If Bobby Clarke was the heart and soul of the Flyers’ pair of 1970s Stanley Cup champions, then Joe Watson was their voice and conscience.
Clarke, 24 when the Flyers won their first title on May 19, 1974, captained the Broad Street Bullies and mostly led by example.
Watson, six years his elder, had already played 146 NHL games (73 for his original team, the Boston Bruins, and 73 for the Flyers) the day Clarke showed up at the Spectrum in 1969.
So when it came time for the good cop, bad cop routine to get the Flyers out of a slump, Clarke would send alternate captain Watson down to “rally the troops’’ so to speak.
The defenseman didn’t mind getting right into the faces of bad boys like Dave “The Hammer’’ Schultz, Andre “Moose’’ Dupont and Don “Big Bird’’ Saleski.
It was all for the good of the team and made Watson practically as valuable to the cause as Bernie Parent, Bill Barber, Rick MacLeish and Reggie Leach.
“Clarkie would come over to where I was sitting,’’ recalled Watson, 77, who retired this past week after 54 years with the Philadelphia organization. “He would come over to me and say, ‘Joe, I want you to say a few words about this and that.’
“I said, ‘OK.’ I used to ruffle some feathers. But that’s what he wanted me to do and he was our leader.’’
Watson said the Flyers weren’t the most talented team to ever win a Cup but accomplished the ultimate prize by outworking other teams.
At the center of it all was Watson with his booming voice and side-splitting laugh. He could even bring a smile to the dour countenance of one Mr. Fred Shero, the coach who led this all-Canadian cast (the last Stanley champ with that distinction).
Joe said he inherited the opera-level voice from his father, Joe Watson, Sr. The elder Watson, also dad to Joe’s five-time NHL All-Star brother Jimmy, could shout almost clear across the Canada province of British Columbia from his hometown of Smithers.
There was one night when Joe Sr., a logger and a butcher by trade, flew in from B.C. to see the brothers compete in a playoff game.
He arrived at the Spectrum security entrance and tried to amble through the door. When the guard asked to see his pass, Mr. Watson roared: “Pass? I don’t need a pass. My two sons play for this hockey team!’’
Joe Jr. cackled with laughter when he heard this story retold.
“I grew up in northern British Columbia and there were more wild game than people,’’ Watson said. “To get anybody’s attention, you had to holler and scream. I guess that’s how I got that booming voice.’’
While Jimmy is considered one of the top four defensemen in Flyers history (along with Mark Howe, Eric Desjardins and Kimmo Timonen), Joe had his moments, too.
Like the January, 1976 4-1 win over the Soviet Red Army, when the light-scoring defenseman put a puck past Hall of Fame goalie Vladislav Tretiak, prompting Shero to quip that “it set back Russia hockey 25 years!’’
Watson never backed down from a challenge and never took no for an answer.
Another Broad Street Bully, Bill Clement, says Watson epitomized what it meant to be a Flyer.
“I don’t think any player has ever played with greater pride for the Flyers’ logo than Joe. To this day he is still totally invested in the Flyers. He cares,’’ said Clement, who also recently retired after 50 years as a player and TV hockey analyst. “No opposing player ever out-competed Joe. He was relentless.
“Joe helped so many of us younger players by encouraging us. During games there was no mistaking his voice. Always the loudest and the refs often took a verbal beating.
“You always knew where Joe stood on any subject. To this day, he hasn’t changed. What you see is what you get. Our world would be a better place if it was full of Joe Watsons.’’
The stories about the Watson family dynamic seem bigger than life.
There was another time when Joe Sr. called hours before a game and told his son, without prior announcement, that he was planning to attend an afternoon playoff match.
One problem: He didn’t have a ticket. Joe Jr. placed a call to owner Ed Snider, who couldn’t help with a ticket, so he offered Joe Sr. a seat in his private box.
So Joe Sr. showed up in his work clothes, complete with rubber boots dappled with some rather, shall we say, ill-smelling cow excrement.
Here he sat, in between Snider, Kate Smith and then-mayor Frank Rizzo, with general manager Keith Allen another seat over.
After the game, Joe Sr. hurried down to the Flyers’ locker room to help celebrate.
“He gave me a hug and I said ‘oh my god, dad, you stink,’ ’’ Watson said with a chuckle. “You got to have a shower.
“So the old man takes his stuff off, goes running in the shower with the players. All the guys didn’t know who the heck he was!’’
Watson says the synergy on the Flyers was all it was touted to be. Those post-game dinners/beers at South Jersey restaurant Rexy’s really brought the team together. No 20 guys, 20 taxis here.
When Shero wrote “Win today and we walk together forever’’ on his office blackboard prior to Game 6 of the ’74 Finals, he meant it.
“Even the guys from Pennsylvania like me would go over there (Rexy’s) for an hour,’’ Watson said. “We were a close-knit team and that had a lot to do with our success.’’
Watson’s playing career ended in 1978, shortly after a requested trade to Colorado (he didn’t want to be a part-time player in Philly), when he suffered a badly broken leg.
Snider visited him in a St. Louis hospital and told him to come back to the Flyers. Watson stayed for another 40 years, working in scouting, player evaluation, marketing and ticket sales.
“Ed said, ‘This wouldn’t have happened if you had stayed with us!’+’’ Watson said. “He added, ‘We want you to come back and work in the organization.’ ’’
He did just that, which is only what you would expect of a natural-born Broad Street Bully.