The Malice in the Spectrum

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On January 6th, 1972, the St. Louis Blues got into a fight with Flyers fans that made the Malice in the Palace look like child’s play. It started after the two teams had skated off the ice following the second period, with the Flyers taking a 2-0 lead into the intermission. St. Louis Blues coach Al Arbour went over to referee John Ashley to complain about a call on his way down the ramp. As the two spoke, a Flyers fan decided to pour beer down Arbour’s back. Soon other fans followed by throwing trash and taking swings at Arbour. Incensed at the treatment their coach was getting, several Blues players took off in the direction of the ramp and started to swing their sticks and climb into the stands to fight the fans in question. The cops at the arena quickly got involved, and the then-notorious Philadelphia police (Interestingly, the game occurred three days after Frank Rizzo was sworn in as Mayor) were all too happy to use their nightsticks on the Blues players, beating them back into the locker room. Legend has it that a Philly newsman who had rushed over to the scene of the mayhem asked a nearby cop what was going on.

“It’s the Saint Louis Blues against the cops, and we’re winning.”

Blues coach Al Arbour received a gash needing 10 stitches and Blues player John Arbour (no relation) needed 40 stitches. They were also among the four Blues who were arrested following the game. Bail was set at $500, and they weren’t released from the police station until Ed Snider paid their bail at 5 in the morning. They had an arraignment the next month when they came to visit the Flyers again, but all charges were dropped. You can see some video footage of the fight here.

After the 25-minute melee the Blues, seemingly inspired, came out in the third period and scored three unanswered goals to win 3-2. After the game, the Blues owner was furious, saying, “That was the worst case of police brutality I’ve ever seen or heard about.” He threatened a lawsuit against the city. Ed Snider disagreed, arguing that the Blues players had no right to go into the stands.

Remarkably, the win would be the Blues last one in Philadelphia until the late 80s. The Flyers would go 31-0-3 against the Blues over the next 16 seasons at the Spectrum until finally falling in November of 1988.


The Legend of Chocolate Thunder

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On November 13th, 1979, the Sixers took on the Kansas City Kings at Municipal Stadium in KC. The Sixers were 12-3, on their way to an NBA Finals appearance against the LA Lakers. The Kings, led by the diminutive but explosive backcourt of Otis Birdson and Phil Ford, had stumbled out the gate to start the season, but would eventually right the ship and make the playoffs.

But context isn’t really necessary to understand what happened on that November in Kansas City. 38 seconds into the 3rd quarter, Daryl Dawkins took a  pass from Maurice Cheeks on the low box, spun to his left as he took a single dribble, then took off into the sky with no one to obstruct his path. He put his full power into the slam, and the strength of the 6’11”, 250 pound 21-year old was more than the glass backboard could handle. As he slammed the ball home, the glass shattered as if he had hit it with a sledgehammer, and large shards of glass began to rain down on the court. Kings forward Bill Robinzine memorably covered his face with his hands and took off running. Dawkins nonchalantly ducked his head and walked out of bounds slowly.

Dawkins was known for being an eccentric and for naming his dunks (previous examples included the In-Your-Face Disgrace and the Spine Chiller Supreme). He knew he needed a special name for this one. A week later, he immortalized it as the The Chocolate-Thunder-Flying, Robinzine-Crying, Teeth-Shaking, Glass-Breaking, Rump Roasting, Bun-Toasting, Wham-Bam-Glass-Breaker-I-Am-Jam. 

23 days later, after Philly fans kept telling him they wanted to see him do the same at home, he let them enjoy the fun, throwing down another backboard breaker at the Spectrum against the Spurs. That one simply ripped the rim out of the glass, which stayed intact but looked like a cannonball had  ripped through it.  After that one, he said “I didn’t mean to destroy it. It was the power, the Chocolate Thunder. I could feel it surging through my body, fighting to get out. I had no control over it.”

So where did he come up with the term “Chocolate Thunder”? In a 2011 interview with DIME Magazine, he acknowledged that he got the nickname from none other than Stevie Wonder:

Dime: How did the nickname Chocolate Thunder originate?

