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.)

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