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Broad Street Bullies on HBO: Philadelphia Flyers Were Hockey Pornography in the 1970s

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In the television documentary Broad Street Bullies, the former goalie Bobby Taylor smiles at images of his Philadelphia Flyers from the 1970s.

"We all looked like porn stars with the long hair and the Fu Manchus,'' Taylor says.

Taylor is partly right. But it was not the appearance of the Flyers that suggested a rating of XXX. It was their behavior.

Those brawling Flyers used their sweaty bodies (especially their fists) in a crude and base way that degraded their culture.

Sometimes, they did it as a gang and it gained them money and fame and two Stanley Cup championships. It's all there on film.

The current Flyers are in the second round of the National Hockey League playoffs. They could be eliminated Monday night by the Boston Bruins.

Or, they could win another Cup to go with the pair they hijacked in 1974 and 1975.

Come what may this spring, Flyers' fans and foes can reflect upon a sordid and significant episode of sports history with Broad Street Bullies this month in heavy rotation on HBO.

Amid highlights of violence, the old Bullies discuss their thoughts on team effort, civic pride, male bonding and all the usual hooks found in retrospectives about successful professional teams.

The filmmakers include conversations with and about Flyers who had exquisite hockey talent, like center Bobby Clarke and goalie Bernie Parent.

But discussing puck skill in a show about the Broad Street Bullies is like interviewing Hell's Angels about motorcycles or asking Linda Lovelace about camera angles, lighting and dialogue.

Perhaps the Bullies were a perfect team for a decade during which Lovelace, in Deep Throat, helped sex films evolve from "vice'' into mainstream entertainment.

That whole era was a bad hangover from the 1960s as politics descended into Watergate and the sense grew that rules and good taste no longer mattered.

The Flyers were true to this mood in a hockey environment polluted by speculators who expanded the NHL and started the World Hockey Association.

The promiscuous spread of the sport created an unsustainable inflation that mirrored the financial one that jolted wages and prices in the American economy.

In 1974-75, when the Flyers reigned, the two circuits combined for 32 "major league'' teams, two more than the current NHL has 35 years later.

Back then, the Canada-focused NHL still avoided most Europeans and Americans. In this closed shop, the Spectrum was a hiring hall for Canadian goons.

The documentary shows Philly's Dave (the Hammer) Schultz mugging opponents, including those who did not wish to fight. See him pull their hair!

Perhaps the best of many telling details is the brief film clip of Clarke skating by Boston's Bobby Orr, who is sprawled on the ice. Clarke's skate kicks Orr in the head. Oops!

Other tactics shown include bench-clearing brawls and "third-man-in'' fighting that forced the league, under legal pressure, to change its rules to clean up its image.

Near the end, "Broad Street Bullies'' examines the Flyers' 4-1 victory over Central Red Army of the Soviet Union on Jan. 11, 1976 and includes some of the tactics they used.

But an older documentary "Conflict on Ice,'' reveals more about the Flyers' methods that day and why the Soviet left the ice briefly in protest.

"Conflict'' shows Valeri Kharlamov, the great Russian forward, skating with Clarke in pursuit. As Clarke trails his superior opponent, he hits him four times with his stick.

This act is ignored by the NHL referee, as are elbows to Soviet heads by Bill Barber and other acts of illegal but unpenalized intimidation.

One seen in both films is the brutal hit of Kharlamov by Andre (Moose) Dupont that led to the Soviet walkout. In "Bullies,'' Dupont explains: "He ran into my elbow with his chin.''

A third and perhaps better film about the era is Slap Shot, Paul Newman's fictional feature from 1977 about a minor-league hockey team that wins with goons.

Slap Shot, one of Hollywood's great burlesques, is a funhouse mirror reflection of the true ugliness of the actual Broad Street Bullies.

In a meta moment late in Slap Shot, during the victory parade along a rundown street in a dying downtown, the movie marquee above the cars touts, alas, Deep Throat.

Ah, memories. Near the close of "Broad Street Bullies,'' the graying Parent speaks amid syrupy strings as the filmmakers try for a wistful effect of an old man reflecting on wild youth.

"Sometimes,'' Parent says, "you look back and say 'Was it real?'" Unfortunately, for hockey, the answer is yes. They played really dirty. For real.

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