A tribute to the only reason I ever watched a Sixers game
Now before I disappoint, I must warn you that this is not a treasure trove of Cranky Man’s various sports accomplishments. Many though they are, I was a child born before the Age of Electronics-at-Your-Fingertips. Sadly there is no video, films or even a decent grainy photo of those numerous magical moments from my past.
No video of those broken field runs on cold, snowy days with a well-worn pigskin under arm as I danced through flailing arms or plowed through helpless tacklers on makeshift gridirons along Ashton Road. No snapshots of my gazelle-like grace as I tracked down a moonshot homerun fail on a sun-scorched softball field at Thomas Holme School at Willits and Holme Avenues. No montage of my patented top-shelf, net-filling wrist shot during ridiculously hot and humid summer night street hockey games in the parking lot of the old Crown, Cork and Seal factory at Angus and Ashton Roads.
Sadly those magical moments are lost forever to the public except as they reside in my somewhat refracted long-term memory, exaggerated somewhat perhaps – like photo-shopped wedding pictures of an imperfect bride. However, I might be able to find a few witnesses, given enough time and access to a sufficient supply of memory
jogging altering alcohol.
No, what we have here are those distance moments and recent events in Philly sports history that shaped my psyche as a Philadelphia sports fan.
Some of the moments I have selected may surprise you. In many cases they are not those iconic moments when Championships were sealed for the Ages. Instead, they might be the plays that made that Championship seem probable, maybe inevitable.
Some are simply those indelible feats of personal accomplishments from which heroic sports memories are made. Several memories are those of epic failure, that as an early sports memories many recall those long stretches of Philly sports futility.
Needless to say, your list of memorable Philly sports moments will include some of these, and others as well. So feel free to offer your own, and maybe it will show up on a future trip down Memory Lane!
The Earliest Baseball Magic – Fathers Day 1964: The family is bundled into the car driving home from an afternoon Fathers Day visit. I am eight years old. Dad turns on the radio just in time to catch the last few innings of Jim Bunning‘s perfect game for the Philadelphia Phillies against the futile New York Mets in the first game of a sun-baked doubleheader.
Video: A perfect Fathers’ Day
It took him just 91 pitches and was the first perfect game in the National League in 84 years.
It was also the year of the Great Phillies Collapse of ’64, something of which we dare not speak.
Bunning was an all out, full-body thrower; often finishing his follow through his left forearm on the ground. He would retire from baseball in 1971 and would be elected a U.S. Senator from the Commonwealth of Kentucky in 1999. He still serves in the Senate,
The Night Superman wore a “P” – June 23, 1971: It was an ungodly hot day in Cincinnati as the Phillies prepared to take on the Reds that night. Pitcher Rick Wise was not feeling well on the back-end of a bout with flu-like symptoms. When he stepped out onto the Riverfront Stadium Astroturf field, the on-field temperature was close to 120 degrees.
Wise recalled that his warm-up pitches seemed like they could barely reach the plate. Yet after the Reds went down in order through the first nine batters, Wise started to feel stronger figuring the heat had sweated the last of the flu from his system. When he batted in the fifth inning, Reds starter Ross Grimsley left a slider up in the zone and Wise hit it out of the park for a homerun.
At some point after this, a bored fifteen year-old heard from a friend that Wise was pitching a no-hitter. The Phillies weren’t much better – if better at all – than the 1964 version. So not many 15 year-olds spent their time inside the house during the Summer watching them struggle in their mediocrity. But a no-hitter is a no-hitter, so we all ran into the house to catch the last innings.
In the eighth inning, with a no-hitter a very real possibility, Wise came to bat against reliever Clay Carroll. When he looked down at the third-base coach for the sign on a 2-0 count, George Myatt simply turned his back to Wise. He could swing away. Carroll layed one out over the plate and Wise drove it for his second homerun of the game.
In the ninth, Wise got two outs and none other than perennial hit machine, Pete Rose, stood between Wise and no-hit, two homerun immortality. Rose worked the count to 3-2 then …
Video: The Reds get Wise’d
In one of those romantic twists that makes baseball such an interesting game, Rick Wise was the starting pitcher in that second game of the doubleheader in which Jim Bunning pitched his perfect game 7 years before!
Favell’s Big Flop … April 2, 1972: It’s the last game of the Philadelphia Flyers 1971-72 regular season. The hometown hockey club, which I had just started to follow, needed to simply avoid a loss to grab the last playoff spot. A win or even a tie against the Sabres in Buffalo would do the trick.
