Sorry, Mr. Feinstein, ‘Nova Fans Aren’t Snobs
For some inexplicable reason, renowned sportswriter, John Feinstein decided to go on a rant directed at Villanova fans the other day on a segment aired on “Breakfast On Broad” (CSN Philly). In his rant, he suggested that Villanova should schedule one home game every year at the Palestra against a major, non-conference opponent.
If you missed it, you can rubber-neck it here.
What Feinstein never addresses in his rant, nor addressed via follow-up questions posed to him on twitter, is “why”? A, seemingly, simple question.
Why should Villanova play one home game per year at a “rival” school’s gym?
The Palestra is an actively used facility, owned and operated by the University of Pennsylvania. Penn already schedules it’s full slate of home games at the venerable old stadium?
Why is the onus on Villanova to play there too?
In fact, Villanova already plays there at least every other year as part of the Big Five round robin when the Cats travel to face the Quakers in their home arena.
If you want to experience the history and tradition of the Palestra, you can buy a ticket and do so at any time.
I can’t speak for all ‘Nova fans, but there are obvious inconveniences associated with playing home games in multiple venues. Villanova already splits the location of home games between the on-campus, Pavilion and the Wells Fargo Center in the professional sports complex in South Philly. The Wells Fargo Center games are great for Villanova because they help expand the fan base by providing opportunities for the general Philadelphia basketball fan and the non-season ticket holding Villanova fan to attend several big-time games per year. Inconveniences aside, there simply is no compelling argument why Villanova should play home games at the Palestra and create a “three home court” conundrum which would only reduce revenue the program needs to compete with the elite basketball programs from the “Football-5” conferences.
I grew up on Philadelphia basketball. My high school produced two Philly legends that are enshrined in the Naismith Hall of Fame. I openly embrace the rich traditions and history of Philadelphia basketball and fully respect the basketball legends - from Paul Arizin and Tom Gola to Michael Brooks and Lionel Simmons - from Guy Rodgers and Hal Lear to Mark Macon and Jameer Nelson. Wali Jones, Wilt Chamberlain, Dr. J, Kerry Kittles, Alvin Williams … I could list a ton of players that I have enjoyed watching play in the basketball-crazy, City of Brotherly Love. You want coaches? Philly has a rich coaching tradition too: Harry Litwack, Chuck Daly, Dr. Jack Ramsey, John Chaney, Jack Kraft, Jim Lynam, Billy Cunningham, Rollie Massimino, Phil Martelli, Fran Dunphy, and Jay Wright included.
The Palestra helped inspire my deep-rooted love for the game of basketball. Games and experiences at the Palestra are woven into the tapestry of my basketball soul. As a Villanova student, I saw ‘Nova play the late, great “Pearl” Washington at the Palestra. I saw Joe Klein and Alvin Robertson of highly regarded Arkansas lose to the Cats at the Palestra. I saw plenty of Philly high school greats, including Villanova prospects like Kyle Lowry and Mike Nardi, play at the Palestra. I have many great memories of the Palestra and still attend games there.
I also have had the good fortune to see many other great Wildcat games over the years …
Countless great wins at the old Field House and at the Pavilion, Harold Pressley standing on his head to help the ’86 Cats beat Georgetown at the Spectrum, Jermaine Medley’s buzzer beater over Georgetown at “insert name of bank” Center in Philly, Randy Foye and company beating Louisville at Freedom Hall, Curtis Sumpter’s dunk at Phog Allen, the Wildcats thrashing of then #2 Kansas at Wells Fargo Center in “the Blizzard game”, Villanova knocking off #1 UConn at Wells Fargo Center, Scottie Reynold’s shot to beat Pittsburgh at the new Boston Garden and send ‘Nova to the Final Four in 2009, ‘Nova beating Xavier to win the 2015 Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden, Kris Jenkins’ buzzer-beating, national title, game-winning, three-ball in Houston last April. Legendary Villanova basketball moments have taken place in arenas across America.
As the publisher of VUSports.com for the last twenty years, I have had the privilege of building friendships with Villanova basketball fans that have followed the team from as far back as the early 50s. They share, via our online community and in person, amazing stories and remembrances of the Villanova games, players and heroes of yesteryear. Some of these games took place at the old Villanova Field House (more commonly called the Cat House), some at the Palestra, the old Garden in NY, the old Spectrum in Philly, and at the gyms of other schools nation-wide. What makes these old stories great is generally not the brick, mortar and wood of the facility in which they were played. What makes them great is the players, the fans, the coaches, the sweat, the effort, the drama, the pain, the glory, the human element.
So why the name-calling, Mr. Feinstein? Why are Villanova fans snobs for not wanting to play “home” games at another school’s gym?
Are Wilt Chamberlain, Walt Hazzard, Gene Banks, Dallas Comegys, Wayne Ellington, Amile Jefferson, and Quade Green snobs because they chose to reject playing at Big Five schools in favor of attending the blue-blood basketball schools of yesterday and today? Shouldn’t they have stayed home to play in the Palestra and other Philly gyms in front of Philly hoops junkies?
Are the real snobs the Penn people who, when the Palestra was remodeled, decided to throw tradition to the curb in favor of adding chair-back seats to the big donor sections? Didn’t they deface the traditional Palestra design in favor of creature comforts?
