St. Joseph’s had just beaten Davidson. A news conference had broken up, his son doing the talking. Pops wasn’t in the room, but out in the narrow hallway outside the Hawks’ locker room, the first person anyone saw, leaving the news conference or the locker room.
Even going the other way, anyone who saw him stopped and pivoted, stepped toward him. That was one of Philip E. Martelli’s great gifts. He drew people toward him, just with a familiar grin, a few words. Everyone’s first step was toward him.
It really had little to do with being the father of the coach.
"I used to measure my team in a lot of ways in how they interacted with my father, and how they interacted with little kids," said Martelli, the Hawks coach since 1995.
The son was talking the day after his father died Wednesday at age 87. Around Hawk Hill, they all called the father "Pops,” and he was always around, games or practices. There would be times Phil Martelli would see his father in the stands during a practice and he’d be gone before they even talked.
"My father retired from DuPont the day I got the [head coaching] job at Joe’s, because he knew what he was going to do," Martelli said.
A Bartram High graduate and Air Force veteran, Pops had worked at DuPont as a chemist assistant in Grays Ferry for 42 years, missing one day of work. A sure sign of how often he’d be missing on Hawk Hill.
Bob Hughes, now the coach at Rosemont College, showed up in 1999 as a freshman manager.
"He had a certain cadence, how you doing?” Hughes said. "Thank you. He always emphasized the thank in ‘thank you.’ Everything about him encapsulized what it meant to be at St. Joe’s. I sat right near him on the bus on the road trips. It was always about you with him, it was never about him.”
And it was never about his son, Hughes said. The father never judged, Hughes said, where you fell on the program’s totem pole, from Jameer Nelson to walk-on to manager.
“It was an incredible gift,” Hughes said. "He gave it not just to me, but to the hundreds of people who have gone through the program.”
Back in those days, St. Joe’s had some funky travel arrangements, Hughes said. For the St. Bonaventure game, the team would fly to Buffalo and the team bus would go up and meet the players, drive the two hours down to Olean, then be there to drive back to Philly right after the game.
"Pops used to ride up to Buffalo with Pat the bus driver," Hughes said. "He’d take the ride and keep Pat company.”
“My father is a simple, simple man and we’re now chartering,” Martelli said. "The last couple of years he didn’t travel. The last time was 2017 to the A-10 tournament, we flew to Pittsburgh. But all those years, if we were flying commercial, getting up at 5 a.m., he was right there. If he got a middle seat, he got a middle seat. He never asked for anything.”
The son is a coach. He can be edgy. Losses don’t sit well. Martelli said his father was different from almost anyone he knew. "There was always joy. ... Even in the toughest times, there was always this thing in his eyes.”
Martelli said he has been overwhelmed by the outpouring he has received, including from players from way back. He didn’t quite realize the extent of the independent relationship his father had forged with so many of them.
"It’s chilling," Martelli said. "Just now, I just hung up from Bernard Jones, from my first team. I bet I’ve talked to him two or three times in recent years. It goes on and on.”
Phillip Edgar Martelli of Landsdowne is survived by by his children Phil Martelli (Judy), Marianne Martelli, Rosemarie Kehoe (Tommy), son-in-law Larry Phillips (the late Pattiann), Stephen Martelli, Christine Castagna (Joe), and Lisa Haney (Bill). He was the loving Pop to 17 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by his wife of 64 years, Mary Jane, as well as his children Michael James Martelli and Pattiann Phillips. Phil was also predeceased by his brother Thomas Martelli.
Friends and relatives are invited to pay their respects from 8 to 10 a.m. Monday at St. Philomena Church, 41 E. Baltimore Ave., Lansdowne. A funeral Mass will follow Monday at 10 a.m..
In the last St. Joseph’s home game of this man’s life, the Hawks, in the middle of a tough season, pulled out a two-point win over Massachusetts.
"The toughest losses or the biggest wins, he made sure to thank every player, manager, coach," his son said. "That day, he was the last person in the hallway, with my sister. She said, ‘Come on, Dad. We have to go.’ He said, ‘I haven’t seen Troy Holston yet.’ ‘’
The Hawks player hadn’t taken a shower yet. But Pops was out there waiting for him.
"He came out wrapped in towels," Martelli said.