The beginning of every hockey game starts with a playing of the national anthem. If you’re in America you will hear the “Star Spangled Banner” and maybe “Oh, Canada.” If you are in Canada you will hear “Oh, Canada” sung in either English or French. If you’re in Philadelphia, you may hear “God Bless America” sung by opera star Kate Smith.
Kate Smith is one of the Flyers’ greatest superstitions. She is known as one of the Flyers’ greatest luck charms as whenever she would sing “God Bless America” at the beginning of a game, the team typically won. Even today when a video of her singing during the 1974 Stanley Cup Final series is played, the luck continues. Although she has not lead the Flyers to winning every single game she has sung at, she has an outstanding record of 96 wins to 28 loses and 4 ties.
It was late 1969 when Flyers’ Vice President Lou Schienfield noticed that many fans were not standing for the playing of the National Anthem. Disheartened by the fans’ lack of respect for both the country and those who have fought, Lou set out to find a patriotic song to play to inspire the fans and get them on their feet. He chose Kate Smith’s rendition of Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America.”
According to Flyershistory.com, on December 11th, 1969, Smith’s version of “God Bless America” was first played in place of the “Star Spangled Banner.” The Flyers won 6-3 over the Toronto Maple Leafs that night. The following game did not feature the playing of the “God Bless America” and the Flyers lost. Giving Smith a another shot, the song was played on the Flyers’ Dec. 21st home game and the Flyers once again won 4-0 over Pittsburgh. From that point on, Kate Smith became a tradition of the Flyers.
President Ed Snider recalls, “We had a Vice President by the name Lou Schienfield, and on his own, without really talking to anybody, he noticed that there were people that were not standing for the National Anthem. So, he decided to play ‘God Bless America,’ Kate Smith’s recording, and everybody stood up. And of course we went on to win the game. So, I said to Lou, ‘Look, we won the game, so I never want to know when you’re doing it; just do it when you think you should.’ And he would pick specific games, play “God Bless America,” and our record was outstanding.”
Throughout the years, opposing teams came to learn that when Kate Smith sang, they were in trouble. Some even tried to jinx her. In 1974, the Broad Street Bullies (Flyers) finally made it to the Stanley Cup finals. It was game 6, and the Flyers knew that if they didn’t bring home the cup that night, they would have a terrible chance of winning up in Boston for a game 7. They pulled out all of the stops. They rolled out the red carpet for Smith as she sang before thousands of adoring fans.
Boston’s Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito weren’t ready to let the tradition continue though. They tried to jinx Smith by giving her flowers and shaking her hand, but nothing could stop the Flyers’ good luck charm. Even if it wasn’t pure luck, Kate’s voice sent more chills through her audience than the ice surface and roweled up both the team and the fans to create a winning atmosphere. The Flyers went on to beat Boston that night 1-0, and even the fans waiting outside swarmed the ice and refused to leave the building. Kate Smith had inspired the Flyers to victory once again.
In the following season, Kate Smith sang live again for game 7 of the semifinals against the New York Islanders. The Flyers won that game and went on to beat Buffalo in the finals. This was their second Stanley Cup win in a row. Later in life Smith went on to win the U.S. Medal of Freedom in 1982. Unfortunately, she began having trouble with diabetes and could not appear as often. In her last days, fans would visit her and sing “God Bless America” to honor her. Eventually she passed away on June 17, 1986.
One year later on October 8th, a statue of Smith was erected outside of the Spectrum. The statue was and 8-foot masterpiece made of bronze and created by New York sculptor Marc Mellon. Before important games, a video of Smith singing accompanies Lauren Hart in singing “God Bless America.” Hart is the daughter of Gene Hart, a famed radio and television announcer for the Flyer’s for 29 years. Gene Hart was also an opera expert who taught Lauren to use her voice. With Flyers’ hockey and opera running through her veins, Hart was born to continue Kate Smith’s tradition and help lead the Flyers onto victory. Still, no one will ever replace the legend that is Kate Smith as fans continue to cheer whenever her video appears on the scoreboard.