I can't walk up the west side of Broad Street, between Vine and Wood Streets, without suffering a twinge of nostalgia for what once stood where now sits a multilevel parking garage.

It wasn't the prettiest building in town, but the 16-story structure that stood for 66 years until its razing in late 1991 housed the Philadelphia Athletic Club for several decades until its demise - the building's and the club's.

The PAC was one of the last bastions of male retreat before it opened its doors to women in 1983. It was a health club not just for professionals and businessmen, but also working-class folks and even (shudder) those ink-stained wretches, newspaper people.

I recall how the balcony by the Olympic-size pool would be filled with hairy, knobby old men wearing nothing but sheets draped on them like Roman togas, playing pinochle, and hurling imprecations at one another.

They were always there. Every day. It brought to mind the scene in the movie


where Judge Smails accosts a table of card-playing club members and snarls, "Don't you have



The club was a place where an everyday Joe could spot a Philly sports figure on any given day. Maybe not the superstars, but some notable figures just the same.

Tom Dempsey used to go there once in a while to play racquetball. The former Eagles kicker still shares the NFL record for the longest field goal (63 yards), with Dempsey making his kick in 1970 when he was with New Orleans. Atlanta's Jason Elam, then with Denver, also booted one 63 yards. Anyway, Dempsey looked much, much larger than his listed playing weight of 260 pounds, and those of us playing basketball in the gym were grateful he was playing racquetball that day. Despite having been born with half of one foot and part of one arm, he was quite an athlete.

Another visitor spotted on the basketball court one afternoon long ago was Hank Siemiontkowski, the former North Catholic and Villanova star, who played with Howard Porter on the Wildcats team that reached the NCAA basketball final in 1971. Hank treated onlookers to a long-distance shootaround, where from beyond three-point range he started at one baseline and proceeded to hit every shot he took in a circuit to the other baseline. No one on the court challenged him . . . to anything.

One name that constantly was being paged on the club's P.A. system was that of Max Patkin, the legendary Clown Prince of Baseball. For those too young to remember Max, his on-field antics have been immortalized in the movie

Bull Durham

, in which he played himself, entertaining minor-league baseball crowds with his comic routine. Patkin, who passed away in 1999 at age 79, outlived the club, which closed for renovations in 1987 and never reopened.

It's just a parking garage now, but it was once so very much more.

The NFL's first 3-D broadcasting experience got off to a zero-D start Dec. 4. The Thursday night game between the Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers was broadcast in 3-D to audiences in three theaters in Los Angeles, New York and Boston. But because of two satellite glitches, the first half was blacked out.

Viewers reportedly were generally impressed, apart from a few fuzzy moments, by the technology once the game did reach their big screens.

The NFL has not decided what to do with the innovation, but Howard Katz, senior vice president of the NFL's broadcasting and media operations, has said the league for now is committed to free, over-the-air broadcasts if and when it adopts 3-D technology.

But here's the kicker: Only about 2 percent of the nation's TV sets are equipped to handle 3-D broadcasts.

Perhaps the NFL will get a cooperative deal going with the TV manufacturers, and after everybody has gone out and bought digital HDTVs, they will then introduce 3-D TVs and make us all buy new sets again.

Barry Melrose, who was fired as coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning last month, is returning to ESPN as a hockey analyst, a job he left to take the short-lived coaching position. "I am very, very excited about coming back home to ESPN, where I have had so many great years," Melrose said. "I look forward to analyzing people being fired rather than being the guy fired."

Presumably, Melrose will be looking forward to reporting on the demise of the Tampa Bay honcho who fired him after he had spent only 16 games behind the bench.

Quick hits and headlines

Attorney: Giants' Pierce unaware Burress was carrying gun

"Honest, officer, I thought that was one of those novelty cigarette lighters he put in my glove compartment. I mean, it was smoking and everything."

Northeast beats Central, 38-0, on Thanksgiving

This ancient city high school rivalry was notable this year because it marked two events: The loss finished Central's season at 0-11, the first time the Lancers' football program suffered a winless campaign since 1940. Also, it marked the first time in memory that Northeast had actually led the turkey day series, now at 52-51-10.

Paterno feeling "great" after hip-replacement surgery, eager to return

JoePa is amazing. We should all have his energy and drive at the age of nearly 82. But does anyone else have recurring dreams, where it's 25 years from now and his artificial hip is still patrolling the sideline, coaching Penn State, long after the rest of Joe is gone?

O.J.'s next stop: Spartan desert prison

Wow, no luxuries, no golf, none of the finer amenities. Plenty of beach, though. They should put his old Heisman Trophy on a pedestal outside the bars of his cell, where he can't touch it. Just out of his reach - like the rest of his life.