DD: Stevie Wonder used to come the ball games and they would have a guy sitting with him. And the guy would be holding on to his arm, telling him what’s going on, and he would say, “Hey, the big chocolate guy just put down a thunder dunk. The chocolate guy with another monster dunk.” And Stevie Wonder actually gave me the nickname Chocolate Thunder. So a guy who never saw me can give me that name. I think I can wear that well.

If you want to wear Chocolate Thunder well, you can purchase it here.


A Brief History of the Philadelphia Firebirds

The Philadelphia Firebirds were a minor league ice hockey team that began play in Philly in 1974. One of their first owners was former Phillie great Robin Roberts, though he left after they lost a ton of money in their first season.

They began play in the North American Hockey League, where they played from 1974-1977. Among the players on that inaugural team was goalie Reggie Lemelin, who would play for the team for five years before later enjoying some success with the Calgary Flames and would be the Flyers goaltending coach for 13 years.

The team had some great nicknames. The best was Gordie “Road Hog” Brooks, but they also had Dave “Crash” Kelly, Fred “Fats” Williams, Bob “Waldo” Neely, and enforcer Mike “Barretta” Haworth.

The Firebirds won the league’s Lockhart Cup in 1976, defeating the Beauce Jaros, a team based in Quebec, 4 games to 2. (Here’s a great photo of a packed house in Philly for one of those games. A friend of mine who was at one of those games said that Paul Newman attended, as he was scouting for his upcoming film Slap Shot, which was based on the NAHL.)

The league folded in 1977, and the team moved to the American Hockey League. They played there for two years (in one of those seasons, they featured a right wing named Steve Coates; they also had a young left wing named Mike Eruzione who played with them for 6 games before becoming a national hero), then moved to Syracuse in 1979, where they played for one year as the Syracuse Firebirds. They folded a year later. For their 5-year run in Philly, they played at Convention Hall on the edge of Penn’s campus near Franklin Field.


This is The Coolest Photo You’ll See All Day

Karl Wallenda walks above Vet Stadium between games of a doubleheader in May, 1976. (photo courtesy of AP) To see full-sized pic, click here.


#2 Most Underrated Athlete in Philly Sports History: Hal Greer

If there were an award given for a player who is most respected by basketball insiders, while getting the minimum public appreciation, Greer could win hands down.

-Herald-Tribune

The reason that so many players are on this list is timing.  And that couldn’t be more true for our 2nd Most Underrated Philadelphia Athlete, Hal Greer.  He was a guard at a time when two of the best guards in the history of the NBA played.  And he was teammates with the best Sixer in the history of the franchise.  Being compared to Oscar Robertson and Jerry West, in addition to playing second-fiddle to Wilt Chamberlain in Philadelphia lands Hal Greer on our list. His unmatched production and consistency are what rank him so high.

There aren’t many guys in pro sports like Hal Greer anymore.  He was born June 26, 1936 in Huntington, West Virginia and became the first black athlete to receive a scholarship at Marshall University.  After graduating in 1958, he was drafted by the Syracuse Nationals, who later became the Philadelphia 76ers.  He went to the university located in his hometown and then played out his 15-year professional career for the same franchise.

He was most known for his speed and his mid-range jumper.  His style was much more hard work than it was flash.  Greer’s teammate, and then coach, Dolph Schayes had this to say:  “Hal Greer always came to play. He came to practice the same way, to every team function the same way. Every bus and plane and train, he was on time. Hal Greer punched the clock. Hal Greer brought the lunch pail.”  He is also remembered for his quirky style at the free-throw line, from which he would shoot jumpers.  His career free throw percentage is 80.1%.

Over the course of his NBA career, the 6’2″ guard averaged 19.2 points per game, 4 assists, and 5 rebounds.  He scored more than 20 points per game in eight seasons.  He played in ten consecutive All-Star games from 1961 through 1970.  Although he was the smallest player on the 1968 East All-Star team and although he played just 17 minutes, he earned the MVP Award after going 8-8 from the field, 5-7 from the line, and scoring 21 points.  From ’63-’69 he was named to the All-NBA Second Team.  He was the type of player that always turned things up in the playoffs.  In the 1967 playoffs, he averaged 27.7 ppg, 5.9 rebounds. and 5.3 assists while quarterbacking the best team in basketball history to an NBA Title.

The fact that he scored so well while playing alongside Wilt Chamberlain speaks volumes about Greer’s abilities.

