On A Wing And Some Players

By Tom Phillips

Editor’s Note: This article was written by Tom Phillips, who served as the equipment manager for the Philadelphia Wings, in 1974 and 1975. Jim Wasson granted us the use of the article. This article was published in the Kawartha’s Today magazine, from July 1987.

May and June of 1974 was, for me, the end of my high school years. The transition to university was preoccupying many of my friends and, for the others, the prospects of finding their first job were adding a little tension to their lives. Luckily for me, though intended, and did, go to university, I already had a job. The problem was that I was going to school in Peterborough and working, at the same time, in Philadelphia.


I can very confidently say that I was the only student at PCVS that, at least once a week, would rush home after classes, eat supper, change, head for the Peterborough Airport, get on an almost antique DC3, fly to Philadelphia, return late that night and be back in the classroom the next morning.

These flights shuttled me between two very different worlds. At home, life was very quiet and routine: in Philadelphia life was filled with surprises and, to say the least, was dynamic.
The spring of 1974 marked the first year of what was to be a two year effort to establish lacrosse as a legitimate professional sport. Through my involvement with the Junior ‘A’ Peterborough P.C.O.’s, who had won the Minto Cup in 1972 and 1973 and would go on to win Minto’s in 1974 and 1975, I was asked to be a trainer with the Philadelphia Wings.


The Wings were really a Peterborough team, if not totally in personnel, most definitely in spirit. Our coach was Bobby Allen, captain, Carm Collins: goalie. Wayne Platt and two offensive stars. John Grant and Jim Wasson, all from Peterborough and all, undoubtedly, winners.

My job was. in reality, to be a servant to these modern day gladiators. My expertise was in lacrosse weaponry — the stick — but the treatment of injuries and the mundane tasks associated with maintaining the dressing room and moving the equipment were part of my job. The work was hectic and demanding but absolutely rewarding.


Being taken from Peterborough and placed in the heart of one of America’s greatest sports cities had many advantages. We had access to Flyers. Phillies. Eagles and 76er’s tickets. Concert tickets to see anyone from Frank Sinatra to Uriah Heep could be arranged at incredibly short notice by simply calling our office and picking the tickets up at the door.  Of course the tickets were free.


Il wasn’t unusual to bump into Bobby Clarke or Bernie Parent in the hallway of the Spectrum. In fact, our very first game in the Spectrum was the same day that the Flyers won the Stanley Cup. They won the Cup in the afternoon and we played in the same building that night. While we were preparing to play in front of probably the largest crowd ever to watch a game of box lacrosse, the Flyers were celebrating in the hall. The players that we had admired on television only days before were right outside our door and the Stanley Cup. which we had seen so many limes marking the end of another hockey season, was being manhandled by the victors.


The crowd for that first game, reeling from the Flyers win, was very enthusiastic. When Carm Collins scored just seconds into the game the crowd began cheering and they didn’t stop for the rest of the night. Seventeen thousand Philadelphia fans are a far cry from the typical Peterborough Memorial Centre crowd.

The Spectrum is exactly what it claims to be — America’s Showplace and no matter what was playing we could either get tickets or use the back door (which was called the ramp) for our access. Developing a friendly relationship with the security guards and the ushers was the best method of being sure of a way into the building.


The hotel we often stayed in was the Hilton, about 500 yards from the Spectrum. Being so close meant that many of the athletes and entertainers coming to the Spectrum would stay there. The King of Rock and Roll was no exception.


One night after a road trip, we arrived at the hotel to find the lobby absolutely jammed with luggage — all of it Elvis’ Huge red. white and blue boxes that looked like coffins contained his costumes — and there must have been 200 of these wardrobes. Elvis was to give both afternoon and evening concerts for two days in Philadelphia. We quickly discovered that his concerts were so popular that not even our usual source of tickets had any hope of getting us in to see him.


In the morning of Elvis’ second day of concerts Carm Collins came to me with a great idea. Carm could always come up with great ideas. Some were a bit absurd — all were effective. Since I had a key to the dressing room, why didn’t we go into the Spectrum before the extra security for Elvis came on and lock ourselves in the dressing room until showtime? Since I had work to do and wanted to see Elvis too. I was game, so we arrived at the Spectrum at about 10 a.m. for the 1 p.m. show.

We timed it quite well. Just before the show began we unlocked the dressing room, went into the body of the arena and found an usher we knew would let us stand in the exit.
When Elvis arrived, the building lit-up even brighter than the show lights with the shimmering brilliance from the flashbulbs of Elvis’ fans. The show was incredible and I doubt that any live event I will ever see will match it. Seeing one of the musical legends of this century has been a great way to make almost any baby-boomer envious.


The day after the concert I was sitting in the hotel snack bar when the waitress who served me lunch every day said that Elvis would be coming through the kitchen on his way out if I wanted to see han. A few minutes later she ran from the kitchen saying that the plans had changed and be was leaving through the front door I quickly moved into the rather deserted lobby and. after a few minutes wait, leaned against the back of a chair and admired Elvis’ limousine.


A commotion behind me made me step back to see what was going on and I heard a clear deep voice say “Excuse me!” Yes indeed, it was Elvis. (The change I often make when recounting the story to that Elvis said “Excuse me. Tom!” — not true.) It all happened so quickly that it to quite difficult to remember exactly what I saw but I do remember that Elvis was unmistakably different than the people in his entourage. He really dsd have a presence about him.


