Bill Lyon: 1938-2019

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Ordinarily when moments of great cultural significance occur in Philadelphia, Bill Lyon can be counted upon to provide measured reflections on them; who, then, will provide such commentary at the passing of Bill Lyon, as reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer on Sunday, November 17, 2019?

Bill Lyon’s work at its finest made clear the connections between sports and life, respecting the ardent fervor of this city’s fans while illuminating the beauty and truth in both winning and, more often in this city of occasionally benighted teams, losing. He saw the ways that sports can reveal something of the essential human condition, elevating them from mere games to morality plays with a quick style and keen insight.

One of my favorite pieces of his, from 2008, reminisced about the Spectrum in advance of its 2009 demolition:

When a Philadelphia team was playing, you could stand out in the parking lot and the crowd noise would tell you how the home team was faring—if they were winning, the passion was as raw and bone-deep as a January night, an unrelenting, urging surge of support.

And if they were losing…ah, well, then it was a mournful wail, so haunting that wolf packs a thousand miles away lifted their muzzles to the heavens and bayed at the moon in sympathetic reply.

His final columns, focusing on his struggle with Alzheimer’s disease, make for powerful reading. The city is diminished by his loss and enriched by his words.

(Image by and courtesy Kevin Burkett via a Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0 License.)

Bill Lyon on Ed Snider

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With the passing of Philadelphia Flyers founder Ed Snider, many encomiums have flowed forth, among them one by Bill Lyon, writing, as ever, in the Inquirer, as he is wont to do during signal moments in Philadelphia sports history.

Ed Snider by Michael Allen Goldberg via a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License on Flickr

In “Snider Brought Championships to Philadelphia” (Philadelphia Inquirer, April 11, 2016), Lyon encapsulates the qualities that made Ed Snider (or, rather, Mr. Snider, his legendary honorific despite his protestations) an outstanding figure in Philadelphia and the world of ice hockey:

Ed Snider, in many ways was the model of what you want in an owner. He was a man of great passion. He poured himself into his team and more than once yielded to volatility. Incensed by what from his Nero box was perceived to be an outlandish call, he would storm out, ruddy face turning fire engine red.

Ed Snider introduced the city to hockey, taught it, and was rewarded for his efforts by a select fan base, a fiercely loyal following that achieved cult status.

Ed Snider, above all, was a fan, of hockey and of the Flyers. He wanted, above all, for the Orange and Black to win, and while the decisions he made towards that end were not universally successful, there’s no denying his passion and desire for this team. For his team, for my team, for Philadelphia’s team.

Thank you, Mr. Snider.

(Image courtesy of Michael Allen Goldberg via a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License on Flickr)

Bill Lyon on Lappy

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With the NHL playoffs into their second round, Philadelphia’s Bill Lyon returns to the pages of the Inquirer to reflect upon heart, and blood, and the Flyers:

The on-rushing gunner has cranked up a warp-speed slap shot and the puck, a frozen rubber bullet, is zeroed in and dead on, with nothing but ice between it and the goal. So Ian Laperriere, a right winger whose specialty is killing off penalties, follows his instincts without a second thought: He drops and offers up his body as a sacrifice.

He blocks the puck . . .

. . . with his mouth.

Ian Lapperriere (14) in DSCF1869 by Dinur via a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-No Derivatives License

Winning Lord Stanley’s Cup takes a special kind of dedication, a peculiar willingness (that is not so peculiar amongst the men who don NHL uniforms) to suffer and bleed for the team, for the prize, for the Cup. Bill Lyon, in one of his rare returns to print, captures this willingness in the person of Ian Laperriere, a grinder, a role player for the Flyers, who only made the playoffs on the last day of the season, in overtime.

What awaits the Flyers now? Elimination, if you believe the popular sentiment.

But do not be so quick to dismiss lightly a team that has a man willing to catch frozen rubber bullets. With his face.

Repeatedly.

Like Bill Lyon, the Flyers hold a special place in the hearts of Philadelphians, both native and expatriate like myself. It’s good to see them both working their trade in May.

