PHILADELPHIA — When it opened in the fall of 1967, it was just another arena in another city in America.
When the wrecking ball makes its first contact on Tuesday, it will be the end of what became a Philadelphia sports legend.
The Spectrum, affectionately known as “America’s Showplace,” has been as much a part of the local landscape as nearly any other entity in the region.
In the world of sports, it rivaled the best and most famous of indoor arenas. Nearly every area sports fan of the past five decades has a lasting memory of a prized time spent inside the lauded building.
In recent years, it was dwarfed in size by the much-larger CoreStates/First Union/Wachovia/Wells Fargo Center across the parking lot – and not just in the length of the name – but few can forget the history that took place inside that building.
“I loved it from the outside, loved it on the inside, loved being there as a fan and loved being there as a player,” said former Flourtown resident Mike Richter, who attended Germantown Academy before going on to have a Hall of Fame career with the New York Rangers, winning a Stanley Cup in 1994.
“It always felt like home there.”
As a child growing up nearby, the Spectrum was a second home for Richter, who remembered arriving to Flyers games early as a kid so he could get close to the ice to watch the teams warming up.
“We were always there as kids,” said Richter, a founding partner of Environmental Capital Partners in New York. “It meant everything to me to come play there (with the Rangers). The building itself was beautiful to me.”
Richter is one of the many local products who possesses a special moment from his or her career which occurred inside the building being laid to rest this week.
They broke ground on the Spectrum in June of 1966, with the official opening coming on Sept. 30, 1967 with the Quaker City Music Festival. The first sporting event would not take place until Oct. 17, when former Lafayette Hill resident, heavyweight Joe Frazier, was the main event, taking down Tony Doyle with a second-round knockout.
The 76ers played their first game in the building on the following night, Oct. 18, with the Flyers taking to the ice on Oct. 19. The Sixers beat the Los Angeles Lakers in their Spectrum debut, 103-87, with the Flyers beating the Pittsburgh Penguins, 1-0, the following night.
In all, nine different Philadelphia sports franchises would call the Spectrum home at some time.
What many regard as the greatest game in NCAA Tournament history, the 1992 East Regional Final between Duke and Kentucky, took place right here. Christian Laettner’s famous shot at the buzzer would give Duke a 104-103 overtime win that March 28 day. Two NCAA Final Fours, both won by Indiana, were played in the arena in 1976 and 1981.
The ATP Men’s Tennis Tour, Harlem Globetrotters, World Wrestling Entertainment, the Ice Capades, Disney on Ice, the circus, along with hundreds of concerts all graced the floor of the Spectrum, the building also serving as a backdrop for the “Rocky” saga.
The Flyers and Sixers both moved across the parking lot to the new arena in 1996. During their time in the Spectrum, each team was dominant at home and went on to win a title, two Stanley Cups and one NBA Championship. The Flyers had a 775-345-140 all-time record in the building, including playoffs. The Sixers were 805-435 during the same time.
The final Sixers game in the building took place on March 13, 2009, when the team staged a farewell to the building. Playing in that game was John Salmons, the Plymouth Whitemarsh High product who won a state title with the Colonials in 1997. Salmons was a member of the Chicago Bulls that night.
The Wings lacrosse team played in the building during two stints, from 1974-75 and again from 1987-96. The Phantoms of the AHL resided there from 1996-2009, as did the Kixx of the MISL. The Arena Football League’s Soul played in the building from 2004-08, winning ArenaBowl XXII in 2008. Other franchises housed at the Spectrum included the Bulldogs roller hockey team from 1994-96, the Fever of the MISL from 1978-81 and the World Team Tennis’ Philadelphia Freedom in 1974 – Billy Jean King’s team being the inspiration for the Elton John song.
The Spectrum would play host to 99 boxing cards during its era, with Frazier, George Foreman, Mike Tyson, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Roberto Duran, Matthew Saad Muhammad and Bernard Hopkins all taking a punch in the building.
Heavyweight Michael Grant, of Blue Bell, won his only fight in the arena on Jan. 24, 2003, defeating Carlton Johnson with a fifth-round TKO to lift his record to 37-2 at the time.
Bridgeport’s Harry Joe Yorgey decisioned Martinus Clay as the main event in the arena’s 98th card, on Nov. 9, 2006.
Pete Sampras won his very first professional tournament at the Spectrum at the 1990 U.S. Pro Indoor Championship. But, it was his second tournament win that stuck out more to one West Norriton family.
On Feb. 18, 1992, David DiLucia, still a college senior at Notre Dame, made his tournament debut at the Spectrum. As a wild-card entrant with tons of fans in attendance, DiLucia feasted on his mother’s pasta and chicken cacciatore prior to going out and upsetting former Wimbledon finalist Kevin Curren in three sets, 7-5, 3-6, 6-4.
DiLucia would lose to childhood friend Sampras in the next round before embarking on his professional tennis career.
“I remember going in the locker room that day and thinking, ‘Wow, this is the Flyers’ locker room,’ and just looking around,” said DiLucia, in town this week to participate in a youth clinic at the Arthur Ashe Tennis Center.
“I did not know they were going to demolish the Spectrum. It’s sad. You know, they make take the building down, but that won’t take away the memories you have from there.”
For North Penn graduate Jay Caufield, the Spectrum houses another special memory. Caufield, who won a Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 1991-92 season, scored the final goal of his NHL career on Oct. 30, 1990 in a Penguins’ 6-2 win at the Spectrum.
“Of all the goals I’ve had, one of the ones I really cherish is the one I had at the Spectrum,” said Caufield, now a hockey analyst for Fox Sports Pittsburgh.
“There was something about the energy there. The energy in that building was unbelievable. Being out on the ice and looking back up into the stands, where we used to sit, that was such a great feeling.”
Bishop Kenrick graduate Brian Leahy got to play basketball on the famed hardwood as an eighth-grader in a CYO All-Star Game, but missed out when his St. Joseph’s Hawks battled Villanova there during his freshman year. The Wildcats would go on to win the national championship later that season.
“I thought it was so cool playing there as a kid,” Leahy said. “You grow up watching the Sixers play there and now you are.
“I remember we almost beat ‘Nova that year. It was a great game.”
The Wildcats pulled out a 47-44 victory that night.
Villanova/St. Joe’s was only one of the athletic wars fought inside the Spectrum. Night in and night out, athletes and performers left their hearts inside that building.
“I know, as an opposing player going in there, it was one of the toughest arenas to play in,” Richter said. “Everyone always said that. And with it being Rangers/Flyers, every time I went there, you knew it was going to be a war.
“But I loved every minute of it.”
It is impossible to recapture all of the Spectrum’s history and what those memories have meant to generations of sports fans throughout the local area and the entire region.
The Spectrum stood tall for what is 43 years now. For 42 of those years, the building witnessed almost everything.
It fought off losing part of its roof in its infancy and its inhabitants going through some rough years, to some of the most celebrated individual and team achievements ever experienced.
That roof was not only repaired, it held strong even as the Harlem Globetrotters played a game up there in March of 2009. And nearly every night, the crowds that filled the seats tried to raise the roof.
Rooting for a favorite team, a revered athlete or a beloved performer, one thing the Spectrum never could be was quiet. On Tuesday, with one final roar, this treasured building will go silent.
The Spectrum became a sports legend in this town. We all have the memories to prove it.