Giving 'Em Fitz: Fading Philadelphia sports memories

Posted: January 12, 2012

St. Tommy Forever More.

There's a beautiful wisdom in the familiar bumper sticker that so cleverly and warmly honors the long-defunct West Philadelphia high school.

It speaks to impermanence, the power of memory, the joys and sorrows of being a sports fan.

Take a look around. All those teams you worship, those places you went with your dad, those sportswriters you read and broadcasters you listened to on hot summer nights? None of them are immortal.

The Brooklyn Dodgers moved. Wilt Chamberlain died. Bill Conlin quit in disgrace. They tore down the Vet.

We spend a lifetime collecting allegiances and habits, likes and dislikes until all that mental memorabilia helps define us, helps give the passing years and events a familiar, comfortable shape.

I'll always associate Carlton Fisk's home run in Game 6 of the '75 World Series with my oldest daughter's birth. All those high school nights at the Palestra linger with me long after I've forgotten calculus and Chaucer. And that summer of 1964? Nightmares Forever More.

But like the youthful faces in yearbooks or the sturdy Catholic League schools that seemed eternal fortresses, each generation's familiar sports landscape gradually melts away.

Generations of St. Tommy More students, after all, believed it would always be there. Today the building at 47th and Wyalusing houses an Islamic school.

And the things that replace our landmarks are often unrecognizable, even if they are the stuff of another generation's sports memories.

ESPNU? UFC? BCS? HUH?

The real evaporates into memories, memories we can either discard or cherish.

Younger fans can't imagine why we'd choose the latter. They're convinced their heroes stand alone and surely will live forever. So they dismiss ours as black-and-white relics.

I was the same way, maybe worse.

Often when my father talked about Joe McCarthy, Joe Louis or Joe Fulks, I tuned him out. It was all from his irrelevant world. Why couldn't he appreciate Ali? Dick Allen? Billy Melchionni?

I understand why now.

You hold on especially tight when something's slipping away.

There's nothing to be ashamed of in maintaining our sports memories. We are, after all, as fans and human beings, little more than flesh-and-blood collections of our own experiences. To discount them is to diminish existence.

At 62, the list of extant people, places and things that marked my formative years as a Philly sports fan grows smaller each year, like a Tastykake Chocolate Junior.

Connie Mack Stadium. LP Lanes. Big 5 doubleheaders. Richie Ashburn. Wilt. Gene Hart. Frank Dolson. All gone. All replaced.

Last week, West Catholic, Bonner and three other Catholic League high schools, institutions that once seemed as indestructible as the sturdy buildings that housed them, joined the list

Like Marty McFly's photograph of his parents in the movie Back to the Future, the once vibrant schools and the athletes who played there will gradually become indistinct before disappearing completely.

The dark little gym at West, a mysterious place that seemed infused with history and unthinkable achievement, already exists only in the minds of those lucky enough to have watched or played in a game there.

Those who saw Mike Hauer rebound or John Cappelletti run for Bonner or smiled every time we heard a crowd chant "We smell B. . .O. . . n-n-e-r!" will remember those things long after the hilltop school is torn down.

My son never saw those things. He chides me sometimes for living in the past. But whether he acknowledges it or not, he's been busy collecting his own sports memories. And when they're all he has of those times, his son will chide him, too.

Life and sports go on.

Forever More.

Boras strikes again

Scott Boras giveth and Scott Boras taketh away. (If only Scott Boras would also goeth away.)

The widely despised agent can sometimes get his clients extra millions. But, as apparently was the case with Ryan Madson, can sometimes cost them just as much.

5 Bill O'Brien questions

1. What will O'Brien's dress code be like? Does he follow Joe Paterno's buttoned-down lead? Or go with Bill Belichick's garage-grunge look?

2. How many of the conservative donors Paterno wooed and won will tear up their checks the first time the fiery new coach jumps down an 18-year-old's throat on national TV?

3. When O'Brien departs will his successor also be from the PSU coaching staff's AAA club, Brown?

4. Will O'Brien continue to vacation on Cape Cod or will he cement his Pennsylvania credentials by getting a place "downashore" in New Jersey?

5. As a coach who employs emotion, will O'Brien tolerate on-the-field celebrations in a way Paterno never would?

5 NFL weekend wishes

1. Tim Tebow loses, shoots New England fans the bird, then retires.

2. A CBS announcer explains that, no, the Houston Texans' logo was not meant to resemble a baby's bib.

3. In their normally boisterous pregame huddle, Ray Lewis counsels his Ravens teammates to "Chill out fellows. Let your karma guide you."

4. We get through the Giants-Packers telecast without a single mention of Vince Lombardi.

5. New Orleans and San Francisco tie at the end of regulation and overtime and are forced to settle the outcome via a cookoff.


Contact staff writer Frank Fitzpatrick at 215-854-5068, ffitzpatrick@phillynews.com, or @philafitz on Twitter. Read his blog, Giving 'Em Fitz, at www.philly.com/fitz.

 

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