Lou Scheinfeld, the first vice president of the Flyers — and later president of the Spectrum and the 76ers — is proud, thankful, and frustrated.
Proud he was on the Flyers’ ground floor, and was there for the franchise’s back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1974 and ‘75.
Thankful he had a great childhood while living in a three-story row home behind and over Al’s Variety Store, that his parents operated for 51 years in the Brewerytown section of North Philadelphia.
Frustrated that his beloved Spectrum was torn down in 2010 — he had big plans for it — and that he once declined to rent the building to a young Sylvester Stallone who wanted to shoot a movie there. (You may have heard of Rocky.)
Scheinfeld, 86, has documented it all in his recently published book; Blades, Bands, and Ballers, his love story about the Spectrum, a building he named, and all the behind-the-scenes tales, make it a fascinating and hilarious read.
“Think of it like planning a big wedding, only you’ve got 20,000 guests coming,” Scheinfeld wrote about the Spectrum. “And another wedding tomorrow and maybe on Saturday and two more on Sunday … What could go wrong?”
Oh, just a few things. Like a portion of the Spectrum roof blowing off — twice. Like a ticket scandal fueled by an employee. Or a near-riot ensuing because there weren’t enough giveaway T-shirts for half the fans.
Et cetera. Et cetera.
He has more inside stories about the Spectrum than anyone who is alive. From the emergence of the Broad Street Bullies, to Kate Smith, to being named the 76ers’ president; from Frank Sinatra (who had a long and amusing list of requests), to Bruce Springsteen (who was booed in his first appearance there), to Elvis; from Frank Rizzo, to the Philly mob, to the fans who followed the Grateful Dead, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Blondie, Metallica, and the Rolling Stones.
While running the Spectrum, he had to conquer a ticket scam by those who worked the door. He turned down an offer of sexual advances from a 40-ish-year-old woman who wanted David Cassidy tickets. And even had to interrupt a mini-vacation in Acapulco because one of Frank Sinatra’s “people” was sitting in his office with a gun and was furious because of a ticket mix-up involving Sinatra’s scheduled Spectrum appearance.
Oh, and Scheinfeld recounted an unwanted ticket meeting he had with a mobster known as “The Butcher,” who reported directly to Philly crime boss Angelo Bruno.
Scheinfeld also had to deal with ticket requests from sponsors, politicians, season-ticket holders and the like.
“One big-name politician had me put his wife in one suite and his girlfriend in another — like across the arena,” he said.
A former City Hall reporter with the Daily News, Scheinfeld was lured to his positions at the Spectrum and the Flyers by 33-year-old Ed Snider, who had known him from his newspaper work.
Scheinfeld was 30 when he attended his first NHL game. It was Nov. 20, 1966. Rangers-Canadiens at Madison Square Garden.
This was about 11 months before the Flyers debuted, and Scheinfeld had already been hired by Snider. As he watched the game, he sensed Philly fans were going to love the NHL, the atmosphere, and their shiny new $6 million arena.
He pulled out a notebook from his reporter days and critiqued what he was observing.
“A bare-knuckled combination of football and figure skating,” he scribbled. “Beauty and brutality. Muscle and skill. Flashing blades, iconic uniforms, romantic names. No timeouts. No time to catch your breath. And blood. Lots of blood!”
Scheinfeld helped negotiate the deal that also landed the 76ers as Spectrum tenants when the building opened in 1967. In his book, he pays tribute to Sixers owner Irv Kosloff and subsequent owner Fitz Dixon and how they astutely allowed GM Pat Williams to wheel and deal in the trade market, and lure crowds with his zany promotions and elaborate halftime shows.
Williams loved the Spectrum’s ear-shattering acoustics — as did the concert performers — and “when we added the third deck under the roof in 1972, the sound totally blasted off it,” Scheinfeld wrote.
With the 76ers struggling to draw fans despite being an outstanding team, Scheinfeld was hired by Dixon as the club’s president. At the time, the team was losing $4 million a year and averaging fewer than 11,000 fans per game.
Snider helped him land the 76ers’ job. “He deftly eased me out — and into a great spot,” said Scheinfeld, whose book provides great insight into Snider’s personality and his uncanny ability to read people.
Scheinfeld said it didn’t bother him when Snider’s first wife, Myrna, confided that Snider had “sold you like others he didn’t think he needed anymore.”
“We both got what we wanted,” said Scheinfeld, who spent 18 months as the 76ers’ president before Harold Katz bought the team.
One of the most intriguing parts of the book is a chapter that outlines the feud between Flyers founders Snider and Jerry Wolman, The book was originally going to be called On Thin Ice, but Scheinfeld and his publisher, Camino Books, changed it to show it was more than a story about hockey.
Snider and Wolman were close friends who became bitter enemies and eventually parted ways. The seeds of their breakup were planted when Snider, who had been the Eagles’ vice president and treasurer, was fired by the Birds’ owner, Wolman, on the night of the Flyers’ first-ever home game in 1967.
Scheinfeld writes about the feud, Wolman losing cash because his construction of the John Hancock Tower in Chicago had a faulty foundation, and Wolman dangling a $43 million package of assets, including the Flyers and the Spectrum, to an Arab sheik.
“I watched from an uncomfortable front-row seat as the Wolman-Snider friendship deteriorated into an all-out war,” Scheinfeld wrote.
For decades, Scheinfeld said, he was known as “Snider’s Guy.” He was his “sometime best friend, confidant, and quite often, his conscience. It was like a marriage: devotion, fulfillment, reward, betrayal, anger, divorce and — after many years — an unlikely reconciliation.”
Scheinfeld and Snider parted ways in 1980 — they didn’t speak for nearly 16 years after a fallout and were mostly out of touch until Snider phoned him in 2008.
Snider told Scheinfeld he wanted Comcast Spectacor, the Flyers’ parent company, to hire him to help close the Spectrum, which had one year before it was expected to shut its doors. “I want you to come back and give the building a proper sendoff,” Snider said. “No one cares more for that building than you.”
In the final year, Phantoms games were played at the Spectrum, along with a regular-season Sixers game, and a Flyers exhibition. There were also numerous concerts, including four by Bruce Springsteen and the final four by Pearl Jam before the building closed on Halloween night in 2009.
Closing the Spectrum with a final-year celebration was supposed to be Scheinfeld’s job, but keeping it open became his “personal mission.” He reached out to friends to see if they had interest in using it as a sports museum, a small-event venue, a movie or TV sound stage. All fell through.
So Scheinfeld and his staff began the process of selling seats, basketball floorboards and hoops, signage, artwork, and even urinals. Plaques were made with the hockey glass, accompanied by etched signatures of every player from the Flyers’ two Stanley Cup champions. More than $3 million in memorabilia was sold.
“What really was fulfilling were the heartfelt stories from fans purchasing memorabilia from our ‘Remember the Spectrum’ website or concession stands,” Scheinfeld said. Some talked about their first game, first date, first concert, or meeting their future mate there.
One woman bought her dad a pair of seats — the same two he had used for 40 years after being an original Flyers season-ticket holder. He had retired to Florida, and his daughter said he sits in them for every Flyers game he gets on TV, “and is so happy, he cries.”
“Wow!” Scheinfeld said. “If that doesn’t tug at your heart.”
Just like this book.