Skip to content
Our Archives
Link copied to clipboard

A list of Spectrum moments to remember

With the 76ers playing the final big-league sporting event at the Wachovia Spectrum tonight, there's a lot to remember about the old South Philadelphia arena. But there's probably just as much we've forgotten about the place.

With the 76ers playing the final big-league sporting event at the Wachovia Spectrum tonight, there's a lot to remember about the old South Philadelphia arena. But there's probably just as much we've forgotten about the place.

Here are five Spectrum facts that might have been withdrawn from your memory banks:

The first roof-raiser 1

Everybody remembers that the Spectrum's roof blew off on March 1, 1968. People forget it happened two weeks earlier, too.

On Feb. 17, as 11,000 watched an Ice Capades show, Hal Freeman, the Spectrum's first president, sat in his basement office. Suddenly, a nephew, who had been watching the show, appeared at his door.

"Uncle Hal," he told Freeman, who died in 1998, "I think you've got a problem. The roof is blowing off."

High winds had dislodged a 50-by-150-foot chunk of the four-month-old arena's roof. Debris injured three people entering the building.

"It sounded just like a subway train roaring past you," Steve Greenberg, a Spectrum public-relations assistant, said in 1988. "There was this great ripping sound. I looked up and saw blue sky where the roof should have been. There was an orchestra on hand for the show, and it must have had a comedian for a director, because they started playing, 'Off We Go Into the Wild Blue Yonder.' "

The structural damage was repaired quickly, but not before Philadelphia became the national butt of jokes.

Then, two weeks later, the roof blew off again.

This time Mayor James H.J. Tate, whose administration had been criticized for the sweetheart deal it awarded developer Jerry Wolman, shut down the building.

The 76ers, NBA champs a year earlier, had to finish their season at the Palestra and Convention Hall. They did not repeat.

The first-year Flyers, meanwhile, clinched the Western Division title while playing their remaining games on the road in New York, Toronto and Quebec City. Their celebration consisted of a late-night party in Ed Snider's room at a Quebec City hotel.

"Did we have to clinch now?" complained goalie Doug Favell, who was summoned to the event only after second-place Los Angeles was eliminated in a West Coast game. "I just took three sleeping pills, and The Slime People is on the late movie."

After the Red Army

The Flyers-Soviet Red Army game at the Spectrum on Jan. 11, 1976, was one of the building's most memorable. That chaotic and historic Flyers' victory would overshadow the NHL All-Star Game, which took place there just nine days later.

As part of the Bicentennial celebration, the arena hosted that year's NHL and NBA All-Star Games (baseball's was played at the Vet). The only previous all-star game played in the building had been the 1970 NBA game.

A crowd of 16,436 saw the Campbell Conference stars beat the Wales, 7-5.

Perhaps the only noteworthy thing about the game was its rosters, which illustrates the depth of change in the NHL since then.

Thirty-nine of the 40 players in that '76 game were Canadian-born. The only exception was Borje Salming, Toronto's Swedish-born defenseman.

Compare that with the international makeup of this year's all-star game. In 2009, 25 of the 49 eligible players were born outside Canada, the majority in Sweden, Russia and the Czech Republic.

The name game

People forget how innovative an arena name the Spectrum was. The era's sports facilities tended to have names like Convention Hall or the War Memorial Arena.

It came out of the head of the arena's VP, Lou Scheinfeld. While Freeman favored Keystone Arena, Scheinfeld sought something livelier.

"We didn't want it named for some dead general," he said.

Seeking inspiration, he and designer Bill Becker walked through the construction site. After tossing around adjectives like "spectacular," "splendid" and "special," Scheinfeld said, "How about Spectrum?"

"I looked up the meaning," he said, "and it said, 'All things colorful under the sun.' Perfect. And you had 'SP' for sports and South Philadelphia. 'E' for entertainment. 'C' for the circus and concerts. 'T' for theatrical. 'R' for recreation and relaxation, and 'UM' was a suffix for auditorium and stadium."

Still Freeman held out for Keystone. When it came time to present their ideas to developer Wolman and his people, Scheinfeld brought along a "crappy" sign from a Keystone State Official Automotive Inspection Station. He also pointed out that Philly had at least 60 businesses with "Keystone" in their names, everything from a tonsorial parlor to a pickle factory.

Wolman's team voted, 9-1, in favor of "Spectrum." "Freeman was the only holdout," Scheinfeld said.

When Freeman demanded a broader vote, other executives were brought in.

"This time it was 30-1," Scheinfeld said. "That name started something. Before you knew it, you had arenas with names like the Forum and the Omni."

Scheinfeld hopes to keep the name alive and is lobbying developers of the Spectrum site to include it in the new project planned there.

The bizarre box score

Hard to believe this one's been largely forgotten. The box score from a March 23, 1979, Nets-Sixers game at the Spectrum shows that Eric Money, Ralph Simpson and Harvey Catchings played for both teams.

Here's how it happened:

The Sixers had won a foul-filled, double-overtime game with the Nets on Nov. 8, 1978. But because referee Richie Powers had called three technicals on Nets coach Kevin Loughery and star Bernard King - the NBA limit was two - New Jersey protested.

"I was thinking, 'That's funny. I thought you could only get two technicals'," recalled Catchings, retired now in Chicago.

NBA commissioner Larry O'Brien upheld the protest, ordering that everything from 5:50 left in the fourth quarter (when the technicals were called) be expunged and the game replayed from that point.

The Nets were back in Philly on March 23 and the suspended game was to be completed before the regularly scheduled contest.

One problem: On Feb. 7, the 76ers had traded Catchings and Simpson to the Nets for Skinner and Money.

After much deliberation, league officials decided the traded players could compete for their new teams. While Skinner never got in, you'll find Simpson and Money on both sides of the box from Philadelphia's 123-117 triumph and Catchings just on the Nets' side because he was scoreless for the Sixers and played only during the time the statistics were expunged.

Another oddity of that game: When Loughery was ejected in February, his assistant took over. Then in the March replay, when the Nets were short on big men, that same assistant, a 6-9 ex-NBA center, was activated.

His name?

Phil Jackson.

What a start

For all the significant sporting events that took place there, it's hard to imagine the Spectrum ever had a streak like the three-day run of events at its official opening.

After the first concert (Quaker City Jazz Festival) and the first ice show (Holiday on Ice), things moved to another level.

On Oct. 17, 1968, Philadelphia's Joe Frazier, an Olympic gold medalist and future heavyweight champ who had just TKO'd George Chuvalo, knocked out Tony Doyle in the second round.

On Oct. 18, the day the building was officially dedicated, the NBA champion 76ers, with reigning MVP Wilt Chamberlain, opened their season by thumping Jerry West's L.A. Lakers, 103-87.

On. Oct. 19, the brand-new Flyers played their first home game and got their first shutout (Favell), beating the Pittsburgh Penguins, 1-0, before a crowd of 7,812.