Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Always Some Sad Story in Philly

Even if you're appalled by the Penn State and Syracuse spectacles, the one that took me by surprise was this morning's disclosure in the New York Times that ancient scribe Bill Conlin, 77-year-old sports columnist for the Daily News, Philadelphia version, was being accused of molesting kids and women decades ago, and had quickly retired.   It does figure that it happened in Jersey, right--somewhere across the Delaware River, where there were no great sports venues except for the late Garden State racetrack and where, of course, the Statute of Limitations has run for the ink-stained wretch--one of the women is 47 and lives in Atlantic City. All you can say is that it figures.

This probably happened because of the way these cases have of emerging after a few big ones break the ice--and these were big enough to just about sink Penn State and St. Joe Pa himself. The Syracuse incident should have readied us as the trail proceeded from the previously pure precincts of State College to the always delightfully sleazy 'Cuse and from there on to Philly--about as quickly as the old Syracuse Nats of the NBA became the Philadelphia 76ers al lthose decades ago. 

Philly was the sports town with no illusions and hardly any heroes. Guys like Bill Conlin made their name by being bottom-feeders--no one could be more cynical than writers in the eternal city of losers. He may even have been the one to suggest--when they were looking for a name for a new stadium that they settle for Losers' Field. I remember the News's series of "our tainted superstars" that detailed the disappointment visited upon the always-ready-for-the-worst Philly fan by the likes of Dick Allen, Wilt, Timmy Brown, and endless others.

The annual triumph of futility over the Phillies, Eagles, and Sixers was only vitiated now and then by the rise of the Broad Street Bullies--the Flyers, and occasional bursts into sunlight by the likes of Villanova, or if you really are from Philly, Philly Textile.  No one gave these Philly sports writers much thought because they were always locally-oriented--no one within living memory there had ever been syndicated--and all they wrote about were endlessly varying accounts of losing.

Penn may have dominated the Ivy League often in the two major sports--sorry Cornell hockey fans but in the U.S., it's still football and basketball. But the Philly sports press stopped following Penn when the great Big Five basketball rivalry hosted by the Quakers at the fabulous Palestra faded after the schools started playing their home games at home.  It probably would take the second coming of Chuck Bednarik to gain the attention of the local writers.

I always thought Conlin was a stitch--a guy covering losing teams with a million laugh lines. Maybe the end came when the world turned upside down and the Red Quakers (Phillies) escaped their association by name with a cheap cigar and became a perennial major league baseball contender and Conlin even made it into the writers wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame. The oft-disappointing Iggles also began behaving like a winning franchise, occasionally threatening to get into recent Super Bowls. 

Basketball, though, was the great Philly sport--back when I would take the train to spend afternoon and evening at Palestra double-headers during the Quaker City Tournament, now defunct, deader than even the truncated Holiday Festival in Madison Square Garden. The announcing style perfected by salami purveyer Dave Zincoff, the P.A. announcer for the Sixers in the days of Hal Greer ("Gree-ee-ee-ee-er") or Wilt ("It's a Dipper Dunk") was imitated by the Palestra mike-wielders to stir the crowd as the St Joe's human hawk flapped his wings doing figure-eights around the court during timeouts.

Through it all, one could always read endless words in print by Conlin and his fellow hacks whose attitude captured the city's sports mood--we can't really be winning. So I shouldn't be too shocked by these latest revelations.  Besides, while Penn State could never be ignored because (1) the Nittany Lions tended to win and (2) they had loyal alumni in Philly as they do everywhere else in the Commonwealth, this all happened in Jersey, years ago.  So we probably have Joe Paterno to thank for this story. Had the scandal not broken in his domain, we probably never would have heard about this story.  And you don't need to read Conlin to find that out.


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