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Dan Shaughnessy

City rivalry is far from brotherly

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / May 13, 2010

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PHILADELPHIA — This is where 76ers guard Andrew Toney made his reputation as “The Boston Strangler.’’ This is where Steve Grogan played his last down of football. This is where it was decreed that Terry Francona was constitutionally incapable of managing a baseball team. This is where the Flyers beat the Bruins to win their first Stanley Cup in 1974, and it’s the hometown of Senator Arlen Specter — the man who accused the Patriots of cheating their way to three Super Bowl wins.

Philadelphia-Boston. Good sports history. The Red Sox beat the Phillies here in the Baker Bowl to win the 1915 World Series (Boston manager Bill Carrigan reportedly toasted his team’s superior run prevention). The 1967 Sixers, with Overbrook High School’s Wilt Chamberlain at center, ended Boston’s streak of eight NBA championships. The Patriots beat the Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX in 2005 (remember Donovan McNabb throwing up into his facemask?), and the Bruins and Flyers split four playoff series in the blades-of-glory 1970s.

The rivalry goes way back. And I mean, waaaaaay back. Check out the words that founding father John Adams penned in his diary in 1774: “Phyladelphia with all its trade and wealth and regularity, is not Boston. The morals of our people are much better; their manners are more polite and agreeable; they are purer English. Our language is better, our taste is better, our persons are handsomer; our spirit is greater, our laws are wiser, our religion is superior, our education is better. We exceed them in every thing, but in a market, and in charitable public foundations.’’

Not bad, eh? Our second president trashing Philly.

When the Bruins and Flyers faced off at the Wachovia Center just after 8 last night, the series was headed in one of two directions. Either the Bruins would be coming into a rival city to cut out the hearts of the fans (like the Celtics in Cleveland Tuesday night) . . . or they were going to lose another one and heap one billion pounds of pressure on their own backs. No one in Black and Gold was looking forward to the prospect of coming back to the Garden tomorrow night in hopes of avoiding abject embarrassment.

I came here expecting haunts and taunts from brotherly Philadelphia. I pored through the local dailies, looking for shots at Boston, possibly reminders that the Bruins were in danger of becoming only the fourth team in the history of sports to blow a 3-0 series lead.

There wasn’t much in the papers.

The Philadelphia Daily News was Michael Leighton-centric. The back page of the tabloid featured a photo of the Flyers goalie at home with his wife and two daughters. A pair of feature stories inside were headlined, “Leighton wants to make himself at home,’’ and “Flyers confident about Leighton.’’ Readers were treated to a complete life-and-times of the now-starting goalie.

The Philadelphia Inquirer went with the theme of coming back from 3-0 with a piece headlined, “Briere: ‘Why not us?’ ’’

“With everything we’ve gone through this year, we never quit,’’ said Daniel Briere. “Why not? Why not us? Why not our turn now? I really believe that if there’s a team that can definitely do it, it’s us.’’

“Why not us?’’ That was a theme spoken by Curt Schilling when the Sox made their historic run in 2004. The Big Blowhard always believed the Sox had a chance to throw off the Curse and wore a “Why Not Us?’’ T-shirt throughout the playoffs. After the Sox won the World Series, the estimable Leigh Montville penned a book titled, “Why Not Us?’’

Folks in orange jerseys arrived early for Bruins-Flyers Game 6. Before the teams came out to skate, the early birds got to watch half of the first period of Montreal at Pittsburgh. The game was at the Igloo in Steeltown, but that didn’t stop Montreal from filling the Bell Centre to watch Game 7 on the video board (I wonder if the Zamboni cleans the ice between periods, just to, you know, make it feel like you’re really at the game?).

Back in Philly, just before they dropped the puck, the big board at the Wachovia Center featured grainy footage of the late, great Kate Smith singing “God Bless America.’’ The tradition started in the late 1960s as an answer to Vietnam War protests. Kate turned out to be a good-luck charm for the Flyers. Old-time Bruins fans might remember Phil Esposito shaking hands with Kate before the Bruins lost Game 6 in the ’74 Finals.

Smith also sang at the Spectrum in 1975 when the Flyers played the Islanders — the very same New York team that came back to beat the Penguins after trailing, 3-0. Ex-Bruin-turned-Islander Eddie Westfall gave Kate flowers before one of the games of that series.

The message on the big board last night read, “We Will Make History.’’ Seconds after the puck dropped, it relayed the score in Pittsburgh, which showed the Canadiens leading the Penguins, 4-0.

At that point, the Bruins and Flyers knew they were playing with the prospect of having home ice in the conference finals. There was history to be made.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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