At its ear-shattering best, it was Thunderdome, a Niagara of noise, waves of shuddering sound roiling to the rafters, the echoes ricocheting off the walls.

When a Philadelphia team was playing, you could stand out in the parking lot and the crowd noise would tell you how the home team was faring - if they were winning, the passion was as raw and bone-deep as a January night, an unrelenting, urging surge of support.

And if they were losing . . . ah, well, then it was a mournful wail, so haunting that wolf packs a thousand miles away lifted their muzzles to the heavens and bayed at the moon in sympathetic reply.

To this day, it is claimed that way up there in the cold, cold north there are wolves that know how to boo.

For three full decades and bits and pieces of two more, the Spectrum served its purpose uncommonly well - it was more than just another antiseptic arena, it was one of our civic cathedrals, a signature profile, its lights emitting an inviting glow, tempting, bidding you to come in, suggesting all manner of entertainment.

Crooners crooned there. Dr. J dunked there. Sinatra in a tux, Doc walking on air. Smooth. Silk-on-satin smooth.

The Flyers won Stanley Cups there, won them when the sport was new here - hockey? What's hockey? - won by toothless Canadians long on grit and gristle. They came into their locker room before the deciding game to find this message written on a chalk board by their coach, the enigmatic Fred Shero: "Win today and we walk together forever."

Quite a prophecy.

Clarkie and Bernie. The Watson brothers. Moose and Hound. Big Bird and The Hammer. Lunch-pail, hard-hat athletes, hungry . . . hungry and ravenous because the big money hadn't infected their sport yet.

Even they didn't fully comprehend the impact they would have on this town. None of us could. They were the best and the brightest, and they remain so to this day.

The Blade Runners.

The Spectrum was theirs. They brawled and bashed and splattered its ice with blood - the opponents' and their own. In Philadelphia, blood plays big.

Kate Smith played big, too. In life and in records. Adopted as the Flyers' good luck talisman, when her version of "God Bless America" was played, the Spectrum vibrated like a giant tuning fork, and the hardest of hearts suddenly found it hard to swallow.

And then the hard wood would be placed on top of the ice and the 76ers would take over. Moses and Mo. World B. Jelly Bean. The White Shadow. The Kangaroo Kid. The Boston Strangler.

Remember? They gave us our last parade. Twenty-five years ago. Ah, boy, we know that math, don't we? All of us. Know it by heart. Know every galling, gnawing season of frustration.

Nothing lasts forever . . . well, with the exception of public television pledge drives and the lack of Philadelphia championships. And now the Spectrum is coming down, the judgment, devoid of emotion, being that it has outlasted its usefulness.

So, there will soon be a tiny, precise mound of rubble and from the bones will arise new commercial ventures. The Spectrum will be the third sporting venue fatality of recent time, joining JFK Stadium and the Vet. They recede in our memory, and when summoned, now show up fuzzy and indistinct. Years hence, such a fate undoubtedly awaits the Spectrum. But its passing needs to be observed. It was home to heroes and zeros, to moments of giddy exhilaration and wrenching despair, to high drama and low comedy.

The fall of the Wachovia Spectrum thins the South Philadelphia sporting venue ranks. We are left with three playpens now, and we take them for granted. Our sports complex is a thing to be chest-thumping proud of, but of course we would prefer to find nits to pick.

I did 31 years and a small river of words in the Spectrum, hunched over at a Quasimodo trajectory in the cramped hockey press box, or wedged in along the baseline, so close to the floor I could see the whole unit - basket, backboard, stanchion, all of it - be moved by Charles Barkley at the conclusion of a two-handed breakaway dunk. No one tried to step in and take a charge against Charles.

The single best individual play I ever saw in the Spectrum was on a dank, rain-lashed night in March of 1992, Duke against Kentucky in the regional finals of the NCAA tournament.

Christian Laettner took a 75-foot inbounds pass at the top of the key, faked, pivoted, and put up a jump shot that splashed the netting at the gun. As is customary in this profession, we were given 37 seconds to write 500 words.

There were a lot of deadlines in the Spectrum, a lot of nights when you looked beseechingly at all those banners draped from the rafters, pleading desperately for inspiration, asking the building to bail you out one more time.

It's only a building, the pragmatist will say, and correctly so. Concrete and steel rods. Inanimate.

Maybe so. But it is also the repository of memories, memories for which there are no replacements.

So then, let us lift a glass. And cherish the memories.