By Kenny Ayres
Special to Philadelphia Flyers.com
Jay Greenberg sat in the second row of the Flyers press box, his thin, green legal pad tucked underneath his folded arms as he chatted leisurely with Mark Howe during the second intermission of the Flyer’s game against Vancouver last month.
It is a familiar sight. During his 14 years on the Flyers beat from 1975-89, Greenberg earned his living by talking to Howe and other players, carefully questioning the events of the night’s game before retiring to his home, where he would meticulously craft his story until the early hours of the morning, finishing just in time for his piece to make the afternoon newspaper.
A lot has changed since then. The arena where those pre and post-game talks took place has been a parking lot since 2009, none of the players on those teams have suited up in years, and Mark Howe, among other Flyers, has gone on to become a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Today, so too will Greenberg.
For his diligent and widely admired coverage of the Flyers during those 14 years, as well as his continued hockey coverage for Sports Illustrated, the Toronto Sun and the New York Post, Greenberg was chosen the recipient of the Elmer Ferguson Award this past summer, and will be enshrined in Toronto’s media wing of the Hall of Fame among the greatest of scribes and announcers to cover the sport.
“It’s a tremendous honor,” said Greenberg, now a staff writer for PhiladelphiaFlyers.com. “It’s a lifetime achievement award really. I actually ended up being a general sports columnist for longer than I was a hockey guy, and yet people still remember me as a hockey writer. It’s just nice that I didn’t slip through the cracks because I was doing other things. The people who vote on the award remember the job I did, and that’s very rewarding. [And] these are people that knew me and respected my work, so it means that much more.”
Also meaningful to Greenberg is the company he is joining in the Hall of Fame. Many of the Elmer Ferguson Award winners that preceded him had great influences on Greenberg’s career and ascent as a hockey writer.
“Red Fisher talked to me when I called him for the first time when I got the Kansas City Scouts beat in 1974,” Greenberg said. “Frank Orr in Toronto, he was really well established, and we became very good friends. Tim Moriarty of Newsday. I’m going up on the wall with those people, and it means a lot.”
Greenberg grew up in Johnstown, Pa. just about 90 miles from Pittsburgh. Although he was a Penguins fan, it was not NHL hockey that got him interested in the sport.
“[Johnstown] had a minor league team, at the time it was the Jets,” Greenberg said. “So ten years old, there I was, there wasn’t too much else to do in Johnstown, so that’s how I became a hockey fan.”
As he got older, he decided to mix his love for hockey with his passion for journalism. Just three weeks removed from graduating from the University of Missouri, Greenberg landed his first gig, and a big one at that.
“I started at the Kansas City Star on the day that the city was awarded an NHL franchise, and two years later, when they started to play, I got the beat,” Greenberg recalled. “They did it strictly on seniority, so they asked everyone on the staff who had no interest in hockey, and I was just counting them down one by one until they got to me. I was just dying to do it.”
It turned out that he only covered the Scouts for one year before he got the big break that would end up leading him to a Hall of Fame career. In 1975, Greenberg joined The Philadelphia Bulletin as the Flyers beat writer. It couldn’t have come at a better time. The Flyers had just won two Stanley Cups, and were the most dominant team in hockey.
“I certainly got the flavor of the Broad Street Bullies. It was fun, I was coming from covering an expansion team in Kansas City and one year later, I’m covering the Stanley Cup champions. It was a little intimidating too because it was a much more competitive newspaper town…I spent the first year dreading picking up the other papers the next day to see what I missed and they had. I didn’t really begin to relax much until the second year.”
For 14 years he covered the team for The Philadelphia Bulletin and Philadelphia Daily News and saw it all—from triumph and tragedy.
“The Russian game was the most charged atmosphere I have ever been at [during] a sporting event,” Greenberg said. “Nothing close to that. Because of the political overtones and just how much pressure was on the Flyers to win that day, that was an amazing, amazing event.
“[Pelle] Lindbergh’s death, from a work standpoint, was the hardest week of my life because the workload was just enormous, and I was really fond of Pelle. There was no time to mourn, just had to keep working and working and working. That was really hard. And then they win the first game afterwards and they’re playing the Oilers, and that was a really emotional thing and absolutely memorable.”
When Greenberg left Philadelphia in 1989, he stayed covering hockey for two years for Sports Illustrated, before moving onto the Toronto Sun for two years and then as a general sports columnist for the New York Post for 17 years.
In 1996, Greenberg completed work on Full Spectrum: The Complete History of the Philadelphia Flyers Hockey Club. Written for the Flyers’ 30th Anniversary season of 1996-97, the book covered period from when the idea of the team was first conceived in 1965 until the end of the 1995-96 season, the Flyers’ last in the Spectrum before moving to the Wells Fargo Center. The book remains the most complete history of the Flyers that’s ever been published.
Now, in his fourth decade of writing, Greenberg is back writing about hockey in Philadelphia in addition to producing content for the Princeton football website and writing a column for the New York Jets website. Greenberg recently started working on an updated edition of Full Spectrum, which is scheduled for release in the Flyers’ 50th Anniversary season of 2016-17. He’s also penning a regular column for Philadelphiaflyers.com.
“I am [busy] but I’m having a good time and everything I’m doing now I’m enjoying, which is great at this stage of the game,” Greenberg said. “I’m not having to do a lot of stuff I don’t want to.”
He is also celebrating his recent release of Mark Howe’s autobiography, titled “Gordie Howe’s Son,” which he wrote alongside the former Flyer. It is a piece that particularly resonates with Greenberg, and draws up some fond memories.
“Perhaps because I joined the beat a little nearer the end of the Broad Street Bullies run than the beginning, the teams of Mark's era probably have a deeper connect with me since I watched them grow up and reach two Stanley Cup Finals. Greenberg said. “Very eventful and moving years while Mark was the Flyers' best player.”
As Greenberg sits carefully writing in the Flyers press box, back in the spot that led him to the Hall of Fame alongside the very best in his profession, it is evident the legacy he wants to leave behind.
“I think I’m giving away a little of my speech here,” Greenberg said with a smile.” But it got back to me once that Bob Clarke once said about me ‘I can tell how hard he tries on every story’ and coming from the hardest ‘tryer’ who ever lived, that compliment means a great deal to me…[I want it to be remembered] that I reported well and that I told it interestingly, including with some humor. That’s what I always tried to do.”
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