Greer retired after the ’72-’73 season.  At that time, he had appeared in more games (1,122) than any other player in NBA history.  His 21,586 career points ranked among the all-time top 10, as did his totals for minutes played, field goals attempted and field goals made.  His numbers still stand up almost 40 years after he retired.  He currently sits 30th all-time in scoring, 22nd in field goals made, and 26th in total minutes.

The usual waiting period for induction into the NBA Hall of Fame is 5 years.   Underrated as always, Greer was forced to wait nine.

Previously:

#15- Byron Evans#14- John LeClair#13- Von Hayes#12- Freddy Leach#11- Brad McCrimmon#10- Del Ennis#9- Eddie Plank#8- Dick Allen#7- Kimmo Timonen#6- Bobby Abreu#5- Joe Frazier, #4- Ricky Watters, #3- Donovan McNabb


40 Years Ago Today, The Bull Rang the Liberty Bell

Only one player in MLB history hit the Liberty Bell at the Vet. Greg “The Bull” Luzinski did it on May 16th, 1972. (As I have been informed by Andy and Mike, the Liberty Bell wasn’t located that high when he hit it. It was a 500-foot shot, but the Liberty Bell at that time was located in the 400 Level, where it looks like there are luxury boxes in the above photo. They were actually for press and VIPs.)

RELATED: Stargell’s legendary homer at the Vet.


A Timeline of Sixers vs Celtics Rivalry

It’s been great to see this Sixers-Celtics series get off to such an exciting start. In the late 60s and again in the early 80s, this was one of the premiere rivalries in basketball, but both teams have been extremely inconsistent since and the rivalry fizzled. Here is a look at all of their playoff meetings (not including times they met when 76ers were the Syracuse Nationals).

1965, when Havlicek stole the damn ball. The Celtics would go on to crush LA in the Finals.

1966– Celtics win 4-1. Would beat LA in 7 games in the Finals.

1967-Sixers win 4-1, go on to win title over San Fran Warriors.

1968-Sixers took a 3-1 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals, but lost the last three games to Russell and the Celtics, who went on to win the title. Chamberlain took a ton of criticism for the loss from fans and the media, and demanded a trade to LA.

1969- Celtics win 4-1. Would beat Chamberlain and Lakers in Finals, 4 games to 3.

1977- The Sixers won 4-3. Went on to lose to Trail Blazers in Finals.

In the 80s, the rivalry reached its burning point. Philly and Boston were undoubtedly the best two teams in the East, and met each other in the Eastern Conference Finals four times between 1980 and 1985, with each team taking two.

1980- Sixers cruised to a 4-1 Series lead. After knocking off rookie sensation Larry Bird, they would lose to another incredible rookie, Magic Johnson, and the Lakers in Six.

1981- That year’s Conference Final was one of the most exciting playoff series in sports history (John Hollinger of ESPN ranked it the #1 greatest playoff series in NBA history). 5 of the 7 games were determined by 2 points or less, including the last 4 games. Furthermore, the two teams had finished the regular season 62-20. They may have been the two most evenly matched teams in NBA history. The Sixers blew a 3-1 lead in the Series, lost Game 7 by one point at the Garden, and the Celtics went on to cruise to an NBA title over the Rockets. This may have been the most devastating loss in Sixer history.

1982- The Sixers and Celtics met again in the Conference Finals. Once again the Sixers took a 3-1 Series lead. Once again, the Celtics won Game 5 in Boston and Game 6 at the Spectrum to force a game 7. Were the Sixers going to blow it again?

No. The Sixers stormed the Garden, blowing out the Celtics. With just a couple of minutes remaining, and a Sixers win assured, a most remarkable thing happened. The Celtic fans started chanting, “Beat LA! Beat LA!”. You have to think that it inspired the USA! USA! chants in Rocky IV. Right?

Anyway, an incredible moment, but it was not to be. The Lakers would beat the Sixers in 6 games. The Sixers would have to wait until they got a player named Moses to get tho the promised land.

1985- Celtics win 4-1. Lose to Lakers in Finals.

2002-Celtics win 3-2 in the first round. This series is best remembered for “Practice?”

