Explorers have lost their way

The immortal St. Joe's Hawk rated a mock funeral, but La Salle has wandered off most fans' radar.
The immortal St. Joe's Hawk rated a mock funeral, but La Salle has wandered off most fans' radar.
Posted: February 27, 2011

Hawk Hill took it the wrong way. Maybe it was grating and insulting, but it was also a compliment.

When Temple played St. Joseph's recently - another win for Fran Dunphy's crew, another loss for Phil Martelli's beleaguered bunch - Owls fans held a faux funeral for the Hawk. It was a brilliant and well-executed gag. The kids in Temple's student section were decked out in black "RIP the Hawk" T-shirts, and they passed out memorial programs "in loving celebration" of the Hawk, 1956-2011. There was even a coffin.

Do you have any idea how long it takes to make a coffin? I don't either, actually. But it must require serious effort. Which is the point.

It's been an ugly run for Hawks hoops over the last few years. The once healthy program does little now but limp and wheeze. That bothers Hawks fans. They're a proud lot. But as poorly as St. Joe's has played, the Hawks are still relevant enough to mock. The Temple kids took all that time to skewer their rivals. They wouldn't have done that if St. Joe's basketball didn't still matter, at least a little.

It could be worse for the Hawk flock. Some of those kids could have ended up at La Salle.

The Explorers got crushed the other night at Xavier. They were down by 32 points at the half and lost, 100-62. You probably didn't notice. No one ever does. Not anymore. The Temple pranksters wouldn't bother making a coffin for the Explorer. It would be a waste of time. La Salle basketball has been buried for almost two decades.

"It was the most noncompetitive game that I've been a part of since I started playing basketball as a 12-year-old or 13-year-old," La Salle head coach John Giannini said after his guys got smacked around by the Musketeers.

Giannini added that the lopsided loss left him with an "awful feeling." That's worth noting - that he can still feel - if only because people who spend time around the program go numb pretty quickly.

My freshman year at La Salle, the team went 6-24. (I'm still not sure how those Explorers won that many games.) For almost 20 years, that's how it's gone for the Explorers. Since the 1992-93 season, the Explorers have finished above .500 just three times. La Salle is 12-16 this season. Unless something weird and implausible happens, the Explorers - who play UMass at home on Sunday at 2 p.m. - are looking at another losing season without a tournament appearance.

Donnie Carr, Rasual Butler, Aaric Murray - there's always some next great player who's supposed to change the school's fortunes and make La Salle basketball a winner again. It never happens. The Lionel Simmons days are long gone. You get used to it after a while. You accept it.

After the Xavier spanking, a La Salle alumnus named Bob sent me an e-mail about the Explorers. His take was too good to keep to myself:

"The program is beyond dead. . . . Not only did it die, it died alone on a street in a dark alley. No one noticed. No one cared. No obituary, no fanfare, no funeral. Completely gone, with very little memory that it ever existed."

He's right. The Hawk is passing away in slow, painful, public fashion. But at least there's been some acknowledgment of the poor bird's demise. The Explorer expired a while ago, and no one bothered to stop by CVS and pick up a lousy Hallmark card. It's sad. Despite the giant toe-tag hanging off the program, there aren't many mourners.

I went to the

La Salle-Oklahoma State game at the Palestra earlier this season - it wasn't my idea - and ran into one of the few guys who still cares. His name is Gregg. It was the first time I had seen him since we graduated from La Salle.

When Murray committed to La Salle, Gregg said he was really excited. He noted that I was apparently less excited, and he reminded me that I joked about the program in my column right about that time. He said those jokes didn't go over very well on a certain La Salle basketball message board.

I was shocked - not by the negative feedback (I'm used to that) - but rather by the fact that a La Salle basketball message board exists at all. I was even more shocked to learn that people evidently go to it and spend time discussing Explorers hoops.

It's almost too grim to contemplate. What sort of disrepair must your life be in to willingly sink into that sort of cyber cesspool? I suspect the four or five depressed souls knocking around on that message board are the same people who buy pajama jeans.

Contact columnist John Gonzalez at 215-854-2813 or gonzalez@phillynews.com.

Follow him at www.twitter.com/gonzophilly

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