Tampa Bay Sports Day

Saying Goodbye to the Old Girl of Broad Street

PHILADELPHIA – Three other modern venues elicit attention when entering Broad Street after exiting the Walt Whitman Bridge. It isn’t until you scan the literal quadrant of stadiums and arenas that the smaller building catches the eye amidst the modern sporting palaces that comprises the landscape.

Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Eagles, is the conspicuous facility because of its size. Even in the offseason, the ballpark across the parking lot is noticeable because of a bright red sign and a message board proclaiming its home inhabitant as Major League Baseball champions. Citizens Bank Park, which opened in 2004, is the home of Phillies while the Eagles’ home field is one year older.  Rounding out the last of the newer stadiums is the home of the Flyers and 76ers, which opened way back in 1996.

But amid the new palaces for this city’s sports teams sits a haunt for generations of Philadelphia entertainment fans. Like the aforementioned venues, the Spectrum’s formal name is preceded by a corporate sponsor. But while the arena doesn’t host big league events anymore, many sports fan have been making the trek to see a historic site that is scheduled to be razed this spring.

The Spectrum has been like an old friend to a sports-crazed city since it opened in 1967. There are many similarities between the old barn and Nassau Coliseum, which is undergoing a major public relations campaign by the Islanders to renovate what is considered by many fans to be an outdated facility.

Yet the Spectrum is undeniably one of the most storied places in North American sports. It has hosted two NBA All-Star Games and four Finals series, six Stanly Cup Finals series (one more than the Coliseum) and two All-Star contests, two Finals Fours and crossed over into the entertainment world, with banners still hanging that chronicled the Grateful Dead tours. From the cinema world, the Spectrum was in the script of the famous “Rocky” fight against Apollo Creed and the actual building at one time was the location of the famous statue to honor the fictional Rocky Balboa (sorry, Philly fans, he is just a character and not a real champion).

Some fans like Will Janson said some non-sports events will make the demolition of the Spectrum a sad day and could prompt him to take home some memorabilia before the doors close for good.

“I actually had the prettiest girl in the world sitting on my shoulders during a David Bowie concert in ’76″ Janson said. “She actually still lives in the neighborhood. I’ll try and grab a section of the wall and I’m going to try and grab my seats.”

The Spectrum serves as the home to the AHL’s Philadelphia Phantoms, the Flyers’ farm team. Though long since outdated for the modern NHL, the capacity of 17,380 for hockey allows fans to sit close to the ice, making it easy to envision the heyday of one of the most intimidating places to play for visiting teams when the Flyers were racking up consistent playoff appearances decades ago.

“I like the comradery here,” Brett Marino said during an intermission of a Phantoms game. “Everybody’s always glad to be here and glad to see a good game. It’s a shame. I’ll hate to see it go.”

Purple stanchions on the glass give the place a unique look and portraits of past Flyers and 76ers great players and coaches are painted on the walls of the narrow corridors that stretch around the arena.  Instead of an eagle-eye view of the action from the press box on the luxury box level, the press sits between the two-tiers of seats, sitting within ear-shot of the crowd. A small staircase actually located inside the media area allows access to the dressing room by descending two flights of stairs into the rickety underbelly that has served as the dressing room for Hall of Famers and A-list celebrities.

Passageways directly next to the benches lead from the dressing room to the ice, making the players who enter and exit the playing surface are level with the first rows of seats. Players are literally within touching distance of the fans. It’s easy to imagine fans of the  Broad Street Bullies taunting future Islanders Hall of Famers during the 1980 Stanley Cup Finals, where the Islanders were able to hold off a Philadelphia team that went undefeated for 35 games during the regular season to win the first of its four straight titles.

“The building is outdated ,but you can’t beat the seating here,” said Chris Poole, who has been coming to the Spectrum for the past three decades. “I saw my first concert here [to watch] Kiss.”

Almost 140,000 fans have passed through the Spectrum’s gates this season. Overall, the Phantoms average nearly 7,000 per game. Claude Giroux, the Flyers 2006 first-round pick who started the year in the AHL before getting called up, said it meant extra playing in the Spectrum.

“Every game, they cheer a lot,” Giroux said after a December win against Hartford. “It’s a big motivation every time we play here. We’re lucky to have those fans.”

New arenas seat closer to 20,000 people and offer amenities like more leg room, cup holders and wider lobbies, though there is usually a tradeoff with fans sitting further from ice level. The Devils’ new home in Newark exemplifies the dichotomy between modern perks and things like great sight lines for which old barns like the Spectrum were noted. Some fans like the close-quarter feelings a 42-year-old arena provides.

“It just has a nice feel,” Michelle Penkrot said. “It’s nice that it’s a little smaller.”

A patch that that espouses the arena as “America’s Showplace” is being worn on Phantoms jerseys this season. It is influenced by the original logo, replete with 1960s-era color scheme. The Phantoms could move to Allentown, Pa. next season after Comcast Spectator, the Spectrum’s owner, sold the team to Brooks Group of Pittsburgh. While those plans have not been finalized, there will certainly be a literal and figurative vacancy at the South Philadelphia Sports Complex.

“It’s very intimate,” Jansen said. “You’re close to [the action]. It’s old style now, well, it wasn’t back then. But it’s just perfect.”