(Image courtesy of Dinur via a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-No Derivatives License)

Bill Lyon on Harry Kalas

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For as long as I’ve been alive, one man has called Philadelphia Phillies games, a voice I remember from a tinny bedside radio on summer nights visiting my grandmother in South Philly, the play-by-play competing with the sounds from the narrow street below the rowhouse. He called every one of “Michael Jack” Schmidt’s 548 home runs. He was the voice of the Phillies for several generations of fans.

The Parade on Flickr.com by thewestend, via a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivatives Licence.

Harry Kalas passed away yesterday before the Phils took the field against the Washington Nationals in the Nats home opener. And, as is often the case, Bill Lyon returns to print in the Inquirer to help the city come to terms with another momentous event:

Harry the K did play-by-play, and he not only did it uncommonly well, he spared us the histrionics and the shrieking and the rudeness that pollute far too many airways these days.

Harry the K was an oasis of calm in a roiling sea of nastiness and raging negativity.

He was, of course, the property of the Phillies, but he never played the role of fawning company shill. It was the Fightin’s he wanted to win, but he credited the opponent when it was deserved.

I’m the first person to admit that I’m not much of a baseball fan and that I haven’t listened to Harry Kalas call a game in years. But even I know that Philadelphia has lost just a little bit of its soul and that Bill Lyon has helped by putting it right back.

(Image courtesy of thewestend, via a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivatives Licence.)

Bill Lyon on the Phillies

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If ever a city had its Boswell, Bill Lyon serves that role for Philadelphia, encapsulating something of that city’s soul in print. The retired Inquirer columnist tends to re-appear at junctions of great moment in the city’s emotional life, and after the Phillies captured the World Series title last night, ending Philadelphia’s 25 years without a major sports title, he returns to help us make sense of it all:

And thus ended one of the most bizarre and controversial games ever played in the World Series, complete with a 46-hour wait between innings, and how fitting that was, for this is Philadelphia, after all, cradle of liberty, acid reflux, angst, anxiety and the sure and certain belief that we are doomed forever to walk along the Boulevard of Busted Dreams.

But not now. Not this time. No, you can go ice skating in Hades now. The Phillies have broken the Hundred Season Drought. The franchise of 10,000 losses is a winner.

The air already smells cleaner. The women are beautiful. Food tastes better. The shroud of dread has been pulled away.

To be on Broad Street tomorrow for the parade will be magical, an event that might not happen again for a long time, the fates being what they are. If you’re there, savor it.
Phillies Win!, on flickr.com, by melingo wagamama, via a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial License

The boos will start again soon enough, this being Philadelphia and we being Philadelphia fans, and we’ll bemoan the Flyers’ goaltending and the Eagles’ offensive line and the Sixers’ poor rebounding and, eventually, the lack of a winger with pace on the new soccer team, but for now, we’re happy, in our own way, just like Bill Lyon said.

[Update: Links to Philly.com are dead. I am unable to find working links to the columns at this time.]

(Image courtesy of melingo wagamama, via a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial License.)

Bill Lyon on the Spectrum

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The Spectrum, on flickr.com, by Cavalier92, via a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-No Derivatives License
Bill Lyon returns to print with another column for the Philadelphia Inquirer today, reminiscing about the Spectrum, which is scheduled to be demolished in 2009.

There’s something sad about losing the Spectrum, as iconic as any featureless, parking-lot-bound arena could be, and with his usual grace, Bill Lyon captures the emotions involved with this significant piece of Philadelphia’s psychic architecture. The “boo birds” might have roosted in the Vet (and now perch in the Linc), but Flyers fans had their own ways of celebrating, and berating, their heroes at the Spectrum:

When a Philadelphia team was playing, you could stand out in the parking lot and the crowd noise would tell you how the home team was faring—if they were winning, the passion was as raw and bone-deep as a January night, an unrelenting, urging surge of support.

And if they were losing . . . ah, well, then it was a mournful wail, so haunting that wolf packs a thousand miles away lifted their muzzles to the heavens and bayed at the moon in sympathetic reply.

In the end, I guess it is just an old building lacking in amenities sitting on valuable land, but they can’t raze the memories.

(Image courtesy of Cavalier92 via a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-No Derviatives License.)