Thursday, December 17, 2009

At The Palestra, Time Stands Still

Basketball Times Online: At The Palestra, Time Stands Still

Many aspects on the college game are beyond tainted, luckily, there's a time capsule in Philadelphia that can bring fans back to simpler times. In Philly, an old-fashioned Big 5 game at the Palestra is all you need.

Basketball Times

Once it was over on Wednesday night, a collective exhale extinguished the passion. It was a long, deep breath into the steamy air of an 83-year-old cathedral.

On the Villanova side, a nightlong crusade from a plucky underdog left the Wildcats battered, but not beaten.

On the Saint Joseph’s side, an emotion-charged effort saw the Hawks play over their head against a team they had no right doing so against.

Throughout the old gym, a sold-out crowd of 8,722 diehards exhausted itself for well over two hours. These fans – Saint Joseph’s and Villanova fans – come to this annual game choked with animosity. As they cheer, it’s not sweat that drips from their brow – it’s venom. Hatred is a strong word, but this comes close. Red-faced and charged with fervor, they watched as the Hawks, a book of matches, nearly took down the Wildcats, a flamethrower.


After third-ranked ’Nova completed its catch-your-breath 97-89 victory over St. Joe’s in the Holy War, there was nothing left to be said.

It was the Big 5.

It was the Palestra.

College basketball’s time warp.

“Man, those ghosts just refused to go away tonight,” said Jack Scheuer before the postgame news conference. A revered writer from the Associated Press, Scheuer has covered basketball in Philadelphia since 1958, three years after the inception of the Big 5. He has seen La Salle, Penn, Saint Joseph’s, Temple and Villanova trade haymakers since the Eisenhower Administration.

Back when Scheuer first covered the Big 5, it’s unlikely that blaming “The Ghosts of the Palestra” was a plausible explanation for what happened on Wednesday. The building was only 30 years old in ’58. The ghosts were just being born.

In the glory days of the 1960s, all of Philly’s City Series games were played at the Palestra. Those who attended those wars seem to drift off when retelling the stories. Sold-out crowds were split down the middle – half screaming for one team, the other half screaming for the other. Streamers filled the air after each team’s opening basket. “Rollouts,” banners unfurled by the students, could stir as much controversy as a bad call by an official. When any Big 5 outlier had the misfortune of playing a city team at the Palestra, well, they had little chance.

To read the entire article by Hawk alumnus Brendan Quinn please click on the title. Photo Credits: University of Pennsylvania Athletics and Greg Carroccio of Sideline Photos, LLC.

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