WHEN WINGS PLAY, THEIR FANS HAVE FUN; THERE’S A GOOD SHOW IN THE STANDS AS WELL AS ON THE FLOOR

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By Ron Reid

The Philadelphia Wings usually get as much media attention as a Perkasie fish fry. TV ignores them. Local newspapers devote more space to bowling. They are never a topic of conversation on talk radio, and their own FM broadcasts fade from the airwaves a block or two north of Oregon Avenue.

For those reasons, the Major Indoor Lacrosse League games the Wings play at the Spectrum are somewhat akin to the films of Laurel and Hardy: Nobody loves them but the public.

And does the public ever. A home game invariably draws more than 16,000 “Wing Nuts,” raucously loud fans who engage in boisterous, politically incorrect cheering with an epidemic of earthy enthusiasm.

Fan fervor was returned in kind Saturday night, when the Wings improved their record to 7-2 by rebounding from a 4-2 first-quarter deficit to crush the winless Charlotte Cobras, 26-11.

Of the 16,244 who packed the Spectrum for the last home game of the pre-playoff season, many incurred sore palms and aching shoulders from high-fiving one another after each of the Wings’ record 26 goals. They also went bonkers over Gary Gait and Scott Gabrielson, who scored five goals each, and goalie Andy Piazza.

The Wing Nuts’ frenzied workout started during player introductions. As the name of each Cobra was announced, they loudly chimed in with a one-word expression for “makes a negative vacuum with his mouth.”

It is a young crowd that roots for the Wings, one made up in large measure of people who can’t buy tickets to Flyers games. Youngsters and people of college age pack the place, and it is a family night out for a lot of folks.

For those unfamiliar with the game, indoor lacrosse is best described as hockey in Fila sneakers, played with a ball instead of a puck and with a stick that has a small basket, as opposed to a flat blade, at the distal end. Like basketball, the game has a shot clock – in this case, a 30-second clock.

Indoor lacrosse obviously is not as fast as hockey, but the game afoot produces more goals (28 is the average for a Wings game) and numerous occasions of clever passing, of skillful stick-handling, and of attackers using deft moves to befuddle goalies.

But indoor lacrosse really draws because it offers what fans of the ’90s cherish – an excellent variety of violence: smash-mouth collisions, punching, forearm checks, body blows, rib shots, and not a few fistfights that end up with the participants on the floor. Players even bash one another with their sticks, small baskets at the distal ends be damned.

For those of you between chess matches who care to get in on the next occasion of the Wing Nuts’ outrageous revelry, an MILL playoff game is scheduled for April 6 – and this Buck’s for you:

GETTING THERE. The Broad Street subway line – with a round-trip fare of $2.30 to Pattison Avenue, the last stop – remains the easiest, least expensive way of getting to any event at the Spectrum, unless you are taking a carload of family members. If you drive, allow twice as much time for entering and exiting the parking lots as you would for a Sixers game. We’ve got a near-sellout here, remember?

TICKETS. Despite the biting cold, people were hustling tickets – and maybe even scalping a few – at various spots around the Spectrum 45 minutes before Saturday’s game started. Wings tickets are not exactly cheap, ranging between $23 and $13, but they are reasonable.

If you pay for your ticket with a credit card, you will have to sign the receipt through an arthritis-inducing, 2-by-4-inch slot at the bottom of the ticket window, making your signature look like something that belongs at the bottom of a prescription.

FOOD AND DRINK. The Spectrum’s overpriced concession-stand items are the same for every event held there, so take out a second mortgage if you plan on some serious noshing, especially if you have your kids at the game. Order four hot dogs, two beers, two soft drinks, two cups of french fries, and a pretzel and you’ve spent more than $35.

SOUVENIRS. They include the usual $38 and $25 sweatshirts, $18 and $15 T-shirts, and various overpriced caps and pennants. The concessionaires were competing Saturday night with folks from MBNA Marketing Systems who were handing out short, plastic souvenir lacrosse sticks to people signing up for MILL MasterCards – charging an 18.65 percent rate, which may go higher, on all purchases. Talk about getting the stick.

WORTH REMEMBERING. The Wings’ final goal, scored by Brian Voelker off a sensational floor-length pass from Piazza, and an earlier one by Gait, who darted to his right and whipped the ball into the net by deftly executing a shot from behind his back.

WORTH FORGETTING. Some of the more insulting verbal gibes were loud enough for children to hear.

BANG FOR THE BUCK. Plenty. The game delivered four quarters’ worth of athleticism, competition, thrills and various other sports delights, proving that indoor lacrosse demands much of its players and is hardly a studio sport. The crowd generated a lot of laughter, and the overhead TV gondola was a big help, showing replays of every goal, a mug shot of the scorer, and a stat or two.

(Philadelphia Daily News, March 12, 1996)

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