Keeping a Piece of Philadelphia Sports Hi”S”tory Alive

The "S" that adorned the side of the Spectrum, purchased by Andrew Kay at the auction held during the building's demolition, at the 2014 Sixers Draft Party.

The “S” that adorned the side of the Spectrum, purchased by Andrew Kay at the auction held during the building’s demolition, at the 2015 Sixers Draft Party.

If you close your eyes, you can still picture it: the cocoa-colored, oval-shaped building along Pattison Avenue that was home to the Flyers, Sixers, countless concerts, circuses, and even bull riding. Philadelphia’s first modern indoor sports arena, the Spectrum, has been a piece of city history since its erection in 1966. And what one man is doing with a piece of that piece of history is pretty awesome.

When the Spectrum was being demolished between November of 2010 and May of 2011, an online auction was held for Spectrum memorabilia. Andrew Kay, who grew up just outside of Philadelphia in Lafayette Hill, purchased the “S” from the side of the building. His intention was to  get the people who made the Spectrum famous, as well as local legends personally special to him, to sign it.

The “S” has been at the Flyers Wives Carnival, was at the Sixers Draft Party in 2015, as well as the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony back in November. To date, over 50 athletes, musicians, celebrities, and executives have signed the “S”. Rod Brind’Amour was the 50th and most recent signature, signing at his Flyers Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

Recently, Breakfast on Broad featured a segment on the “S”, and there was an article on Billy Penn written about the “S” in September. Kay didn’t expect that his project would become as famous as it has when he first bought the “S”. He assumed that due to the size and what it takes to transport the “S”, he wouldn’t be able to get more than ten. However, that changed once the ball got rolling and he got his first couple of signatures.

“Once I got the first few, I decided I was all in and set out to fill the S up with as many signatures, as my way of keeping the Spectrum memory alive,” Kay said.

The Spectrum holds a lot of fond memories for Kay. He went to many Flyers games growing up, but the first time he ever sat on the glass was during Eric Lindros’ rookie year. “A player from the other team had the puck in front of me, and Lindros came over and checked him so hard right into the glass,” Kay recalled. “I thought the guy was going to come through the glass and onto my lap with how hard this hit was.”

Referencing the Spectrum’s nickname as the ‘House That Rock Built’, Kay reminisced about the amazing concerts he got to see there over the years, including his first ever concert in 1992 (Boys II Men & MC Hammer), a Phish show in 2003, sneaking into a sold-out Foo Fighters concert in 2008, and going with his father to see Bruce Springsteen in 2009, the last year of the Spectrum. But the most memorable experience was the very last Pearl Jam concert at the Spectrum on Halloween night in 2009, the final event ever held at the Spectrum.

“I remember standing there as Mike McCready [lead guitarist] played the last notes of the ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ to finish off ‘Yellow Ledbetter’, and just looking around the building for the last time, thinking of all of my childhood memories, including the Pearl Jam show I saw there for my 18th birthday years before,” Kay mused. “People were actually crying as they exited the building that night.”

While the members of Pearl Jam didn’t get a chance to sign the “S’, another one of Kay’s favorite bands, Phish, had the opportunity to do the honors. Mike Gordon (bass) had done a solo show at Union Transfer in the spring of 2015, and Kay was able to talk to his manager, who arranged for Gordon to sign the “S”. Once Gordon signed it, Kay decided to bring the “S” to the shows that Phish were playing in the summer, to try and get the remaining members of the band to sign. Kay told his friends that they were bringing the “S” to the tailgate, with high hopes that the rest of the band would be able to sign it.

With the tailgate and the “S” situated close to where buses pull into the Mann, Page McConnell (Phish’s keyboard player) saw it – “Not hard to miss a 6-foot S in a parking lot” – when his bus was pulling in. McConnell signed it after he came off the bus, and the next night, brought Kay and his friends inside the Mann before the show to get the rest of the band to sign.

For Kay, the most special signatures have been from both Stanley Cup-Winning Flyers teams from the ‘70s, including Bernie Parent and Bobby Clarke, as well as Sixers champions Dr. J and Moses Malone. But the most exciting signature was Ron Hextall. “I grew up idolizing him,” Kay said. “I imagine it will be the same when I one day meet Charles Barkley.” Hextall and Barkley are two of Kay’s favorite athletes of all time, and he credits them for his love of hockey and basketball: “My earliest Spectrum memories include those two guys.”

Flyers General Manager Ron Hextall, Kay's idol, signing the "S".

Flyers General Manager Ron Hextall, Kay’s idol, signing the “S”.

In some cases, when Kay gets a new signature on the “S”, he also gets some incredible experiences along with it. For example, when the “S” was on display at the Flyers Wives Carnival a few years ago when they were honoring the 40th Anniversary of the first Stanley Cup Championship, Kay was sitting in a room among the Broad Street Bullies, getting to watch the former teammates interact and reminisce after all these years.

“You always hear that Fred Shero quote, ‘Win today and walk together forever’. It was so incredible to hear these guys, 40 years later, still close like brothers. They’re the definition of a sports family.”

The members of Phish also shared their Spectrum memories with Kay, discussing how special the Spectrum shows were to the band and how they really enjoyed playing that room. Page McConnell (keyboard) was wearing a Mets hat the first night Kay met him, and said, “Out of respect to Philadelphia, I guess I should take off my Mets hat before signing the Spectrum ‘S’”.

Kay said the best Spectrum memories from Phish came from Trey Anastasio, lead singer and guitarist, who grew up in Princeton, New Jersey and is a huge Flyers fan. He told Kay stories about his dad taking him to Flyers games, and being at the game when Reggie Leach scored his 50th goal in a season. When Anastasio went to sign the “S”, he asked if Leach had signed, and Kay pointed out Leach’s signature. Even though the other members of Phish had signed on the other side, Anastasio asked if he could sign by Leach. “He said it would be so cool to sign the ‘S’ by his childhood hero,” Kay remembers. “Like I was going to say no to Trey. He had a big smile when signing the ‘S’ and stated he was happy to see someone keeping the Spectrum memory alive.”

Kay (left) with friends and Phish's Trey Anastasio.

Kay (left) with friends and Phish’s Trey Anastasio (second from right).

Right now, Kay is currently working on getting musicians to sign the “S”, but it’s difficult since they are only in town maybe once or twice a year if they are touring. His top targets are the members of the Grateful Dead, since they played the Spectrum more than any other band and are also Kay’s favorite. He’s also looking to get signatures from Springsteen and Billy Joel, as they had banners in the Spectrum for the most shows, as well as Pearl Jam. For athletes, his top targets are the Legion of Doom (Eric Lindros, John LeClair, and Mikael Renberg), the rest of the ‘83 Sixers championship team, and his basketball hero, Charles Barkley.

There has only been one person who has flat-out said “no” when asked to sign the “S”. But, since Kay is still trying to get them on there due to their important role in the Spectrum, he did not want to give their name.

When asked what has been the most interesting or exciting part of his project, Kay said it was keeping the memory of the Spectrum alive and meeting so many amazing people who made that building special to so many.

“We as fans have so many amazing memories, but it is great hearing how special the Spectrum was to those who played/performed there,” he expressed. “Everyone says what an honor it was to have played in such a historic arena in front of the best fans.”

Be sure to follow the adventures of the Spectrum “S” on Twitter, and check out photos from said adventures on Instagram.

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