Patriotism and Hockey: The Story Behind the Stanley Cup Anthems

↵Mike Emrick has been busier than most announcers during the lead in to each game of the Stanley Cup finals this year. Most announcers get a brief respite during the live singing of our national anthem, but for the first three games, Emrick has been busy with pre-emptive clarifications of what the viewers at home were about to hear. ↵

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↵First, Emrick was quick to explain before the games in Chicago that – do not adjust your sets – fans cheer during the national anthem at the United Center. It's tradition, so if you think it's disrespectful (which some do), tough darts. That's what they do. ↵

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↵I'll be honest, when Emrick was explaining the concept before the Blackhawks began the song, I was totally against it. How dare one fan base disrespect the flag and the country and all that nonsense. It's un-patriotic. Then I watched and listened. It was incredible. It was absolutely fantastic. ↵

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↵Puck Daddy had a post earlier in the season that addressed the controversy, which led Wyshynski to suggest he finds the Chicago tradition inspiring. I'll take it one step further…everyone should do something like this. The song is played before sporting events not only to pay tribute to our country, but also to celebrate it. Why not cheer? Why not act rowdy – respectful to the words and meaning, but rowdy in a celebratory way – to commemorate your good ol' American patriotism? ↵

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↵If before the anthem in Chicago, Emrick had some explaining to do, think about when things moved to Philadelphia – Emrick had a totally different kind of explanation. He had to explain why they weren't singing the national anthem at all. Instead, as has become Flyers tradition since the 1970's, during big games the team played God Bless America. The rendition is traditionally sung by Kate Smith, who posthumously performed on the scoreboard while Lauren Hart did so in person. Smith, you see, is the Flyers good luck charm. ↵

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↵ ↵⇥ ↵⇥ ↵⇥ ↵⇥ ↵⇥ ↵⇥ ↵ ↵
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↵That video is from a playoff game last year, but it could be from any number of big home games for the Flyers dating back to the early 70's. While Emrick briefly explained the history before Thursday's game, there were some folks online who didn't quite understand why the Flyers bucked tradition by not having someone sing the Star Spangled Banner. Here's the story behind Kate Smith's spine-chilling rendition of God Bless America: ↵

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↵⇥When the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team played her rendition of "God Bless America" before their game on December 11, 1969, an unusual part of [Smith's] career began. The team began to play the song before home games every once in awhile; the perception was that the team was more successful on these occasions, so the tradition grew. ↵⇥

↵⇥At the Flyers' home opener against the Toronto Maple Leafs on October 11, 1973, she made a surprise appearance to perform the song in person and received a tremendous reception. The Flyers won that game by a 2-0 score. ↵⇥

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↵⇥She again performed the song at the Spectrum in front of a capacity crowd of 17,007 excited fans before Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals on May 19, 1974, in which the Flyers clinched their first of two back-to-back Stanley Cups, winning that playoff series against the Boston Bruins 4 games to 2, with Bernie Parent shutting the Bruins out 1-0 in that game. ↵⇥

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↵That'd surely create a tradition. Smith reprised her appearance the following year in game seven of the semifinals, helping the Flyers defeat the Islanders en route to another Cup. The legend continued to grow. In 1976, though, Smith was no match for the Canadiens, who swept the Flyers out of the Stanley Cup Finals (Smith sang before game four). ↵

↵Smith is so important to the Flyers history that they erected a statue of her outside the Spectrum the year after she passed. And, following their game three victory over the Blackhawks in this year's Stanley Cup Finals, the Flyers are a remarkable 86-22-4 when God Bless America is played before the game. ↵

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↵As for Smith's singing partner, Hart is a recording artist in the Philadelphia area and the daughter of legendary Flyers and NHL Hall of Fame announcer Gene Hart. The elder Hart, who passed away in 1999, was the first announcer the Flyers ever had and quite possibly the nicest and most learned man you'd ever have the chance to meet. The performances by Lauren – and her work in the arena on game day – are a continuation of the family's involvement with the franchise. Plus, she's got a pretty nice set of pipes, herself. ↵

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↵Is there an overlying point to all this? I suppose it would be to illustrate that, yes, we should respect our country, but that doesn't mean we all have to sing the same song and it doesn't mean we all have to stand in reverential silence. While the Star Spangled Banner is an American sports tradition, other traditions can be pretty cool too. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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