Philadelphia Flyers legend Bernie Parent hits the 3/4 century mark today, and he’s still as beloved in town as ever.
Well, nothing, but we can still fete him today on a milestone birthday in an extraordinary life. He’s the greatest Flyers player ever, sorry Mr. Clarke, and the main reason that the Flyers were able to capture consecutive Stanley Cups in the 1970’s. Those Bullies wouldn’t have paraded down Broad Street twice without a last line of defense that they knew would bail them out at every turn.
Parent’s 1973-74 and 1974-75 seasons are a stretch of goaltending that might be unmatched in NHL history. In addition to the two Cups, Bernie won the Vezina Trophy as top goalie and the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in both years. His cumulative regular season record during those two years was 91-27-21 (remember ties?) with a miniscule 1.96 Goals Against Average.
And he also set the record for goalie wins in a season with 47, a mark that stood for over 30 years and was only ever topped because of the abomination that is the shootout, which serves to arbitrarily add to a goalie’s win total while giving them an unfair statistical edge over players like Bernie Parent who only ever played in regular season games that ended in regulation. But I digress.
The on-ice greatness of Bernie Parent was shortened due to an eye injury, which had a dual effect. It deprived him of accumulating the kind of numbers that would have him mentioned in the conversation of “greatest goaltender of all-time”, a place where he was certainly headed if he played past the age of 33. And it also led him down the road of alcohol abuse, a battle which he’s been extremely candid about and managed to overcome.
Through it all, he’s never stopped being a fan favorite for generations of hockey fans in the area. Because of that, Bernie’s autographs probably aren’t even worth any more than the paper they’re imprinted on, as he’s signed scores of them over the years for any and every giddy hockey fan who comes his way. They are not rare, and therefore aren’t very “collectible” compared to signatures from other athletes.
But this isn’t a bad thing. There is nothing elusive about Bernie; he’s a man who knows that the fans are the reason for his legendary status, and he has done all he could to give that kindness back. If it means a simple autograph or exchanging a few words, Bernie will always give it because he knows how much these things mean to people.
When he donned the pads one last time on January 31, 2011 for the team’s alumni game against the New York Rangers, it was for the fans. There was such immense pressure for Bernie to play that he essentially had to. And he deservedly heard the chants of “Bernie! Bernie!” from the fans who had seen him hoist the Cup so many years ago and from ones who weren’t even born yet when he played his final NHL game. Such is his all-encompassing, cross-generational greatness.
He’s my all-time favorite athlete, and I never even saw him play an actual game in person. But, having met the man, I’m content in the knowledge that I made a good choice.
Few contemporary athletes have gotten the kind of reverential treatment in this town that Bernie has. Probably Chase Utley. Brian Dawkins, yes. And maybe their mystique will grow even more in decades to come like Bernie’s has.
But no one, and I mean no one, will have the lifelong love affair that Bernie Parent has had with Philadelphia. From bringing a fledgling franchise its first title (then another) and becoming its first Hall of Famer to settling down locally and turning into a fixture in the community for over three decades since, it seems to me that Bernie lives every second thinking about how fortunate he was to play the game of hockey, to play for the Flyers, and to play in front of these fans.
There is no doubting the reciprocal relationship between Bernie Parent and the fans of Philadelphia. It’s been a beautiful thing for a long time, and it continues to be strong today as a legendary player and person turns 75 years old.
Bernie Parent will always be #1, in every possible way.