Clarke Still the Face
There has always been a special significance to the Philadelphia Flyers cup-winning teams. Obviously, any team that wins the Stanley Cup will be immortalized by the team's fans and the organization itself. But, the 'Broad Street Bullies' were a team that symbolized the blue collar work ethic of Philadelphia.
They were rude and crude and successful. They worked hard, they played hard. They were scrappy and talented, physical and fantastic.
When many think of the team who paved the way for the successes of the organization, one face comes to mind.
The face of Robert Earle Clarke and the gap-toothed grin that was sprawled on it.
Throughout the timeline of sports in Philadelphia, many great players have scored touchdowns, soared to highlight-reel dunks, and hit long and towering home runs.
Brian Dawkins, Chuck Bednarik, and Reggie White all come to mind for the Eagles.
Chase Utley, Mike Schmidt, and Steve Carlton are some favorite Phillies many have who follow the team.
Allen Iverson and 'The Doctor' Julius Erving are forever associated with the Sixers.
But Clarke (and to a lesser extent, Bernie Parent) stand on a different level. With the storied timeline of players the Flyers have had over the years, that's saying something.
The grin without teeth shows that something is missing, which is exactly what teams thought about Clarke in the 1969 NHL draft. The Flin Flon, Manitoba native was diagnosed with diabetes in his early teen years. At the time, few knew how to manage diabetes, and the risk of Clarke's health was a big turn-off.
Philadelphia gave him a home when others didn't want him. He made sure they didn't think twice.
His rap sheet of credentials is long and impressive, his style one that was unlike the rest. He punched and slashed, he assisted and scored.
To this day, the debate amongst Flyers fans about how much physicality is too much continues to burn. The face that embodies that time and the team that was guided by him is a linchpin in the debate.
As the game grows further and further away from the original 'Flyer way', the physicality will die down, as it should. But, no one will ever forget 'Clarkie.'
Despite his problems with Eric Lindros and his sharp demeanor while running the team as general manager, few take that into account when it comes to Clarke.
He is bigger than the footnotes on his page. He is bigger than the biggest names and faces that have been in orange and black.
As the Winter Classic and the alumni game that comes with it are front and center in the city's limelight, Clarke comes to the forefront again. It may well be the last time.
At this point, the legend is bigger than the man. While the game may change and he may fade to the background for good, one thing is clear.
Bobby Clarke is Flyers hockey. Whether or not anyone likes it, the gap-toothed grin will forever be the secondary logo of the Philadelphia hockey team.
Whether or not anyone likes it, he'll be there. Ironically, that's exactly how it was when he played.