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Friday, March 13, 2009

Memories of the Spectrum

Tonight the 76ers will play a home game at the Spectrum, the place they used to play before it got too old, didn't have enough glitz or luxury boxes, before basketball became entertainment, when fans sat closer to the players and felt more a part of the action. The Philadelphia talk radio hosts are summoning people's memories of moments at that arena, so I'll share with you some of mine.

1. When the roof blew off in 1967. What I remember about this is that my father had tickets to take me to a doubleheader there (yes, the NBA staged doubleheaders featuring out-of-town teams as home teams way back when) the next night. As I recall, the games were moved to Philadelphia's Convention Hall (since torn down). The big bummer was that this was the new arena, and I don't remember when I got there next.

2. When the Flyers beat the Bruins, 1-0, to win Their First Stanley Cup. This was in 1974, and I don't know how my father got tickets, because a) he didn't like hockey, b) he didn't like the Flyers' owner Ed Snider (with some good reason), c) he didn't like a game that permitted fighting and d) he didn't know that many hockey fans. But I was a pre-teenager, and, as a loving dad, he made his way to the Mitchell & Ness sporting goods store weeks earlier to buy a Flyers' jersey for me. I had Moose Dupont's number put on it (because it would have been too easy to put Bobby Clarke's #16 or Bernie Parent's #1 on it) -- Dupont wore #6, and I still have that jersey (no, it doesn't fit). We sat five rows behind the Flyers' bench at center ice -- unbelievable seats.

Before the game, the big suspense was whether one-time (very) popular singer, Kate Smith, now an elderly woman, would appear to sing "God Bless America." The Flyers' had adopted the song (instead of the Star Spangled Banner), and they played a recording of it before selected home games. At the time of this game, they had an amazing record when they played the song, something like 33-0 over several years. Well, as luck would have it, silence gripped the audience when the lights were dimmed, red carpets were rolled out, and Kate Smith walked onto the ice and gave a great rendition of the song. The crowd went wild, and I'll remember that the Bruins' star, Phil Esposito, skated up to Ms. Smith and kissed her hand. It was a classy moment.

The game was a gripping one, and it took a Dupont slapshot (I don't recall whether Rick MacLeish tipped it in or not) to defeat the Bruins, 1-0. I rushed down toward the Flyers' bench after the game ended, and Flyers' winger Don "Big Bird" Saleski handed me a water bottle. I still have that, too. It was a great game, and the first major championship a Philadelphia team had won in quite a while.

3. More 76ers games than you can count, and two funny stories.

I went with my father to a playoff game against the Celtics in the late 1970's. The Celtics were great, the 76ers very good, and in this particular game the Celtics had taken a big lead, perhaps a 20-point lead. The 76ers rallied furiously late in the game to take the lead. The place went nuts, and when it went nuts it got quite loud. The Celtics' coach, Tom Heinsohn, signaled for -- and got -- a timeout.

Many will remember the public address announcer, Dave Zinkoff, a man with a good sense of humor, a staccato voice, and a great sense of timing. So loud was the crowd that the Zink didn't say anything when the Celtics took the timeout, and, if he had, he probably couldn't have been heard.

And then he brought the house down.

As the teams were emerging from the timeout, the fans had quieted down. Right as the Celtics were walking back onto the court, Zinkoff, in his unique style, said "As I was try-ing to saaaaaaaaaaay, the Celtics call tiiiiiiiiiiiiiiime." The fans erupted, the place got even louder than before, and the 76ers went onto victory. If you were a fan of the home team, it was an all-time classic from a man who has a banner hanging in his honor at the Wachovia Center.

The second story involved my own feistiness. My father would get tickets behind the basket, and on one night the 76ers and Celtics were going at it pretty good, and I thought that the Celtics' center, a great, undersized player named Dave Cowens, was committing a charge every time he got the ball in the low post against the 76ers' Caldwell Jones. I thought that Cowens was dipping his shoulder as he turned toward the basket and ramming it into the much taller Jones. So much did I think this that I was yelling at the Hall of Fame referee, Earl Strom, that he was missing the call each time down the floor.

