Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Enough of the heavy handed stuff, at least for today...

Today, we'll take a break from film commentary, issues of faith, and examining the many problems with society. Today we will take a day to celebrate. Today, let's look at your 2005 Big Five Champion Villanova Wilcats!

Last night, in the Holy War, Villanova played St Josephs at Philadelphia's cathedral of basketball, The Palestra. Both teams were 3-0 in big 5 play this year and this game would decide the championship of the Big Five. It was only the fourth time in the 50 year history of the Big Five that two teams met on the final night, undefeated, and playing for the Big Five Championship.

At the time I was growing up in South Jersey, the Big 5 was in danger. I grew up a Villanova fan, but sadly it was primarily Villanova's fault the Big Five almost ceased to exist. Rollie Massimino and others at Villanova didn't think it boded well for their national image to lose to the likes of LaSalle or St. Joes. They tried to back out. They actually did for a while. A large portion of Philadelphia sports fans hasn't forgiven them.

New Villanova coach Jay Wright has embraced the Big Five, he understands its importance to the city. And from all accounts it was a night to remember. Some highlights from the Philly Daily News and Inquirer...

Five schools, one whole. It is something greater, and Villanova-St. Joe's playing for the Big 5 championship is the greatest of all. You can see it when the president of St. Joseph's, the Rev. Timothy Lannon, is sitting in the front row and clapping so hard that he must be hurting his hands. You can hear it when the St. Joe kids, in the building very early, greet the arrival of Villanova team manager Erin Wade - the daughter of former Phils general manager Ed Wade - with the chant of, "Gillick's better.''

In the first half, the St. Joe's kids yelled across at the Villanova kids, "We can't hear you.'' Then, not 7 minutes into the second half, when the Hawks' lead had evaporated for good, the "We can't hear you'' was on the other foot.

This is the Big 5: Inside the last minute, the Villanova kids yelled, "We own Philly.'' The St. Joe kids replied, "You're not Philly.'' It is the geographical fact (and the accompanying notions of privilege and entitlement) that fuels so much of the animus, and has forever - even if a part of the St. Joe's campus isn't in Philadelphia, either.

Then the Villanova kids yelled the final punctuation: "The Hawk is dead.'' Then the St. Joe kids offered the time-honored reply: "The Hawk will never die.'' There is such comfort in the ritual.

But this is the Big 5, too: Long after the game was over, interviews done, emotions cooled, Wright and Martelli and Martelli's assistants stood and talked for 5 minutes on the edge of the court, and then the two head coaches both walked up into the stands to say hello to Chris DiJulia, the son of St. Joseph's athletic director Don DiJulia. Then they talked some more in a group, and then Martelli left, and then Wright stayed behind and talked some more with the St. Joe's people after that.

There is nothing like the Big 5 anywhere else in the country. Not even here in Indiana, which is as about basketball crazy as any state can be. This was a huge win for Villanova. Andy Katz gets it, the significance of the Big 5, that is. Today, I will smile a lot thinking bout the 2005-2006 Big 5 Champion Villanova Wildcats.

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