I remember that during Elvis’ stay at the hotel, Carm Collins would leave a message in his own mail slot at the front desk. When he would arrive back at the hotel with another player. he would check to see if he had any messages The desk clerk would hand him a message that would read something like. “Thanks for having dinner with me last night I’ll see you for drinks at 1. Your buddy. El.” Shock was usually the first reaction, but it quickly turned to laughter.

We timed it quite well. Just before the show began we unlocked the dressing room, went into the body of the arena and found an usher we knew would let us stand in the exit.
When Elvis arrived, the building lit-up even brighter than the show lights with the shimmering brilliance from the flashbulbs of Elvis’ fans. The show was incredible and I doubt that any live event I will ever see will match it. Seeing one of the musical legends of this century has been a great way to make almost any baby-boomer envious.


The day after the concert I was sitting in the hotel snack bar when the waitress who served me lunch every day said that Elvis would be coming through the kitchen on his way out if I wanted to see han. A few minutes later she ran from the kitchen saying that the plans had changed and be was leaving through the front door I quickly moved into the rather deserted lobby and. after a few minutes wait, leaned against the back of a chair and admired Elvis’ limousine.


A commotion behind me made me step back to see what was going on and I heard a clear deep voice say “Excuse me!” Yes indeed, it was Elvis. (The change I often make when recounting the story to that Elvis said “Excuse me. Tom!” — not true.) It all happened so quickly that it to quite difficult to remember exactly what I saw but I do remember that Elvis was unmistakably different than the people in his entourage. He really dsd have a presence about him.


I remember that during Elvis’ stay at the hotel, Carm Collins would leave a message in his own mail slot at the front desk. When he would arrive back at the hotel with another player. he would check to see if he had any messages The desk clerk would hand him a message that would read something like. “Thanks for having dinner with me last night I’ll see you for drinks at 1. Your buddy. El.” Shock was usually the first reaction, but it quickly turned to laughter.

To see celebrities was commonplace both around the Spectrum and at the Hilton. Since I was around the Spectrum more often than the players I would sometimes see people that the players didn’t. Sometimes I would go out of my way to be al the arena at unusual times just to sec them While we were in Philadelphia there was a World Team Tennis team called the Philadelphia Freedom (a song was written for them by their best fan – Elton John) and the playing coach was Billie Jean King. Very often, after our practices, the floor would be set up for tennis and BiUse Jean would bong one of her young players in for a coaching session
On a few occasions I spoke to Billie Jean’s student. Julie Anthony, if I remember correctly, and I would trick around to be the ball boy. with my lacrosse stick, for the lesson. Just to see Wimbledon’s greatest champion was reward enough for me and the attractiveness of her student only added to the scene.


My most memorable moment was. at the time, probably my most embarrassing after the Flyers had won the Stanley Cup and had cleared their dressing room, we acquired it. It was a huge carpeted room with stalls for each player, a trainer’s room and an office for our coach The office was really Fred Shero’s. the Flyers’ coach, and was about the size of two small desk tops.


One day. while we were having a practice. Bobby Allan asked me to stay in the office to take a phone call he was expecting so I sat at the Stanley Cup champion coach’s desk waiting for the phone call. On the desk were a few scouting files that Shero had left behind and a brochure on the Flyers’ scouting system explaining how players were marked and ranked with the use of a computer. I opened the file of a player to see what his rating was like and sat back to read it. The chair I was in was very uncomfortable because it kept falling back, so I let it fall back and put my feet on the desk. I was really getting interested in the scouting system when the door opened and in walked Fred Shero. Now. who would expect a hockey coach in the arena in July? Certainly not me!


To my surprise, and relief, he acted as though he were the intruder, apologized and turned to leave. I quickly replaced the file and encouraged him to feel free to use the office. Fred Shcro and I got along well. I think he always liked my offer of refreshments when he came to the dressing room after hours.

There certainly were many other experiences that were exciting, but in a much more threatening way Many of the people whom I met in Philadelphia carried guns — something I never did get used to. One evening there was a fight between one of our players and an opposing player in the hallway outside the dressing rooms A relatively small usher got between them to break it up. The opposition player said “You won’t stop me!” and the usher replied “I may not but six of my friends will!” referring to the six bullets in the small chrome plated pistol he had pointing at him. Being small town Canadian boys not used to having shiny weapons pointed their way, the confrontation immediately broke-up.


Another evening. John Grant and some of the players watched Gladys Knight and the Pips from the sound booth in the Spectrum. Near the end of the concert they heard an unusual sound coming from the hall and opened the door to find themselves between two rival gangs who were shooting at each other. Needless to say. they stayed in the booth and waited
for the smoke to clear.


I had an unusual encounter the day after the Flyers won the Stanley Cup. I was working in our dressing room and heard a heavy rhythmical pounding coming from the concourse above the room. I walked into the body of the arena and noticed policemen with dogs in the exits on the far side of the floor. They seemed to be looking at me. A few let their dogs go and they ran down the aisles and started across the floor. One suddenly realized that they were coming my way I quickly headed for the dressing room and locked the door behind me.
Apparently the “Canine Corps” was being used to stop the crowds who had broken the front windows of the Spectrum because the Flyers were late for their victory parade.

Life in Philadelphia was certainly not dull and for those of us who experienced the two seasons there, there will always be memories that almost seem like drcams given the lives we left and returned to. Those short summers made a tremendous impact on us. So much was packed into such a short time.


Naturally, we ail wonder what we would be doing now if the league had gone on. But we can all console ourselves with the memories we have of a part of our lives that none of us regrets. As for me. even if I was only a modern day servant, the experiences I had in Philadelphia are fondly remembered. Like all the others who experienced it. I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t look back and chuckle over something that happened to me in the City of Brotherly Love.

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