Strom was a great ref, he hailed from Pottstown, Pennsylvania, and he had an outgoing personality. Anyway, after about half a quarter of yelling at Strom (I was only a teenager), he called a charge on Cowens. The Celtics called time, and I'm standing and talking to a friend when I hear "Hey, what did you think of that?"

It was Earl Strom, trying to get my attention.

I pointed to myself as if to say, "Are you talking to me?"

Strom nodded and then said, "So, what did you think of that call?"

He was about 15 feet from me, and I smiled, gave him the thumbs-up sign and said, "Great call. Keep them coming."

He smiled at me, laughed, and then went back about his business.

They don't make refs like that any more, and the fans aren't as close to the action, either.

I also attended two Final Fours there (Indiana won both times) and passed up tickets to the 1992 NCAA Regional Final (the all-time great Duke-Kentucky game where Christian Laettner made the basket to win it for Duke) to go to a wine-tasting with a girl that I was dating. My friends razzed me pretty hard at the time, and, naturally, they wanted to meet her. After all, who was this girl that could cause me to pass up tickets to a regional final? (By the way, had I known the game would have turned out the way it did, I might have postponed the date). Anyway, that girl is now my wife of 16 years, and we've built a good life together, with nice kids and friends in our community. (At our wedding, in his toast, my father-in-law referenced that game and my giving up my tickets to it. He said, "As a college basketball fan I was appalled, but as a future father-in-law I was gratified.")

I also went to many games with my father. We saw Wilt Chamberlain, Billy Cunningham, Archie Clark, Fred Carter, George McGinnis, Clyde Lee, Julius Erving, Maurice Cheeks, Moses Malone, Andrew Toney, Bobby Jones, Hal Greer, Wali Jones, Chet Walker, Luke Jackson and many others. There were some great teams, some plum awful ones (remember Coach Roy Rubin and the 9-73 team?), and some of the all-time best players in the NBA. Most importantly, it was a great ritual for a father and a son to share time together (I would take the train into Philadelphia by myself to meet my father at Reading Terminal and then go to dinner and a game -- who does that with their kids today?) and develop respect and admiration for some of the best athletes on the planet.

I remember Dancing Harry, dancing to Leo Sayer's "Long Tall Glasses," having to go down the stairs to the basement to use the bathroom, I remember sitting near one of the NBA's founders, Eddie Gotttlieb, and his good friend, Jules Trumper, telling stories about the early days of organized professional basketball, I remember when smoking wasn't prohibited and you could see clouds of smoke near the lights just beneath the ceiling of the place, I remember going to the NCAA Final Game in 1981 on the day John Hinckley shot President Ronald Reagan, and I remember many great plays and shared moments.

So tonight the 76ers will pay tribute to the Spectrum -- before its owners tear it down and build a hotel and gallery of stores -- right across the street from Lincoln Financial Field and Citizens Bank Park, and right among those two structures and the Wachovia Center. Why those buildings are needed now is a bit of a mystery, but what strikes me is that the buildings I went to with my father -- except for the Palestra and Franklin Field on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania -- will be gone.

Connie Mack Stadium.

Temple Stadium.

Veterans Stadium.

The Spectrum.

All gone.

But the memories, they will live on, forever.


Anonymous The sports Curmudgeon said...


I guess you are too young to recall the Philly Arena at 46th and Market Sts. The EHL team, the Philadelphia Ramblers, used to play there; it was right next door to the WFIL TV-6 studios where Bandstand originated. I think Phila. Textile played some if their home games there for a while.

Oh, do you remember Liberty Bell Park up in the Northeast and Brandywine Raceway just over the Delaware line on the way to Wilmington? I spent mare than a few hours at those places too...

11:30 AM  
Blogger Escort81 said...

JFK Stadium gone, too.

Sitting baseline for Game 6 of the Sixers-Celtics 1981 ECF series was a big day with a bad result in the last few minutes -- otherwise known as "The Rape of Andrew Toney."

2:01 PM  

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