When the Quakers scored their first basket, Penn fans hurled blue and red streamers onto the court, violating the NCAA ban on this old ritual. As the streamers flew over his head and onto his shoulders, Rendell, a schoolboy again, grinned mischievously, but resisted the urge to throw any streamers
He doesn't miss home games. On the eve of President Clinton's inauguration, Rendell was at the Spectrum, watching disgustedly as Temple trounced his team. Rendell, who graduated from Penn in 1965, is part of a gang of regulars, all of whom have gathered together at the Palestra, through good times and bad, since the 1960s, to watch basketball. The gang includes Remy Heymsfeld, Class of '62, a corporate communications executive; Dan Goroff, Class of '67, director of the Phillies' ticket department; Victor DiNubile, Class of '60, a Common Pleas Court judge; Peter Greenberg, Class of '65, a Philadelphia lawyer; Mike Stiles, Class of '67, a Common Pleas Court judge; Dave Montgomery, Class of '68, executive vice president of the Phillies; Jim Colins, Class of '68, a Commonwealth Court judge; Tad Decker, Class of '68, a corporate lawyer; and Richard Deats, Class of '69, the Phillies' vice president for sales.
On Monday night, Rendell sat next to Greenberg. He and Greenberg have been friends since the late 1950s, in New York.
"We've always loved sports," Greenberg said. "We've never stopped loving sports. It's fun."
Normally. Not Monday night. The Quakers were getting trampled.
When a call went against Jerome Allen, the outstanding Penn guard from Germantown who worked for Rendell on his mayoral election campaign, Rendell folded his arms across his barrel chest, twisted his mouth in discomfort and shook his head. When the referees failed to call an obvious travel violation on Rap Curry, the crafty Hawks guard from Lansdowne, the mayor twisted and rolled his gold and silver watchband up and down his hand, illustrating what the refs were doing to his innards.
With the Quakers down, 24-3, midway through the first half, Penn threw up a series of brutal and desperate jumpers, one of which prompted the mayor to yell plaintively, "Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh! No! No! No! No!" By halftime, with Penn trailing St. Joe's by 49-26, Rendell was sprawled in his chair, his hands were in his face, beads of perspiration were emerging from the top of his head and his wingtips were kicked up on the seat in front of him. This, his body language said, is a nightmare.
With his black shoes, charcoal-gray suit, white button-down shirt and paisley tie hiding spaghetti sauce stains, Rendell's appearance, in a rough sense, was not much different from any of the other suited men who filled up most of the good seats on the south side of the court. At the Palestra, he is treated as an ordinary citizen. When he leaned to Greenberg to offer an analysis, Greenberg, revolted by the Quakers' play and any discussion of it, turned his back on the mayor.
Rendell doesn't come to games to be seen. He doesn't bring political heavyweights. He comes because he is a fanatic. Only a longtime fan can know what Rendell knows: When you follow a team intimately, year after year, the passage of time slows to a benign crawl, and the difference between youth and middle age becomes inextricable.
He's also a realist. With his team down 23 points at the half, Rendell knew it was over.
"I'm disappointed," he said. "I was hoping to see a good game."
He looked to the future. Penn has its biggest home game of the year Saturday night, against Princeton.
"They're good this year," Rendell said. "But we'll match up much better against them than we did against St. Joe's."
Rendell's older brother went to Princeton. Rendell wanted to go to Princeton, but couldn't get in. He's been sneering at Tigers basketball ever since.
"Saturday night should be a whole different game," Rendell said. "It can't be as bad as this."
Penn lost to St. Joseph's, 94-72, Monday night. The mayor stayed right through the final buzzer. He didn't even think about leaving early. He's a fan.