On home ice, during the first Wells Fargo Center game of the Flyers season against the San Jose Sharks, the newly-minted legend of Gritty — its wild-eyed orange beardo mascot — got blunted by the bludgeoning the Flyers took at the hands and sticks of the Sharks, 8-2.
This was the mascot’s glorious debut, not the jokes from September at Gritty’s expense, courtesy late-night television hosts such as Jimmy Fallon, John Oliver and Conan O’Brien, or comparisons to the burnt umber Trump from anti-fascist protesters during the president’s recent visit to Philadelphia. Who let who down in this scenario?
“F— Gritty,” yelled more than one all-in-orange fan when questioned.
“Don’t blame Gritty — he’s cool,” said an anonymous bootleg Gritty T-shirt salesman near the Sports Complex subway entrance. “It’s Hakstol’s fault,” said the vendor, referencing head coach Dave Hakstol, perhaps for not strengthening the defense.
“I can’t stand that they named him Gritty,” said Evan Gusz of South Philly. “As a city, our sports teamed earned the reputation of being gritty. It wasn’t contrived or thought up in a marketing meeting. It just happened. Now the Flyers have taken our well-earned rep, slapped it on this fictional character, and forced it into our lives. They turned our identity into a bad joke, a caricature of Philly sports.”
Passionate opinions, right? And certainly Gritty did everything to win your favor during a lousy home game. The orange wonder came down from the Wells Fargo rafters Miley Cyrus “Wrecking Ball” style. He twerked for the Dance Cam. He played with the Flyers’ Mites on Ice team, poking the young players with a stick.
But get this — from the second the game ended, through the subway ride home, no one relived goalie Brian Elliott’s missteps or those of a lame defense: all everyone was doing was talking Gritty, reading tweets about Gritty (“he’s a mess, but people love him,” read one woman on the Broad Street line), and thinking about Gritty.
Love or hate Gritty, at least he keeps it real
Flyers VP of Marketing, Joe Heller claims that the real Gritty — boy, girl, non-binary per my query — is built for all levels of fandom and appreciation. “Never did we think the public’s support and embrace of Gritty would come so quickly,” said Heller. “We were prepared to handle bumps in the road over the course of several weeks … but between the memes, the late-night talk show hosts, and the comparison to the president, how could you know? We’re just staying cognizant of all fan feedback, and positioning Gritty for further opportunities to be embraced.”
Yet, does Gritty represent the city at its core, not just sports, but who we are deep down? “Yes,” claims Heller when I mention that Philly is known for not taking guff. “Gritty has shot back at other mascots on social media for laughing at him. We wanted to shape Gritty after and for our fans, especially the younger ones, as a symbol of earning and getting respect.”
David Raymond, the original Phillie Phanatic for the Phillies (from its birth in 1978 until 1994), and a consultant on mascot and character branding (including Gritty) knows a thing or two about representing what and who this city is at heart.
Mention the Gritty slip on the ice heard round the world or the Trump comparisons, and Raymond laughs about the immediacy and power of the media, social and otherwise. “The Gritty birth proves that no matter where you are or what you do you are just one good or bad decision away from becoming known around the world.”
And, in terms of Flyers fans and city dwellers relating to Gritty, Raymond has a swift answer. “The Flyers have a long tradition of building gritty and determined hockey players, but nothing overcomes the passion of their fans,” said Raymond, who currently runs Raymond Entertainment. “Gritty is the physical embodiment of that passion. He is a living, breathing, branding creature. Our beautiful city rivals any city in the nation. We are a mixture of all shapes, sizes, colors and religions. We birthed this nation and Gritty. We also love beards.”