltender Doug Favell - who had played all of the previous seasons for the Flyers in their franchise history, knew his new team was in trouble. If his teammates didn't fully appreciate her influence, he did. The Flyers ended up winning 2-0. It didn't take too long for other players on other teams to realize what it meant when "God Bless America" was played before a game. When the Flyers eventually made the finals and Kate played live before game 6 of the finals, Boston stars Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito tried to reverse the jinx by shaking Kate's hand and giving her flowers - it didn't work and the Flyers won the cup.

The following season Kate worked her magic yet again. A live performance in game 7 of the semifinals inspired a victory over the New York Islanders as the Flyers continued on their way to a second straight Stanley Cup. On January of 1976, during the height of the cold war "God Bless America" spurred on the crowd and the team to a victory over the Soviet Union's Central Red Army Team - and staked them to a claim as the greatest team on earth.

Kate's song started to be played less frequently after that point, but she will always be remembered. It wasn't long after that Kate's health began to deteriorate. Complications from diabetes caused numerous problems over a 10 year period. In 1982 she was awarded the U.S. Medal of Freedom. When it became apparent that Ms. Smith's time was drawing to a close, hundreds of Flyer fans gathered together at her hospital and sang the song that she had sung to them. Smith died on June 17, 1986, in Raleigh, North Carolina, but her memory lives on. A statue of her appears today as a tribute to what she brought to the Flyers.

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