GAMES 6, 7 & 8: GETTIN' ILLY IN PHILLY Philly got Fat Game.
We hit the Holland Tunnel just after 10:30 on a gorgeous Saturday morning, giddy with anticipation for the College Hoops Orgy we were about to partake in. I have never been to an actual orgy, but I imagine the feelings of anxious excitement are similar, just with more KY. Our bellies full of coffee, bagel and McGriddle, we were on our way, ready to journey into the heart of hoopness known as Illadelphia. What the day had in store for us we had no idea, but we knew the bag of rum minatures the Captain held tightly on his lap would come in handy.
With us on our trip is the aforementioned Captain, he of the up-for-anything attitude and inappropriate cheerleader commentary. Also with us is the previously dubbed Ducats, who shall be re-monikered Magellen for the purposes of this adventure due to her unique navigational abilities. Not only will she guide us through the wilds of South Philly, she will also lead us to an experience known simply as Route 73. But that is a story for later. Right now, Magellen is at the wheel, I'm riding shotgun, and the Captain is in the back seat trying to digest his McGriddle.
The drive to Philly is a short one, we were there just after noon, providing us plenty of time to get to our first game of the day, St. Joe's vs. LaSalle at the Palestra. What we didn't count on were those unique navigational skills Magellen brought to the table. The maps she had apparently had the game taking place at The Linc
, where the Eagles soar. And so, we took the circuitous route through South Philly, an area once dominated by Italians but not, apparently, the thriving home to Vietnamese and Cambodian immigrants. Suddenly, I had flashes of Captain Willard's journey
upriver to find Col. Kurtz.'I love the smell of Yuengling in the morning... don't you?'
We really were entering the heart of hoopness. I was scared. Would we make it out alive? Would there be napalm on our soft pretzels? And who would be our Kurtz, Phil Martelli
After a brief panic, we stumbled onto Broad Street and our path was righted again. Appropriately enough, the Nutsmobile took a turn onto Chestnut (or was it Walnut?) and took us straight to our destination, the U. Penn campus in West Philly.
It was just about tip time when we pulled into the garage. We gathered our supplies: Tickets? Check. Binocs? Check. Camera? Check. Collection of tiny rum bottles surreptitiously stuffed into my pants? Check. The bar was, appropriately enough, right next to my nuts. We were ready. Let's go see The Palestra.Game 6: LaSalle Explorers (9-15) vs. St. Joseph's Hawks (13-10)
The date on the outside of The Palestra says 1926. The smell inside whiffs of 1978, and that's a good thing. It smells like Ed Pinckney's sweatsocks, like warm pretzels and popcorn, like what a Saturday afternoon in winter should smell like. It smells like college basketball. You can almost hear John Chaney's raspy voice bouncy off the cold, concrete walls. The plaques in the narrow corriders speak rapturously of tradition and rivalry and sportsmanship. The trophy cases are filled with timeless artifacts that don't necessarily glow or sparkle. No, these trophies look like something Indiana Jones dodged arrows in Guatemala to get his hands on. They are timeless, as is this place. And here's what it looks like: (Click for video)
In preparation for this trip, I'd heard a lot about this place. I'd read the comparisons to other legendary venues -- Fenway, Wrigley and the like -- and frankly, I didn't believe any of them. As a kid growing up way out in the hinterlands of Seattle, I knew nothing of The Palestra, but I'd heard of those other places. And now, while I still can't rank it up there with the Fenways or Wrigleys, I can certainly understand the special memories the place must evoke for Philly natives who grew up seeing games here. It is what college basketball should be.
To me, the best part was seeing a packed house crowd into the hot gym to see two mediocre teams. The records don't matter so much when it's a Big 5 game, I learned that quickly. The only thing that matters is beating the other team. It's rivalry, that's what it is. And a Big 5 game at the Palestra means a strictly divided house. Today, one side was clad in St. Joe's red, the other in LaSalle yellow. Situated behind the baskets, the students stand the entire game, cheering their teams and attempting to shout down their rivals across the court. vs.
Throughout the contest the students produce large, long, homemade banners taunting the other side. These are the "rollouts", and these are tradition at The Palestra. The idea is not just to produce the most banners during a game, but also to come up with the most clever insults. It's sort of like a giant 'zingers' or 'snaps' contest, but with magic markers. On this day, St. Joe's fans won the rollout battle almost as easily as their team won the basketball game.LaSalle's inability to compete in the Atlantic-10 conference was a recurring theme of the St. Joe's rollout show. One banner said, "LaSalle: Future MAAC Champs". Of course, the A-10 is kind of a shit conference this year, so they best tone it down less the MAAC coming looking to kick some ass.
It would've been awesome to see a tight game to experience The Palestra when it's really rocking, but this is one element of our day the Nuts cannot control. We are powerful, but we are not that powerful. On this day, St. Joe's thoroughly dominated. The Hawks simply rolled, leading 37-19 at half and never letting the lead slip below 16 the rest of the way. LaSalle just looked lost, which is funny, cuz, you know, they're the Explorers. It wasn't even an entertaining blowout. The most exciting thing that happend was some guy from St. Joe's extended his 35-straight free throw streak. Whoo boy. Thankfully, we had the Palestra, and the cheer squads, to entertain us in this one.
