There is a picture on one of the walls in the back of the Palestra, near the concession stand where they sell the grilled chicken sandwiches and other hot food. It is of a night game in the arena some years ago, and it would just be another crowd shot but for one defining characteristic.
The picture is splashed with red and blue streamers flying through the air after a Penn basket.
If you've been in the Palestra a lot -- especially if you went to games before most Penn students had even heard of their school -- you know what I'm talking about.
Throwing streamers is one of the grandest traditions of Big 5 basketball. Yet except for one Penn-Saint Joseph's game in 1993, it has been dormant since 1985, when the NCAA passed an otherwise sensible rule that banned throwing objects onto the court.
The memories still linger, though. Hawks coach Phil Martelli has so many of them that he couldn't pick a favorite when asked.
"I think that's more like asking somebody what's your favorite memory of a soft pretzel," he said, noting another great Palestra tradition. "All of them are good and you have a general impression. That's the same thing I have with the streamers."
Imagine it. Penn tips off against, say, Temple. Keith Butler and Steve Danley jump for the ball, and Butler, being over seven feet tall, gets there just before the 6-foot-8 Danley. But the ball lands in Mark Zoller's hands. He finds Ibby Jabber with a quick pass, and Jabber soars to the basket for a layup. As his feet hit the ground, a hailstorm of red and blue streamers fly out of the hands of the Penn fans behind the basket.
There is simply nothing else like that in American sports. You might find something similar at a soccer game, but you'll have to go to Europe or South America to see it in person.
For years, though, fans in Philadelphia only had to make their way to 33rd Street to see that kind of passion.
It just so happens that the 20th anniversary of the ban is also the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Big 5. That makes this year, more than perhaps any other, the perfect time to bring the streamers back.
Big 5 Executive Director Paul Rubincam is well aware of that. Which might be why, when I called the former Penn star's office this week, he was already a step ahead of me.
"We certainly have talked about it and I'll just leave it at that," he said. "There is a possibility, if we can get maybe some local legislation from the officials here in the eastern region to do it. I don't know if that is enough. All I can tell you is that it's being talked about."
Rubincam would not elaborate as to exactly who those officials are, but you can be pretty sure that he's talking about the NCAA. His point was that if the return of streamers is kept quiet, the NCAA won't know it's coming and thus won't try to stop it from happening.
Rubincam may not want to talk too much, but I would do just the opposite. This is something that everyone who cherishes the Big 5 needs to get behind, from the coaches to the fans to the media. The campaign to bring back streamers should be just as loud as, well, a sold-out Palestra.
Martelli is definitely on board.
"I think it would add to the pageantry," he said. "It is, I think, something that would pique the interest of the current student body, and there are certainly alums at all the schools that have fond memories."
Martelli even agreed to emulate his predecessor, John Griffin, who in that 1993 game made his players step over the foul line when taking their technical free throws so that the score would not be affected. Penn coach Fran Dunphy did the same thing, proving once again that these two schools are the best guardians of the Palestra's traditions.
"Anything for the greater good," Martelli said.
Bringing back streamers has become even more important because one of the Big 5's other great traditions has been temporarily dismantled. The annual Big 5 Classic triple-header, in which all six of the city's teams play on the same day, will just be an afternoon doubleheader this year.
The reason for the change is the most contemporary of them all -- television. This year's night game was supposed to be the Holy War clash between Villanova and Saint Joseph's. For the last few years, that game has been played in February during ESPN's "Rivalry Week." That will happen again this year, although the day of the week has not been determined. It will take place at the Palestra, even though it's a Villanova home game.
It would be great if as compensation for losing the triple-header there could be another doubleheader later in the season.
You might recall that this past February, Temple and St. Joe's squared off on a Saturday afternoon and Penn faced Cornell that night. Why not have Penn play an Ivy League game at noon, then have Temple face Villanova in the evening, and offer fans with tickets to the night game a discount for the afternoon? Not only would that boost Penn's attendance, it might just send a signal to ESPN as they get ready to plan their College GameDay road trips.
To sooth the minds who control the Ivy League's scheduling, Penn's games that weekend could be played on Saturday and Sunday instead of Friday and Saturday, so that the teams would not have to play two games in such a short span. Cornell and Columbia did something similar last year, and it worked well.
I realize that this proposal almost surely won't happen, BEcause it's a significant compromise for everyone involved. But it would be a great way to honor the Big 5 during its golden anniversary.
The possible return of streamers, though, is much more important for the time being. Here's hoping that everyone involved with the Big 5 can come together and make it happen.
It certainly ought to be more than a summer daydream.Comments powered by Disqus
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