ST. LOUIS — It's hard to fathom what happened on Jan. 6, 1972 when you look at it from today's perspective. The brawl that erupted between the St. Louis Blues, fans of the Philadelphia Flyers and some of the city's police officers seems like a tall tale when told 50 years later.
But it happened, and the guys who were there have the first-hand stories prove it.
The incident started when Blues coach Al Arbour was upset about an incident in the game that led to a Flyers goal. He went to talk with the referees at the end of the second period.
It was then that the fans began throwing things and pouring beer on Arbour, and all hell broke loose, including the police stationed at the Spectrum in Philadelphia getting involved.
Here's how some of the players saw it:
"One of the policemen came behind Al and they had their nightsticks and he whacked Al over the back of the head. Al Arbour ended up with 30-some stitches," the late Blues defenseman Bob Plager recalled in 2019. "Then I'm standing there and see the policeman hit Al, I see that... And you don't know what to do, you've gotta grab. So I just grabbed the policeman to pull him and the next thing you know I'm getting whacked."
"The police had billy clubs and they whacked Al on the head," former Blues forward Garry Unger said. "And he's bleeding and now he's on the ice and I see all the players all around the Zamboni and there's people in the stands. So I go flying down into this thing. And a guy has a billy club and he's ready to hit one of our players. So I come in behind and I grab him and I've got the billy club underneath his throat and holding him. Well as I got that, a guy about 300 pounds reached down out of the stands and grabbed me by the hair.
"We never wore helmets. So he grabbed me by the hair and was trying to lift me off the ice. And I'm not letting go of this cop. So he's not gonna lift me and the cop together. And Bobby Plager came along and whacked this guy's arm and broke his arm. So now this guy's really upset and trying to throw chairs down on top of us, and suddenly someone said, 'Let's get out of here'. So we all took off to the dressing room and locked the door."
When the dust settled, the game did resume. And it was a memorable one for the Blues, who came back to win 3-2.
"We just decided in our brain that we weren't gonna lose that game," Unger said.
"Nobody was gonna stop us then. We had an ugly on," former Blues forward Floyd Thomson said.
But the drama took another turn after the game when police came looking for Blues players who had been involved in the brawl.
"After the game we were in the locker room and we were all happy that we won the game and then all of a sudden it was like, 'Ok, No. 18, No. 17, No. 24 and Al Arbour you're all under arrest.' And we went, 'What? You've gotta be kidding me,'" former Blues forward Phil Roberto said. "The locker room was full of policemen. Like we were criminals or something. And we asked if we could take a shower. So we took a shower, got our clothes on and they took us out in the hallway. They frisked us, handcuffed us and led us into paddywagons and off we went. Spent the night in jail."
"They were taking all the numbers of the players that were really involved so I turned around and went to the trainer and said, 'When you walk out leave me in here and lock the door. Lock me in here,'" Plager remembered.
And they did arrest four members of the Blues. Players Roberto, Thomson and John Arbour, and head coach Al Arbour.
"We headed out where our bus was waiting. It was funny because our players were getting on the bus and we were getting in the back of a paddywagon," Thomson remembered.
"We were charged with I think, assaulting a police officer and conspiracy to incite a riot," Roberto said.
After a night in a Philadelphia jail, the four were released on five hundred dollars bond and told to return for a hearing in a month.
Blues owner Sid Salomon promised legal action of his own and showed up to defend his players and coach.
The arrested Blues had a hearing with league president Clarence Campbell that summer, but all criminal charges were dropped.
50 years later, the brawl still remains the wildest night in the history of the franchise.
"If this happened right now in sports what happened there... It's not a five-game suspension. It could be a life suspension for what we did, or for a year. Yeah it was quite a night," Plager remembered.
You can see newly unearthed footage of the Philadelphia brawl Sunday night on Sports Plus with Frank Cusumano.