Stan Hochman: Snider-Wolman feud outliving Spectrum

Ed Snider walks onto the court at Sixers' final Spectrum game, last Friday night.
Ed Snider walks onto the court at Sixers' final Spectrum game, last Friday night.
Posted: March 17, 2009

IN PHILADELPHIA, Ed Snider tells people that the Spectrum is his "baby" and that he will be heartsick when they implode it before the end of the year.

In Potomac, Md., Jerry Wolman gnashes his teeth and snarls, "Ed Snider didn't put a dime into the Spectrum."

Whose fingerprints are on the blueprints? Whose DNA is in the design? Can we put the Spectrum on the Maury Povich show and have him yelp at the doomed 41-year-old arena, "Who's your daddy?"

Wolman says he borrowed the money to build the Spectrum, picked the architects, hired the construction company that brought the project in ahead of schedule and under budget. That's him, alongside the mayor, James Tate, at the groundbreaking, wielding hockey sticks instead of shovels, because the project was inspired by Snider's quest for a National Hockey League franchise.

Wolman is 81, still porcupine-sharp. Agile, mobile, at times hostile. Could get to South Philly in less than 3 hours. He has not been invited to any of the "closing" events. Will he be invited to the implosion?

"Yeah," Snider grumbles, "if he's inside the building!"

Wolman is working on a book and a movie script about his life and turbulent times. He says it makes him sick to hear Snider talk about the building as his "baby." He says, bitterly, "I took him out of the gutter and then he [bleeped] me."

A man could get a hernia lugging around a grudge for 42 years. Memories do get murky. Isn't time supposed to heal all wounds? Or at least put an armor-thick scab on them?

A little history is relevant right here. Wolman bought the Eagles in 1963. Paid $5.5 million for the team. Uh huh, the same franchise that is now valued at more than a billion dollars. Named Snider as Eagles vice president and treasurer.

"Ed's father was a friend of mine," Wolman says. "Ed's record company folded and Ed's father asked me to talk to him, because he felt he was depressed. Ed was disheveled, discouraged. I told him I was buying the Eagles and that I would have a spot for him. He brightened up."

Snider was a partner in a record company. Wolman says it failed, Snider says it was going national and he walked away.

They were in their 30s, full of pith and vinegar. Wolman caught passes in training camp, Snider kick-started NFL Properties. In 1966, Snider got wind of imminent NHL expansion. He knew a new hockey team would need a new place to play, so he encouraged Wolman to build the Spectrum.

"It was 16 months from when I first had the idea," Snider says, "until it was completed. Wolman went to the banks for the money. He was in construction, so that made sense. At that time, it wouldn't have worked for me to try to borrow the money.

"I say I couldn't have built it without Wolman. I was running the Eagles at the time. I was working with the Phillies on plans for a new [Veterans] stadium."

Running the Eagles at the time? Isn't that the time when coach Joe Kuharich got an outrageous 15-year contract? "That," Snider grumps, "was idiotic. He was a lousy coach. Wolman did it on a whim, he told nobody about it before he did it."

"I told Jerry not to name Kuharich general manager, too," recalls Joe King, the team's business manager at the time. "But he did. Snider and Kuharich never got along."

Does King care to weigh in on who built the Spectrum? "I don't know who built the Spectrum," King said with a sigh, "but Jerry paid for it."

Wolman was worth $36 million at age 36. He was a prankster. He was soft-spoken, congenial. Snider was loud, combative.

Wolman had made his fortune in construction in the Washington area after failing as a fruit store owner in Wilkes-Barre. Selling persimmons, building apartment houses, neither really prepared him for owning a NFL team.

"I was young," he says now. "I made mistakes. I would have gotten better."

He never really got the chance. He was going to build the tallest building in the world, the Hancock Building in Chicago. A screw-up in the concrete pouring caused the early construction to sink, a fraction of an inch at a time. The mistake cost Wolman $20 million and impacted everything else he owned.

Snider says, "Wolman came to us early on. He wanted to sell the [hockey] team for a quick profit. He said his friends were telling him that hockey wouldn't draw in Philadelphia. We told him the franchise had been awarded to Philadelphia and that we couldn't sell it to guys who might want to move it."

Wolman does not recall that conversation. The two men can't agree on what happened when Snider and team president Bill Putnam needed a certified check for $2 million before they would be allowed to participate in the expansion draft. Cue Lou Scheinfeld, who was hired away from the Daily News by Snider to work on marketing for the new building.

