MBB Bonus: Sights and sounds from Palestra during Holy War



Tim Richer

As I enter the sold-out Palestra on the University of Pennsylvania campus, two factors about the atmosphere are evident: the loud pregame noise in the air and the wall of 2,500 St. Joe’s students clad in maroon standing behind the northside basket. Imagine if every student at a Wachovia Center game were behind the same hoop, yet the arena was only one layer and holds approximately 9,000 in total capacity (as opposed to 21,000); this is the scene at the ’08 edition of the Holy War.

In an arena built for sound, there was plenty coming from the Hawk faithful, who watched a 77-55 dismantling of its rival Wildcats. More interesting than the game itself (at least for Villanova) were the sights and sounds that truly reflect the importance of this rivalry game for St. Joe’s students.

The rollout, a trademark in the Big Five series, was prominently on display for this game. For those unfamiliar, a rollout is an enormous poster, approximately 40 people long and a few feet tall, that either gets passed down the enormous wall of a student section until it is destroyed in the front row or is slowly unwrapped in the middle of the student section until the entire message is displayed. Each rollout is displayed to the entire arena for about 30 seconds before being ripped apart and thrown away.

For those not lucky enough to be one of the 70 students in the Villanova student section or one of the 30 in the band or even not lucky enough to be one of the few whom gets the CSTV channel, here is an account of the crowd at the game …

7:50 PM – About 15 minutes before tipoff, the SJU student section equips itself with hospital masks and passes down a rollout that reads, “‘Nova Virus: Café Food or RU Loss?”

7:53 – First batch of “Let’s go ‘Nova” chants are heard from the small yet vocal Villanova student section.

7:58 – Hawks Head Coach Phil Martelli enters the arena as the SJU section chants his name.

7:59 – The second rollout appears: “We’re sorry your mascots a (enter explicative synonym for cat).”

8:10 – About two minutes into the game, the first deafening eruption of the game from the home student section occurs as guard Darren Govens is hacked on a breakaway layup from Scottie Reynolds.

8:15 – “Even Tim Donaghy bet on SJU” rollout appears, referring to the Villanova alumnus-turned-NBA referee who was involved in a game-betting scandal.

8:16 – ‘Nova’s first and only “Safety School” cheer is heard in the arena.

8:26 – As forward Pat Calathes goes to the foul line, chants of “Nick is better,” (referring to Pat’s star freshman brother at Florida) are heard from the Wildcat students.

8:27 – Loudest “Let’s go ‘Nova” of the game is heard with Villanova down five with 10:49 left to go in the first half.

8:32 – “SJU invades ‘Nova Nation” rollout appears in game action with 7:55 to go in the first half and the Hawks up six.

8:35 – “Big Five: SJU, Penn, LaSalle, Temple, DREXEL” rollout appears.

8:44 – This is the loudest the arena has been so far after the reaction to forward Rob Ferguson hitting a 3 at the top of the key to put SJU up by 15, 35-20.

8:47 – During a timeout, a Dunkin’ Donuts-sponsored race is held between a Villanova and St. Joe’s student. The ‘Nova student pulls out easy victory and taunts the SJU student section afterwards. Rollout reading “Hawk D wraps Reynolds” is seen soon after.

8:50 – With 3:05 left in the half and down 38-22, guard Malcolm Grant enters the game and is greeted with chants from the Villanova student section.

8:51 – With 2:55 left in half, Grant is removed from the game, never to return.

8:58 – Govens hits a 3 for SJU in the closing seconds of the first half to put the Hawks up 45-26, followed by Reynolds getting blocked at the buzzer. The Palestra goes absolutely crazy.

9:23 – The first rollout of the second half: “2 Corey’s don’t make a Wright.”

9:35 – During the timeout with 11:42 left in the second half, SJU reveals its most witty rollout: “‘Nova diet: no MSG.”

9:39 – Villanova fights back to under 20 for the last time at 61-42 with 8:30 to go in the half. Palestra crowd rallies for the Hawks as Calathes responds with open layup.

9:46 – Crowd reaches a new high in volume after guard Garrett Williamson blocks a Reynolds 3-point attempt that turns into a Calathes basket.

9:48 – Rollout reading “How does V.U. get to B.E. Tourney?” appears.

9:49 – Another rollout: “Call Ticketmaster.”

9:58 – After Calathes hits a jumper with 2:20 left to put the Hawks up 75-44, chants of “Up by 30” and “This is our house” break out during the ensuing timeout. A rollout reading “What Big 5 means on the Main Line …” appears.

10:00 – Another rollout: “5 straight losses.”

10:02 – With under two minutes to go and a comfortable lead, the SJU student section breaks out in a “Where is Scottie?” chant, referring to Reynolds who had been sitting for several minutes. “The Hawk will never die” is also heard.

10:03 – Martelli points to the student section with a minute to go, and the arena goes wild. The crowd of 8,722 is brought to its feet and is at, by far, its loudest volume.

10:04 – The last rollout, reading “REDRUM,” is passed down to the front row.

10:05 – The final buzzer sounds with the final, and approximately 100 SJU students rush the court and celebrate at the foul line as the remainder of the section looks on.