Doug Favell was in the nets. Favell was known as a flopper, who loved to flop and flail in the crease.
As the third period ran down into its final seconds, the Flyers clung to their first playoff berth in stubborn defensive hockey and a 2-2 tie. With just 15 seconds left in the game Sabres defenseman Gerry Meehan – a former Flyer himself – collected a puck inside the Sabres zone and made a pass in the neutral zone. As he cleared the blue line he got the puck back …
I was devastated and for months broke into nervous twitches every time I heard the name Doug Favell.
Clarke and The Hound: Of course much better Flyers memories were right around the corner!
Bobby Clarke‘s overtime goal in Game 2 of the 1974 Stanley Cup Finals didn’t clinch The Cup, but it convinced this Flyers fan that they would inevitably bring Lord Stanley to Philly for the very first time!
Then in 1975 the Flyers won the Stanley Cup again. But it was Bob “The Hound” Kelly who set the table just 11 seconds into the 3rd period of a scoreless Game 6. He absorbed a hellacious hit from Buffalo defenseman Jerry Korab; controlled the puck behind the net; and with a little help from Bobby Clarke nudging Korab out-of-the-way …
Current Flyers and NHL broadcaster, Bill Clement scored the second and final goal to wrap up the Flyers successful Stanley Cup defense.
Boone to Rose: Any Philadelphia sports fan knows the date, October 21, 1980. On this night the Phillies would win their first World Series. But it was this iconic play between Bob Boone and Pete Rose from the clincher that seemed to represent the hand of the baseball gods to anoint those Phillies as World Champions.
Wilbert romps through Cowboy-land: It was January 7, 1981. The Philadelphia Eagles had been improving steadily since Dick Vermeil had been hired as coach in 1976. By 1978 – and the Miracle in the Meadowlands – the Eagles were playoff bound over the next several seasons. Then, on a bitterly cold day in January 1981, they were facing the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship Game and a chance to go to their first Superbowl.
On their very first drive of the game, the Eagles drove down to the Cowboys 42-yard line and Wilbert Montgomery set the tone for the rest of the day.
A great bonus … Listening to the call by Tom Brookshier and Pat Summerall.
Wilbert’s romp and an unbreakable defense won the game 20-7. The Eagles lost the Super Bowl however, to Jim Plunkett and the Oakland Raiders.
J & J … No, I was never a big Sixers fan; but there have been times I watched, enthralled to see some of the best athletes to ever play in Philly.
In 1983, when the Sixers won their last NBA title, it was Julius Erving, Bobby Jones, and Moses Malone – the final piece to the puzzle – who made it possible. Jones playing the perimeter and stout on defense; Malone backing up his “fo’, fo’, fo'” playoff series prediction; and Julius simply being Julius.
Shane, Stairs and Utley’s Gambit: When the Phillies finally broke through again in 2008, their ascendency to World Series Champion was no sure thing. Yet it was a collection of plays that eventually convinced me that it could, should, then would happen.
Carol and I sat in the 300 level at Citizens Bank Park when Shane Victorino hit his grand slam off C.C. Sabathia in Game 2 of the National League Divisional Series. It followed an epic at-bat by starting pitcher, Brett Myers.
It convinced me that the Phillies just could win this thing.
Video: Victorino slams Big C.C.
Victorino did it again, with the Phillies down 5-3 in the 8th inning of Game 4 of the National League Championship Series at Chavez Ravine against the Los Angeles Dodgers. I always though Victorino’s home run off Cory Wade was even bigger than Matt Stairs‘ game-winning deep space launch off Jonathan Broxton, because it changed the entire Dodgers relief strategy as well as tied the game. Both were unforgettable moments that convinced me the Phillies should win the whole enchilada.
Video: Victorino lines a fence topper
Video: Stairs launches Broxton
But it was Chase Utley‘s play in the rain-delayed Game 6 of the 2008 World Series against the Tampa Bay Rays that proclaimed to this fan that the Phillies would win their second World Championship.
Video: Utley goes schoolyard on the Rays
The rest, as they say, was His-TO-ry!
And finally, I leave you with this little gem that slightly pre-dates my own backyard football career. How exactly we are able to reach all the way back to 1928 to watch a sandlot game of football is amazing!