PHILADELPHIA – It’s easy to figure out why Steve Coates has been so popular with Flyers fans over the past 43 years.
The radio/TV analyst’s passion for the game was there on a nightly basis for all to see and hear over the airwaves.
In a couple short weeks, the 72-year-old Coates will be calling it a career and it’s safe to say he’s going to be missed by viewers, listeners, players, coaches, media and just about anyone connected to the orange and black.
So the Flyers put together a “Coatesy’s Last Call: 43 years” on Saturday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
It was a tribute to his many years of fine work over a span of multiple decades.
Prior to the game, Coates met with the media and admitted he’s going to miss being around hockey on a full-time basis.
He might have stayed a bit longer but due to failing vision in his right eye, he thought it best to step away now before the condition really affected his performance.
As soon as he announced his retirement, the congratulations and well-wishes came from far and wide.
“If you ever get depressed about where you are in your life, be with me the last week,” said Coates, who has covered more than 3,000 NHL games between radio and television. “Phones ringing off the hook, texts coming in by the minute.
“It’s really been surreal. If I can’t pinch myself everyday, I’ve got a problem. It’s been an absolute pleasure.”
Coates recalled his early stab at broadcasting after a brief NHL career.
“I was surprised I didn’t get fired the first day when I spilled coffee on (late broadcaster) Gene Hart and his notes,” Coates said with a smile. “I was off to a really good start.
“All of a sudden I was a rookie broadcaster in 1980, doing radio games with Gene. Hart, you could turn the game on and know what the score was. What a great way to start and to understand what it took to be a broadcaster for the Philadelphia Flyers.”
As for his vision issue and the impact it had on his performances, Coates said the retirement decision was made for him.
“To be honest, it was my decision,” he said. “But I had a reason for this to happen. I have a real problem with my right eye, I’ve had it for a long time and it’s not going to get any better.
“So I can’t see the game the way I would like to see it. Am I doing it? Yes, I’m doing it. But not the way I would like to be doing it. When I found out the eye wasn’t going to get any better three weeks ago, I told everybody ‘it’s time.’ That put me over the edge.”
Hockey is pretty much all Coates has known since he graduated Michigan Tech in the early ‘70s.
“Will I miss it? Yeah,” Coates said. “Somebody said would I miss it on the road? Yeah! That’s what it’s all about, the camaraderie, all the people you work with. Just the whole thought process.
“It’s been tough, all the (recent) losing. The emotional rollercoaster. But it’s still where everyone wants to be a Flyer.”
Coates said he never took his opportunity for granted.
“It’s not a right, it’s privilege,” he said. “If you had told me I was going to be a broadcaster for the Flyers for 40-some years. . .no chance. I feel so gratified by the whole thing but humbled at the same time.”
Ed Snider, the late founder and chairman of the Flyers, always promoted his team as one extended “family” and Coates felt very much a part of that ideal.
“I know it’s tough to talk about the Flyers with what’s happened the past few years,” Coates said. “But they’ve had some bad times before, the early ‘90s. So you can turn it around quick enough.
“It (the current struggles) doesn’t take away from the amount of years this was one of the premier franchises in the NHL. Only one team has been to more Stanley Cup Finals since 1967 than the Flyers and that’s the Montreal Canadiens. The culture and the players who have played here. . .there’s something special about being a Flyer.”