 


#5 Most Underrated Athlete in Philly Sports History: Joe Frazier

I think I pretty much summed it up in this column I wrote for Philyl Mag a few months ago. If you haven’t already read it, please do. I honestly think it’s one of the best pieces I’ve ever written.


A Few SI Preseason Eagles Predictions from Past Years

Big things are expected from the Eagles this season, and plenty of experts have them in the Super Bowl. Let’s go back through the years and see what predictions SI has made in past years. There are some fun ones here. We start with Peter King’s analysis in 2005.

The problems started before camp, of course, when Owens announced that he wanted to renegotiate the seven-year, $49 million contract he signed in 2004. Then he took shots at quarterback Donovan McNabb, calling him a hypocrite; injured his groin; and was se

nt home for arguing with Reid and offensive coordinator Brad Childress. Who knows how this soap opera will play out, but you can be sure that whether Owens plays 16 snaps or 16 games this season, Reid will have the Eagles focused and ready to play.

It didn’t quite work out that way. Terrell Owens singlehandedly destroyed a team perhaps more than any other single player in NFL history. They finished 6-10. In 2002, Peter King saw the Eagles weakness before the season started.

But a funny thing happened on the way to improvement. In the off-season the Eagles lost star middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter, who was released after a contentious contract negotiation with coach Andy Reid. That loss might be crippling if 275-pound Levon Kirkland or unproven four-year vet Barry Gardner fail to be adequate replacements.

It is well worth noting that this year is not the first time that the Eagles have entered the season without a quality middle linebacker. In 2002, letting the Axeman walk may have very well cost the Eagles a shot at going to their first Super Bowl. Who can forget his replacement, Fat Levon Kirkland, futilely chasing Joe Jurevicius in the NFC Championship Game? Things weren’t looking good back in 1994, though there was some new hope thanks to new ownership.

…none of the new guys they brought in this year can match the quality of Seth Joyner and Clyde Simmons, who followed Buddy Ryan to Arizona. And the defensive line, which once was the most feared in football, now reads, from left to right: William Fuller, Andy Harmon, William Perry and Mike Flores…The offense is more flash than smash. The Eagles were 4-0 last season until quarterback Randall Cunningham went down with a broken ankle; then they lost their next six. It was the second major injury in three years for the 31-year-old Cunningham. Two darting runners, Vaughn Hebron and rookie Charlie Garner, should help ease the pressure on Cunningham to take off and leg it.

The biggest plus is new owner Jeff Lurie, who stepped in and made sure that everyone was signed on time. It’s the first time since 1984 that that has happened in Philadelphia, where it’s being said that Lurie has brought a new, aggressive attitude to the team. Now if he could only step in at defensive end.

In 1989, Paul Zimmerman acknowledged that the Eagles were a two man team.

Take away two players and the PHILADELPHIA EAGLES are a sub-.500 team. Despite a mediocre line, quarterback Randall Cunningham had a magical year, practically willing his team into the end zone. End Reggie White was the best defensive player in football. But White missed much of training camp in a contract holdout, and the Eagles were on their way to nowheresville.

When he returned in late August, White said that if Buddy Ryan were not coach, he would never have played forPhiladelphia again. The players win for Buddy, not for the Eagles. Owners don’t like that kind of thinking.

Philly has some noticeable holes. Ryan keeps talking about a heavy running game, but that’s all it has been, talk. Even with White’s NFL-leading 18 sacks last year, the Eagles ended up last in pass defense, giving up the most yards ever by an NFC team. Philadelphia plays on high emotion. Last year it could beat anybody, but it could go in the dumper against anyone too. It will be another nail-biting season in ’89.

SI predicted a 9-7 season. In fact, the Eagles went 11-5, with Eric Allen, Seth Joyner, and Andre Waters taking some of the pressure off Reggie White (The offense continued to be a One-Man Show). In 1979, the Eagles were continuing their climb to respectability, but were being slightly derailed thanks to cocaine.

