News of Ed Snider’s passing came quickly. The very private health battle he was fighting for months now only became public in the past fews weeks.
The image of anthem singer Lauren Hart FaceTiming with the Flyers’ owner on Saturday afternoon shed a new light on his battle. His Flyers’ were on the verge of qualifying for the playoffs, and the fact he wasn’t there to witness it was enough to tell all just how sick he was.
It surely was serious.
Snider was one of a kind and bigger than life. No, he was bigger than that. After he fell in love with hockey in the 1960s, he cobbled together a group to buy one of the six NHL expansion franchises in 1966. His name has always appeared on the masthead of his hockey team from that day forward. And while in recent years he wasn’t the majority owner of the club, he was always perceived as the owner. He wore ownership well. It fit him like the finely tailored suits he loved.
He was a visionary for Philadelphia and for the NHL. He believed in his city and his team. On so many levels, he never wanted his city to live in the shadow of New York. The best way Snider could do that was to build a model franchise, not just in hockey but in all of pro sports. He built two generations of arenas for his city. First the Spectrum, and then in the mid 1990s, the now Wells Fargo Center.
Snider was an active owner. Tired of seeing his team being pushed around on the ice, it was his vision for the the Broad Street Bullies that changed the fortunes of the Flyers. He put his faith in Fred Shero, Bobby Clarke, Gary Dornhoefer, Dave Schultz, Don Saleski, Orest Kindrachuk, and Bernie Parent.
They repaid him with back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 1974 and 1975. Those teams and Mr Snider became synonomous with their city, and that brand of hockey. And the loyalty we spoke of? Every Flyer from every team always glowed about “Mr Snider.”
He treated his players like they were his own children. And they treated him like a surrogate father. Who can forget his tirades against the league, and its officials? He would fight for his team, and his players, just as he felt they did for him on the ice.
Snider was a big voice in the NHL and beyond. He believed in the value of television and connecting with the fanbase. With Cable TV in its infancy, he built a thing called “Prism.” It was movies, sports, concerts and almost everything that went on at the Spectrum.
He understood the 500-channel universe was on its way, and he was on the cutting edge. In the board rooms, he became a driving force for protecting the value of the NHL brand. He was the leader of a group that took on long-time hockey rights holder, Molson, in the mid-1980s, calling for an open market, and more competition for television rights in both Canada and the United States.
Snider also had a giant vision beyond hockey. He was a driving force in creating an arena management company, in cities big and small, that could compete for concerts and other events, as well as creating efficiencies in running the buildings. And while he started his career in an analogue world, Snider became an advocate of a digital one.
He believed in Gary Bettman, and became one of the commissioner’s sounding boards. He certainly had national vision, but he never forgot the Delaware Valley. He never forgot the Flyers were the engine that drove the machine.
He wanted to win every game, every season. And when his Flyers didn’t, he wore it on his sleeve.
Fans in Philadelphia knew he wanted to win. The players knew he wanted to win. The rest of the league knew he wanted to win.
As the Flyers enter their 50th season of NHL play, there will be a bittersweet feeling that Mr. Snider will not be there to celebrate it. He loved his hockey team. But long after his passing, every person who has had contact with the man, every player who has donned the the orange and black sweater will always think Ed Snider still owns the Flyers.
Always did. Always will.
He was a Philadelphia Original.