A half-century later, Clarke still keeps first Cup in perspective

Bob Clarke (right) and Bernie Parent carry the Stanley Cup after the Flyers defeated the Boston Bruins in the 1974 Finals.

      When Bob Clarke woke up Sunday morning, he might have glanced at a clock and realized it was just a few hours away from the true 50th anniversary of the Flyers’ first Stanley Cup.

      It was exactly a half-century ago a band of young, mostly Canadian hockey players made their mark with an improbable Game 6 1-0 win over the mighty Boston Bruins at the old Spectrum.

      On a sunny afternoon, the Flyers grabbed the attention of the hockey world by becoming the NHL’s first expansion team to take home the big prize. They repeated the accomplishment in 1975 and might have won a third in 1976 if not for an injury to goaltender Bernie Parent.

      Not one for hyperbole or bombast, Clarke, a member of the Hall of Fame, said he had no plans for any big retrospectives on May 19, 2024 – certainly no party like they had back on May 19, 1974.

      “I’ll probably talk to all my kids,” Clarke said in a recent telephone interview. “Just normal stuff. It’s important to me and my teammates that we won but it was a long time ago and we still remember and enjoy it.”

      Along those lines, Clarke said he doesn’t keep any mementoes of the historic occasion.

      Not even the puck from that sudden-death overtime winner he scored in Game 2 at Boston?

      Many believe that was the turning point in the Flyers’ destiny. Until that moment, the Flyers were considered a somewhat formidable team but certainly not one capable of winning it all.

      Clarke puts that special moment in perspective. The common thought was he leaped in joy at having scored the deciding goal. But that wasn’t really the case.

       “The reason I jumped was to make sure they knew the puck was in,” he said with a chuckle. “There were a couple defensemen laying there. From my angle I knew it was in. As I’ve often said, if that goal – it’s the biggest goal I ever scored — but if we don’t win the series, it’s just an overtime win. It took the rest of the series, the other three games we won, to make that goal so important.”

      On the day of Game 6, the tip-in goal by (Rick) MacLeish, the amazing defense to keep (Bobby) Orr, (Phil) Esposito & Co. off the scoreboard, all led to that amazing celebration over the next few days.

      “If you were there, you never forget,” Clarke said. “If you’re a hockey player, it’s the biggest day of your life. In your life, you have children and other things that are more important than winning a Stanley Cup.

      “But if you’re a hockey player, winning the Stanley Cup is the biggest thing you’re ever going to do. You never forget that.”

      Somewhere in the video archives there’s the famous clip of Clarke, sporting a big toothless grin in the post-game celebration, winking at national TV cameras. The look almost suggested Clarke knew all along the Flyers were going to win this Stanley Cup and it was just a matter of execution.

      In fact, Clarke wasn’t exactly targeting a worldwide audience with his gesture.

      “Yeah,” he said, “I was probably winking at one of the players. I don’t know how it came across but I think I was just winking at one of our players to say ‘look, we did this.’ And we had.”

      The Flyers were just about the only people on Planet Hockey who thought they were good enough to pull this off.

      “We weren’t surprised,” Clarke said. “We had beaten a Rangers team that might have been considered the best one ever up to that time. We felt we could beat the Bruins. If you took Orr off that club, I thought we were better than them.

      “Orr was so much better than any other player at that time. He could have changed that series himself but we didn’t allow him to. Player for player, we were just younger. Their accomplishments – what Esposito did, (Wayne) Cashman, (Ken) Hodge – were pretty great but they didn’t have anybody better than (Hall of Famer Bill) Barber, I could play even with Esposito and they didn’t have as good a second-line center as MacLeish. There were areas that we were better than them.”

      Coach Fred Shero, considered the chief mastermind of this unlikely turn of events, gets credit for drawing up the blueprint to stopping the superstar Orr.

      “We were able to at least keep Orr in check for that series,” Clarke said. “The plan was to stay on him, tire him out and when you shut out a team like Boston in the last game, that’s a pretty good accomplishment.”

      Perhaps the most lasting memory took place on the streets of Philadelphia. An estimated two million people showed up for the joyous occasion.

      “We were all in cars,” Clarke noted. “We came out of the Spectrum parking lot, there were a lot of people there and you thought it was just going to open up until we got into the city. There were so many people, you just couldn’t imagine that happening at the parade.

      “It was just overwhelming to see that many people. We had no idea until that time that we had as big of an effect on the city until that parade.”

      As mentioned, Clarke doesn’t keep much to commemorate that big day back in 1974.

      “I’m not much of a collector,” he said. “It’s something I don’t need to be reminded of. I know every day we won the Cup.”

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About Wayne Fish 2452 Articles
Wayne Fish has been covering the Flyers since 1976, a stint which includes 18 Stanley Cup Finals, four Winter Olympics and numerous other international events.