Glen Macnow: Gritty-mania just a distraction for Flyers fans

Philadelphia Flyers NHL Gritty
Philadelphia Flyers' mascot Gritty sitting in the bleachers with fans during a game. (Photo: Getty Images)

Sometimes a columnist must take an unpopular stance. Sometimes you stand alone and face the fury. 

And while what this essay won’t qualify me for “Profiles in Courage,” I know it will fill my Twitter feed with memes of old men shaking their fists at clouds, and Clint Eastwood ordering teens off his lawn.

But here goes.

I hate Gritty. I loathe the Flyers new mascot, which resembles a Muppet on meth. I cringe at his manginess, what he represents and – mostly – how he has quickly become the biggest public focus of a once-proud franchise.

So sue me.

When Gritty emerged from the ectoplasm last month, fans were repulsed. For a day, local media was abuzz with condemnation of this google-eyed monstrosity.

Gritty immediately went viral. Comics like Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert made him the butt of jokes. “Good Morning America” featured him tripping ass-first on the ice and shooting arena workers in the back with a T-shirt gun.

Instantly, the local mood flipped. As outsiders ridiculed Gritty, we embraced him. It was the embodiment of Jason Kelce’s, “No one likes us and we don’t care.” If the world mocked our deranged Delco cousin, we needed to defend him. Hard.

I don’t know if the Flyers marketing team foresaw this counter-reactive lovefest or just got lucky. But in 48 hours, their mascot shifted from being a shabby Halloween costume that might scare the kids to the lovable center of Flyerdom’s universe.

And there’s the rub. I’ll admit this cheesy Phanatic rip-off would bother me less if the Flyers were still excellent. But they’re not. A recent study by the analytics website 538.com found them to be pro sports’ most consistently mediocre franchise over the past five years.

They’ve failed to advance past the first round of the playoffs since 2012 and made just one serious Cup run in 13 seasons. Their coach, Dave Hakstol, is a somnambulant scarecrow and their general manager, Ron Hextall, was the last star goalie wearing orange-and-black.

Perhaps Hextall’s building-block youngsters mature this season. Perhaps the Flyers again become a contender. But they haven’t looked it during a 2-3 start, especially in an 8-2 blowout loss in the home opener.

Fans and media should have been incensed after that humiliation. But the big story, at least on the website of the cable channel that airs the Flyers, focused on Gritty’s grand entrance into the arena on a swinging wrecking ball.

“Eat your heart out, Miley Cyrus,” it said. And, like with bread and circuses, the people were distracted from the real problems at hand – like goaltending or solid defense.

Hey, I get it. Sports is entertainment in the first place. I know nearly every NHL team employs a mascot, so why should the Flyers be different? And yes, they need to find someone besides those septuagenarian Broad Street Bullies to haul out for ribbon cuttings and charity events.

Like Joel Embiid, Carson Wentz and Gabe Kapler, Gritty is now the face of a Philadelphia franchise. He is the only reason the Flyers make Page 1 of the Inquirer. He’s on local news more than Claude Giroux and every teammate combined.

He is such a sensation that one local writer already penned a novel about his life. He’s been dragged into politics, as “Gritty hates Trump” signs appeared at a downtown protest. And, yeah, he’ll be the top-selling Halloween costume.

I’ve spoken my peace. So, tell you what — no more, “Get off my lawn” from me. Any kid at my door on Oct. 31 in a Gritty costume gets double the candy.

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