Stan Hochman: The swirl of Spectrum memories, recalled in a London Fog

Posted: November 24, 2010

LAST CHANCE. Before the wrecking ball reduces the Spectrum to rubble, may I please have my raincoat back?

It's black, London Fog, detachable lining. Some N-C-double-A flunkie swiped it from the press room on March 28, 1992.

March 28, '92, isn't that the night Christian Laettner hit that 17-foot jumper in overtime with the clock blinking 00:00, and Duke beat Kentucky to win the East Regional final?

March madness, the best of times, the worst of times. Laettner went 10-for-10 from the field that night, 10-for-10 from the foul line. Yeah, but with 8 minutes left in the second half a Kentucky kid went sprawling under the basket and Laettner stepped on the kid's chest, with malice aforethought.

It was a thug's move, and I made sure I asked him about it afterwards. I made sure I included it in the story I wrote about that incredible game and that memorable shot. But first I had to walk out into that cold, rainy night without my raincoat because somebody had swiped it.

You've got your Spectrum memories and I've got mine. I had this idea that all those college kids who held up an index finger, stared into the television camera, and screeched, "We're No. 1!" would want to buy a knit finger sock in their school colors.

I hired two sweet ladies to market the product and I hired a big-time attorney to apply for a patent (rejected because it was too much like the bandage to cover a wound) and I spent a fistful of money to manufacture 1,000 of them. Got lucky, choosing blue-and-white, the colors of three of the four teams in the Regional Finals.

Hired two kids from Cabrini College to give them away that night, at the SEPTA subway stop, because I knew the N-C-double-A controlled the sidewalks around the Spectrum and you couldn't give away a tourniquet to a bleeding man without the N-C-double-A wanting a piece of the action.

Somebody grabbed the Cabrini kids and threatened them and snatched the finger socks and swiped my raincoat because I had a handful of the items in one pocket, which tells you just how greedy and tyrannical the N-C-double-A can be.

Yo, just because it was a sports arena didn't exempt the building from politics. So, when I asked Bobby Clarke about the Russian Army hockey team that was coming to town and he said, "I hate the bastards," that made for a nifty backdrop. Clarke played like it. Ed Van Impe, too.

And then the Russians slithered off the ice in protest of the mayhem, and I walked down those press-box steps and there was Ed Snider in the corridor, growling at the interpreter, "Tell 'em they're not gonna get paid!" The Russians sheepishly slithered back on the ice and took that beating from the Flyers.

I also remember Dave Schultz skating over to the penalty box during a Flyers practice session, waving his stick in a figure eight, 4 inches from my face, grumbling about something Larry Merchant had written about him, comparing him to a Doberman. Do writers still get to watch practice from the penalty box? Do the players know one writer from another?

I remember not standing for "God Bless America" the first couple of times because it was not the national anthem and I knew that Irving Berlin had written it as a war song before he transformed it into a peace song.

I remember timing the singing of the anthem before games, and how it paid off one night in Atlantic City when the anthem, warbled by En Vogue, took longer than a Mike Tyson fight that followed.

I remember Victor the Wrestling Bear and Pepper the Singing Pig, and I remember Doctor J floating above the rim and Wilt leaning into Russell. Ridiculous and sublime. I remember Joe Frazier pounding Oscar Bonavena, and I remember all those middleweight wars, with Bennie and Kitten and Willie the Worm and Boogaloo and Cyclone. We had the best middleweights with the best nicknames and people cared about boxing.

And I remember hearing Linda Ronstadt from the sixth row when she was singing country with a voice, rich and pure as a whippoorwill. That was before she tried operetta and pop ballads and canciones.

Sure, the aisles were narrow and the concourse cramped, but the fans walked in there night after night, lusting for excellence. And when they saw it, they recognized it and cheered it and walked out of there richer for the experience.

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