The Captain reprised his role as our resident spirit squad scientist and dance team critic. He quickly assessed the situation, judging LaSalle's cheer team superior to St. Joe's (at least they won something). Of course, LaSalle's spirit unit should've quit while they were ahead. The Captain had been pretty convincingly swayed to dub them the winners, but then LaSalle had to go and introduce their 'dance team', The Xplorettes
. They not only sound like a cough suppresent, they dance like one too. It's a shame really, the way they managed to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory. It just wasn't LaSalle's day. Turn your head and cough.
Just to be clear, and to protect the Captain's good name, this isn't just some perverted exercise by an older man with rum in his pants, the Captain judges these teams on their skill, their enthusiasm, and their ability to fire up the fans. He judges them on the shortness of their skirts too, but mostly it's about the skill.
As the clock wound down and St. Joe's scrubs starting scoring on the Explorers, many of the LaSalle faithful valiantly attempted to hold their heads high, including these two guys. This shot is with about a minute left in the game and their team down by 20:
This is them seconds later, their team now down 22:
Keep the faith guys, we're making you honorary Nuts for the spirit you showed. Good work. And remember, you'll always have Lionel Simmons. Oh L-Train, where have you gone to?FINAL: 72 50 (recap)
Our thirst for some quality college hoops action barely whetted by the 22-point blowout we'd just witnessed, we bunkered down at a too-quiet pizza place to plot our next move. We managed to re-fuel with some beers and, in my case, a shot of Jaeger (hey, if you're gonna go college, go all the way...). We caught up on games from around the nation, noticing that WVU had upset UCLA while we were suffering through an Explorer massacre (dammit, why didn't we roadtrip to Morgantown!). And we had two very important questions answered: Where was the nearest liquor store? And where was the nearest Irish pub?
After re-stocking the bar in our pants, we got our courage up and readied ourselves for the next leg of our journey: A trip to The Bad Part of Town. GAME 7: Delaware Blue Hens (5-20) vs. Drexel Dragons (18-6)
According to one of Magellen's sources, the North side is the bad part of town. The North side is also where Drexel University is, and we're on a misson here, so we took our chances. And I must admit, we passed through some pretty rough terrain. Danger seemed to lurk on every corner. The shadows played tricks on us. We tried not to make eye contact with anyone or anything. It was a harrowing trek indeed, but eventually we made it. Yes, we'd gone the 3 blocks from the Palestra without losing a single Nut. The team was intact.
We'd made our way to the Drexel Athletic Center, the DAC. We were now out of the Big 5, and far, far away from the majesty of the Palestra. They do things differently at the DAC, and as much as we enjoyed the thick tradition wafting through the halls of the Palestra, there was something about this little gym that really got our juices flowing.
The place can't seat more than 1,500 we decided, but it was jumping. The pep band was rocking, the DAC Pack (student section) was roaring, and there were cheerleaders everywhere. The Captain was ecstatic. It was a full house, a very hot gym and a fun place to watch a game. Hell, they even did the wave...
Normally, I would frown on this type of behavior, but not here. As cliche and tired as the wave is, it seemed to fit perfectly here at the DAC. In fact, I think that's the DAC's primary asset: It's obvious desire to have a good time, even if some of its methods are a bit retarded. And when I say retarded, I mean this: Um, ok.
Yep, there's a little bit of everything at the DAC. In fact, Drexel's gym has something that every Division I arena in America should install immediately: FoosBall and Table Hockey.
Man, do these people know how to live or what??
Of course, in the midst of all this spirit, Magellen and I had the audacity to openly pull for the mighty Blue Hens of Delaware, the most dangerous 5-20 team in the nation. The Captain played it safe and stuck with the home team. A very nice woman sitting behind us very politely said, "you can't sit here and root for them." We smiled, then turned back around and continued to cheer for our Blue Hens. You see Magellen is from Delaware, so we did have reason. Plus, we Nuts love a good underdog.
Rooting for the Hens proved tricky for several reasons. For one
, the gym was so small it was tough to be subtle (although, the more I drank my pants, the less of a stumbling block that became). For two
, we were seated directly behind the Drexel bench. And when I say directly, I mean we could smell head coach Bruiser Flint's breath. We were practically in the huddle with them. For three
, the Blue Hens suck.
Actually, that's not entirely true. Delaware hung in the game until midway through the second half. Up until then, Drexel couldn't shake them. For a while there, it actually looked as though we were going to see a good game. Sadly, it didn't turn out that way, Drexel would eventually prevail 77-62. Magellen and I didn't let it get to us for too long though, we were thoroughly enjoying the atmosphere, and by that I mean our rum buzzes.
But where oh where was The Captain? We noticed he hadn't returned after his halftime walkabout, which was only slightly odd. We checked to see if he'd joined the band, perhaps putting his nascent sousaphone skills to work, but no luck. We looked to see if he was offering choreography tips to the dance team, but no dice. Just when we were beginning to think we'd lost him, I received the following text message: I AM DRINKING A BEER IN THE PRESIDENT'S SUITE. Our hero.
The Captain had stormed the Castle. Awesome. And yet another example of why the DAC may in fact outshine the Palestra, at least in terms of amenities: They managed to fashion a 'president's suite' out of a walled balcony above the bleachers. And they serve free beer in this 'suite'. Eat that Palestra.
Between his infilitration of the president's box, Drexel's big victory, and this...
... the Captain was most certainly having his 'one shining moment'. Too bad it was at the expense of our beloved Blue Hens. Cluck.FINAL: 77 62 (recap)
(to be continued...)