DIBIASE: Spectrum full of Philadelphia sports memories

Justin Dibiase

I asked my friend if he was planning on going to the men’s basketball game against Pittsburgh on Wednesday. He told me that he was but didn’t know why Villanova would choose to have a prime-time matchup in the Wachovia Spectrum instead of the Wachovia Center. He said it was too small and much older than the Center. He claimed that it didn’t fit in with the three awesome sports structures that surrounded it.

My friend was right about almost everything. It is too small, and it is probably old enough to be eligible for those senior citizens’ magazines. But, my friend was wrong about his last assumption. It isn’t the Spectrum that doesn’t fit in; it is the three other gorgeous sports havens that don’t mesh with Philadelphia and the Spectrum.

The Spectrum, tucked nicely inside the corner of Broad Street and Pattison Ave., defines the city of Philadelphia. Its brown exterior and humdrum concourse do not give it the aesthetic opulence of its neighbors, but the Spectrum is more than its looks alone. It symbolizes the grit, love, glory, passion and excellence that once and still continues to define Philadelphia and its sports teams.

Now, after 42 years of operation, the Spectrum is on its last call. Over the summer, Comcast-Spectacor Chairman Ed Snider officially announced that the Spectrum would be torn down and replaced by a new entertainment complex owned by Comcast-Spectacor. The demolition is slated for sometime after September of this year. Snider, who called the Spectrum his “baby,” knew that the decision had to be made. If anything, the Spectrum should have been knocked down long ago. In New York, the old Madison Square Garden went down as soon as the new one went up. The old Boston Garden was demolished once the new Fleet Center was ready for operation. Just across the way from the Spectrum, the old Veterans Stadium, former home of the Philadelphia Eagles and Phillies, was torn down in 2004, as soon as the teams’ new homes were ready for use.

After being the home of the Philadelphia Flyers and 76ers for almost 30 years, both storied franchises moved out of the Spectrum in the spring of 1996. Demoted to being the home of the Flyers’ minor league hockey team and indoor lacrosse and soccer, the Spectrum has seen better days, but the memories will always remain.

Built in 1966 with a price tag of seven million dollars, the sanctuary has had many monikers: the CoreStates Spectrum, the First Union Spectrum and now the Wachovia Spectrum, but to sports fans it has always been just the Spectrum.

It has hosted two NBA and NHL All-Star Games, six Stanley Cup Finals, and three NBA Finals. It gave Bobby Knight and the Indiana Hoosiers two NCAA Championships when it hosted the ’76 and ’81 Final Fours. It was the site of Christian Laettner’s famous fade-away buzzer beater that sent Duke to the Final Four in ’92. It has hosted some of the most talented musicians of all time, including the Grateful Dead, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Elton John, Aerosmith, Pink Floyd, The Doors, Led Zeppelin, Queen, Luciano Pavarotti, Elvis Presley and The Who. It was the location of the Philadelphia Flyers’ victory against the USSR’s Red Army Hockey Team in 1976. The first sporting event held at the Spectrum was a boxing match featuring a young man by the name of Joe Frazier in 1967.

On a more personal level, it was a home to Villanova and the Big 5. The Center is to current ‘Nova students what the Spectrum was to the previous generation of Villanovans. Countless Wildcats’ memories took place in the legendary athletic facility.

Rollie Massimino first took his group of Wildcats to the Spectrum to play in Philadelphia’s bicentennial year of 1976. Massimino took ‘Nova back there almost every year, including four times during its national championship year of 1985. The first City Series game played away from the Palestra occurred in 1977, with ‘Nova pounding St. Joes, 92-78.

So now we gather as Villanovans not only for a huge Big East clash, but also to celebrate a place that our parents and our parents’ parents traveled to many times before we were ever thought of. It may not be a place that we students can truly appreciate, but win or lose, the venerable structure will be the true story Wednesday night.

Musician Joni Mitchell played her first and only concert at the Spectrum on Feb. 16, 1976. Little did anyone know that one song that she would play that night, “Big Yellow Taxi,” would so accurately describe the closing and razing of the building in which she stood just 33 years later.

The chorus goes something like this: “Don’t it always seem to go/ That you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone/ They paved paradise, and put up a parkin’ lot.”


Justin DiBiase is a senior civil engineering major from Franklinville, N.J. He can be reached at [email protected].