Superstitions are often just habits couched as something more important, ways of doing things that are about comfort more than guaranteeing success. But if there ever was a genuine superstition that had some teeth to it, something that one might actually say worked because it was a superstition, then Kate Smith singing “God Bless America” at Philadelphia Flyers home games was it.
The tradition began inauspiciously on December 11, 1969, at the behest of Flyers vicepresident Lou Scheinfield. He insisted a song other than the “Star-Spangled Banner” be played before the game, and Kate Smith’s recording of “God Bless America” was deemed best in the Spectrum. The Flyers beat Toronto that night, 6-3, and the legend began. It wasn’t until the home opener of the 1973-74 season started that Smith first performed the song live, resulting in another win over the Leafs, this a 2-0 gem.
KATE SMITH NHL Photo Gallery
Of course, the trick to such a superstition was to pick and choose games at which the song would appear. After all, if the team played it for every home game, the mystique would be shattered because no team wins every home game over the course of a season. That being said, Scheinfield didn’t pad the superstition by playing the song for weak teams at unimportant times. Indeed, Smith’s rendition was reserved for key playoff games or games against top rivals.
Smith’s health began to fade by the late 1970s and she passed away in 1986. The song was played less frequently during these years, and there were many years when it wasn’t played at all. However, in a new arena in the twenty-first century, Smith’s voice has made a comeback, thanks to the fancy scoreboards above centre ice. In 2007-08, for instance, the song was played nine times, and the Flyers had a very impressive 7-2-0 record in those games.
Kate Smith’s singing of “God Bless America” had a very real good-luck effect on the Philadelphia Flyers in the 1970s and beyond. (photo credit 1.4)
In all, Smith’s “God Bless America” has been played 102 times since that first occasion in 1969. Through all those years and roster changes and new opponents, the Flyers have an astounding 87-23-4 record. Not perfect, not a guaranteed win, but for a superstition, it’s pretty good. And for good luck and good measure, the Flyers recently unveiled a large bronze statue of Smith outside their arena so her memory, and fortuitous presence, would live on forever.