They lugged the Stanley Cup down a quiet residential street in Warminster on Sunday. Carefully, NHL officials carried the trophy into a home, placing it on a coffee table, not too far from the homemade braciole.
And there, sports’ greatest prize glistened, its shine matched only by the smile of the guy who had won it twice. It was “Weekend at Bernie’s,” and the greatest goalie in Flyers history was being honored.
“Some fun, eh?” said Bernie Parent, again and again, as he posed for pictures with a few dozen close friends and family members. “Brings back great memories.”
A little background: Since 1995, every player on the NHL’s title team gets to possess the Cup for a day or two. It’s been carried up mountains and dropped into swimming pools. Players have filled it with champagne and had their infants christened in it.
But that custom hadn’t started when Bernie led the Flyers to titles in 1974 and ’75. Lest you forget, he was playoff MVP both seasons, with an otherworldly 1.96 goals-against average.
Recently, some smart minds at the league decided that legendary players from the past deserved their personal day with Lord Stanley. The NHL Network saw programming opportunity, too.
“We held a meeting to decide who would go first,” said Dave Stubbs, a columnist and historian for NHL.com. “It was quickly agreed there could be no better standard-bearer than Bernie.”
He’s right, of course. Bernie isn’t just one of hockey’s all-time goalies. He’s also the most gracious superstar you’ll ever meet. I’ve seen him charm waitresses, enthrall children and leave grown men in awe. He never declines a charity request, nor leaves a fan feeling like an imposition.
So Sunday began with a 9 a.m. visit to see patients at St. Christopher’s Hospital. The kids may not have known exactly who Bernie Parent was, but he brought a Santa Claus cheer to the wards.
With a camera crew in tow, Bernie and his delightful wife, Gini, then stopped by the SPCA, where a puppy got to sit atop the Cup for a picture. They headed to South Philly, delighting surprised patrons at Pat’s and Geno’s. It was on to a youth hockey game, and then a visit to Bernie’s statue down at the Wells Fargo Center.
It was a long day. By the time the Cup got back to Bernie’s mother-in-law’s house in Warminster, the five-time all-star was pooped. Bernie’s been fighting a pain that runs down his back for a few months, and I could tell he was struggling at the end of the day.
Still, he smiled and embraced everyone as a parade of friends came inside for their chance to pose with the Cup and wolf down Mrs. Gramaglia’s wonderful food. And Bernie hung in to play the consummate host, telling stories about his mentor, Jacques Plante, and flashing those two diamond rings he earned for his brilliance.
Professional athletes pass through our city by the hundreds. Some get to contribute to winning teams, and we remember them for that. It’s hard to come up with anyone who brought more victories than Bernie.
A smaller number really connect with fans – guys like Brian Dawkins and Julius Erving; Chase Utley and Charles Barkley. I call that group the Truly Beloveds. And Bernie Parent plays backup to no one on that list.
It was great to see him honored by the NHL all these years later. It was wonderful to see his wife’s pride and his friends’ excitement. The NHL Network crew on hand Sunday wasn’t sure yet when and how the day will be presented on TV, but I’ll keep you posted.
And trust me, when Bernie beams that big smile on TV, you’ll be doing the same at home.