The PHILADELPHIA Eagles slipped into the playoffs last year on the winged feet of Wilbert Montgomery, only to make a quick exit when they blew a 13-0 fourth-quarter lead to Atlanta. Montgomery’s 1,220 yards rushing erased Steve Van Buren from the Eagle record book, but the guy who knocked down the linebackers for Montgomery last year, 215-pound Fullback Mike Hogan, won’t be around. Hogan and reserve Halfback Boomer Betterson were arrested on cocaine charges…Philadelphia’s strength, especially against the run, is the defensive front seven, led by greatly underrated Right End Carl Hairston, Inside Linebacker Bill Bergey and a comer at outside linebacker, Reggie Wilkes. The Eagles’ first pick in the draft, Jerry Robinson from UCLA, has impressed everyone with his speed (4.6 for 40 yards) and could be a starter at outside linebacker. Another draft pick, Tony Franklin of Texas A&M, seems ready to end the Eagles’ long search for a quality placekicker.

They would ultimately finish the season 11-5 and make it to the 2nd round of the playoffs, where they’d lose to Tampa. And finally, in 1966, things were looking up for the Birds.

The offense again should be hard to stop. Quarterback Norm Snead, after a good 1965 season, had surgery on a weak knee and is in excellent shape. At his best Snead can call a smart game, balancing the strong Eagle running with accurate passes at short and medium range. Behind Snead is King Hill, a certified big league quarterback who has knocked around for eight years but has never been No. 1. Although he has a strong arm he is not No. 1 because he is terribly inconsistent. The Eagles’ No. 3 quarterback is the little-used scrambler, Jack Concannon. Tall and strong, a good runner and a pretty fair passer, Concannon could be valuable as a halfback. He can run well enough, and with the threat of the halfback option pass he could be doubly dangerous.

In any case, the Eagle running can be outstanding. Now that Jim Brown has retired, the other Brown, Tim of the Eagles, is the most versatile runner in the game. He weighs 198 and can burst through the line or sprint around it with equal facility. He is at his fancy best when he breaks clear and shows off his repertoire of fakes or his tantalizing change of pace. Last year Brown was third in yardage (861) and first in average yards per carry (5.4).

Timmy Brown didn’t live up to expectations, rushing for 548 yards for a mere 3.4 yards per carry, Snead threw 8 TDs and 11 interceptions, and the defense allowed more points than the Eagles scored. And yet, somehow, the Eagles finished 9-5 and 2nd in the East Division. Go figure.


The Greatest Game in MLB History?

In June of 1971, at Riverfront Stadium, Rick Wise played perhaps the greatest game any MLB pitcher has ever played. He not only no-hit the Cincinnati Reds, he hit two home runs in the same game. He is the only pitcher to ever hit two homers while throwing a no-no. In August of 1971, he hit two dingers again, this time against the Giants. He finished the season hitting .237 with 6 homers and 15 RBIs. He talked about that game and that season with Bruce Markesun of the Hardball Times a few weeks ago.

Markusen: Let’s talk more about that game against the Reds. What did you have going for you in terms of pure stuff on the mound? What do you remember in terms of the pitching part that day?

Wise: Well, I felt warming up that I better locate my pitches because I was coming off the effects of the flu. I felt very weak that day. But it was my turn to start nevertheless. So warming up, it seemed like the ball was stopping halfway down to the catcher. So I said to myself that I better locate my pitches well.

I sweated out the remnants of the flu through the first inning; it was very hot on the carpet at Riverfront (Stadium). But I had a good rhythm. They were putting the ball in play early; it was 94 pitches in an hour and 53 minutes, and the game was over, so it went right along.

Of course, I added the two home runs. One in the fifth off Ross Grimsley, and then one off a reliever there, in the eighth inning. It was Clay Carroll, a very fine reliever at that time.

Markusen: From a hitting standpoint, Rick, the two home runs in one day. That had to be a bit of a surprise.

Wise: Well, not really. I had six home runs that year. I hit two home runs in a game twice that year. I tied a National League record. And one of those home runs was a grand slam, as a matter of fact. But I worked at hitting. I was always a good hitter, growing up in Little League, Babe Ruth, American Legion ball, high school ball, I was always hitting third or fourth. I had 15 home runs my first nine years in the National League, and then I went to the American League and never hit another one.

And Wise was no slouch on the hill that year either. He went 17-14 with an impressive 2.88 ERA. After the 1971 season, he was traded to the Cardinals for a player who would hit 10 career homers and knock in 112 RBIs over the course of his Phillies career. His name was Steve Carlton.