He runs a sports marketing outfit now and spends alternate weeks in Reno. Snider has reached back and hired Scheinfeld to coordinate the final celebratory events at the Spectrum.

"When Jerry came to town I thought he was the second coming of the Messiah," Scheinfeld was saying the other day. "It makes me sad to see what's happened between Wolman and Ed Snider. In the beginning, they were like Damon and Pythias, that close.

"Jerry might have gathered the financing for the Spectrum, but Ed honcho'd the project.

"And the weekend before the $2 million is due in Montreal, at the league meetings, Wolman doesn't come through and Ed is scrambling to borrow the money. Two guys from Baltimore are lurking in the corridors, and I'm thinking that if we don't come up with the money, they're gonna get the franchise.

"Ed gets the money and a blackout hits Philly. He can't wire the money. We call a New York bank and they're willing to relay the checks. The Montreal bank is across the street from the Queen Elizabeth Hotel.

"I grab the checks, run across the street, jump the concrete median, race up the stairs. Bang, the checks are made out to the National Hockey League. They had to be made out to one of the existing teams, the New York Rangers.

"I run back to the bank, get new checks, run across the street, jump the median, race up the stairs and give the checks to Clarence Campbell, the commissioner. He doesn't even say, 'Thank you.' I'm thinking, should I ask for a receipt?"

How do you question vivid details like that? Even if he gets the name of the other team wrong 42 years later. The checks had to be made out to the Toronto Maple Leafs, according to Jay Greenberg, who wrote the definitive book on the Flyers, "Full Spectrum."

Ready for a different version? "Joe King gathered the money and was going to fly to Montreal with the checks," Wolman says.

"I gathered the money," King recalls. "Me and a guy named Ted Daley [a Wolman financial adviser]. Got a million from Bill Fishman, who headed ARA, and had gotten the concession rights. And a million from Channel 48 because they had gotten the television rights. Wired the checks to Montreal."

The Flyers drew 7,812 for the home opener against Pittsburgh, and 5,783 for the second game.

"We spent $90,000 in advertising for the opener," Snider says glumly, "and grossed $90,000 that night. We grossed $900,000 for the season. We gross that in one night now.

"Hockey caught on. We had nine sellouts coming up when the roof blew off . . . I thought my world was coming apart. Had to refund the ticket money. We became a road team. Got nothing."

Eventually, Snider swapped his share of the Spectrum for Wolman's share of the Flyers, although the two men disagree on the time and circumstances. "And then," Snider says, "the Spectrum went into bankruptcy. I rescued it, paid the creditors 100 cents on the dollar. It went bankrupt because he ran it inefficiently. What I ran for him made money. What he ran, lost money."

Snider is a disciple of Ayn Rand, who believed selfishness is good. "My philosophy was simple," Wolman said. "I always believed that you do not make any progress on your own and I always treated everyone the same, be it the president of a bank or the janitor. Snider was a step-on-anyone-in-your-way-to-success."

The moment that shattered the relationship? Wolman says he had a $43 million loan lined up with Arab oil men that would have stemmed the tide of red ink. He summoned Snider to Eagles' training camp in Hershey and asked him to sell him the Flyers, saying he needed them as collateral for the loan.

Wolman says Snider agreed, drove home, then reneged on the promise. "The deal collapsed," Wolman said, "and I was ruined."

Snider won't acknowledge the change of heart. "Look at it in a logical way," Snider lectures. "He had Connie Mack Stadium, he had Yellow Cab. The Flyers were a $2 million team that was $2 million in debt. What kind of collateral is that?"

"What a joke," Wolman counters. "Connie Mack Stadium was worth half a million and Yellow Cab was worth approximately $1.5 million."

Which is why Wolman fired Snider as Eagles vice president on the night of the Flyers' first home game, hissing all over Snider's party. The men have barely spoken since.

And if, somehow, an invitation arrived to attend the demolition? "I wouldn't go," Wolman said. "I think it's a disgrace, tearing down the Spectrum. It ought to be preserved and become part of any complex they build around it.

"As a matter of fact, I'm thinking of asking the Historical Society to declare the building an historic landmark. It enabled the city to get a hockey team. It should be saved." *

Send e-mail to stanrhoch@comcast.net

|
|
|
|
|