Are the real snobs the ones who decided to start calling technical fouls on Big Five teams when fans would litter the court with streamers after their team’s first made basket? (the streamer throwing tradition that Jay Wright still recreates each season at Villanova Hoops Mania at the Pavilion)
Are the real snobs the people who started to police roll-out signs like the gestapo? (and in so doing taking much of the fun out of that tradition).
Are the real snobs the people that razed the old Spectrum? The very building where Bobby Knight and Isiah Thomas beat Dean Smith and the Heels for Indiana’s 4th National Championship … and where Christian Laettner hit the greatest shot in pre-Kris Jenkins, NCAA Tournament history.
On the national list of snobs, should you include the NCAA? The Palestra has hosted more NCAA Tournament games than any arena in the country and yet the NCAA has tossed all that tradition aside in favor playing NCAA Tournament games in football arenas.
Yes, revenue trumps tradition across the NCAA, where the “snobs” at Louisville sold out by trading glorious Freedom Hall for the overtly corporate KFC YUM! Center, the “snobs” at UNC don’t play annual games at Carmichael Arena, the “snobs” at Temple don’t play annual games at McGonigle Hall … and in the NBA where “snobs” replaced the Boston Garden and obliterated the Spectrum.
Villanova basketball fans aren’t snobs. Villanova basketball fans love Villanova basketball - both for what it was and for what it is today. We have our own traditions, heritage, and pre-game rituals. We don’t need to schedule “novelty” games at the Palestra so that outsiders can attempt to relive the years when the Palestra really was “all that and a soft pretzel”. Things naturally change over time.
Do you leave a ’57 Chevy in your garage, pull it out every once in awhile, call up your first love and ask her to come over and re-enact the first time you both got a little frisky together in the backseat? If you do, I can’t imagine the experience remains the same every year. Each year body parts sag a little further, weight shifts, hair changes color and grows in different places.
Do you stop by your childhood home every year to stay over one night in your old bedroom? Do the current owners let you do this any night that you want or do they try to work you in around other things that they have going on in their house?
Do you like to pull out your old Zenith, 17 inch black-and-white television on Super Bowl Sunday so that you can watch the game on it the way you did “back in the day”?
Do you think these questions are stupid? Should I call someone a snob if they don’t embrace doing these things?
At some point, when you try to meaninglessly recreate memories and experiences of the past, you alter the very essence of what made the experiences great. You can diminish the past by trying too hard to relive it.
Yes, the Palestra is a part of Villanova basketball legend and tradition. As Villanova fans, we respect and honor those traditions. But, what we are now is something different. Maybe not better in every way - but different - and OURS.
We have our own gym, the Pavilion, and it works for us. My Pavilion “seat” is a numbered space on a wooden bench. The Pavilion was designed perfectly for fans as tall a 4’11” … those taller must implant their knees in the back of the person in front of them or wrap their legs around a stranger in order to sardine their way into their prescribed “seat”. The Pavilion is no country for snobs. And yet, the Pavilion sells out - continually. Why? Because Villanova fans aren’t snobs. Villanova fans are loyal basketball enthusiasts. Villanova fans have given unwavering support to their team through thick and thin for generations. Villanova fans tolerate the Pavilion despite all the warts because they love Villanova basketball.
In my section of the Pavilion, people like Bob, Audrey, John, the guy who screams at refs at the top of his lungs, and many more are there for every game. The familiar faces and rituals are part of my Villanova experience. I have great memories of attending games at the Pavilion with my children, my wife, my parents and countless friends. The Pavilion is a place Villanova loyalists go to celebrate Villanova basketball and support Jay Wright’s latest team of dedicated collegians. Some of them travel to the Pavilion for every game from the coal regions of Pennsylvania, from Maryland, from North Jersey, from New York … that is loyalty, not snobbery.
The Wildcats take the court before each home game by walking down through the student section to take the court … our students walk from their dorm rooms over to the gym in droves to fill our raucous student section … people who have been supporting our program loyally at the Pavilion have their favorite spots to meet up and talk with friends before the games … our Pep Band has favorite songs we enjoy hearing every game … after games (win or lose) the ‘Nova players and coaches come over and “put up their Vs” to the Villanova student section as a show of thanks for their loyal support.
These are things WE do in OUR building. Traditions that we have developed and morphed over time. Some of these traditions are portable and we take them with us when we head to South Philly for games or even to NCAA Tournament games.
We have two National Championship banners that now hang in the Pavilion (and at Wells Fargo Center).
We have retired jerseys that hang in the rafters of the Pavilion to recognize some of the greats that have come before us. To pay respect to the legends of Villanova basketball.
Why do WE need to change OUR traditions and game day rituals and give up home games to play at Penn? The Palestra is not “our house”. Villanova fans appreciate the rich history of the Palestra but also cherish the game day traditions established at the Pavilion and Wells Fargo Center. We are not snobs for simply enjoying our basketball program the way it is.
Instead of insulting us, Mr. Feinstein, why don’t you go ask Jordan Spieth why he doesn’t play one major tournament a year with a persimmon driver, hickory shafted clubs and a balata ball. When he looks at you as if you are stupid, call him a snob.