I live nine miles from Philadelphia, in South Jersey, but I don't go there much anymore. For eighteen years, my parents and I crossed the bridge weekly as we attended a large Presbyterian church in Center City. Our preferred route was across the Walt Whitman bridge, past the stadiums in South Philly before turning right at the old bridge on South Street that was worn down to its underlying metal framework and buzzed when you drove across it. A few more blocks on South, a left turn somewhere nearby and then the quest for parking.
A few years ago, about the time I graduated from college, we made a conscious choice to begin searching for a new church, one on our side of the river. We had visited a church or two in South Jersey but never felt God nudging us out the door of our city-based home church. Now, we felt it. It was time.
Although we understood the many factors influencing our decision, they didn't seem to come through to many of our friends. "Why would you leave this church? It has great preaching, great music and great fellowship." By the end of our search, we were certain of three things. First, we were making the right choice. Second, wherever we went wasn't going to be the same. Third, not-the-same was good. Minds and hearts ready, we began worshipping at a small Presbyterian church ten minutes away and have been there since then.
I haven't had much reason to return to Philadelphia, outside of visiting a college friend from a prosperous suburb in North Philly. My life is currently Jersey-based. Work, home, church, friends, all on my side of the river. Crossing that bridge--even if I have a good reason for going--means tolls, the never-ending search for parking, dealing with city traffic and its ever-present road construction. There's no need to travel into the city. I can find most things I need in New Jersey, so I stay put.
I took the same path tonight that I took to go into church all those years, this time turning left at the new South Street bridge after eking through Schukyll rush hour traffic. After ten minutes of searching for parking, I found a possibly insane parking meter on Walnut Street that, after refusing any of my quarters, decided to give me three hours for three dollars instead of the two hours the machine claims it will. I didn't argue. I grabbed Bally, stuffed him into my pocket and headed towards the basketball cathedral.
The Will Call line, which stretched around the Palestra's corner, belied the number of people that came tonight. The Palestra was quite full. By game's end, people could be seen stretching deep into both western corners. Billed attendance was 7,462 but the arena looked and felt much fuller with the sound reverberating off the steel roof. Kyle Casey opened the scoring for Harvard, but Zach Rosen made a deep two for Penn followed by Miles Cartwright for three. The crowd erupted with joyous yells, leaps and fist pumps.
I've had trouble warming up to partisan crowds in mid-major basketball before but the amount of energy and joy in the crowd at this time made me smile. This is a game I enjoy, at a level I love, with a crowd that wants to love it. It is a wonderful feeling and it continued for me as these two teams battled defensively. Harvard sports a stunning 0.81 PPP while Penn resides at 0.94 PPP. These squads can score a bit (Harvard more so) but they live on their defense. For a three-minute stretch of the first half, both teams went scoreless. It was ferocious defensive basketball.
In the final six minutes of the first half, Harvard began to pull ahead with contributions from Kyle Casey, Steve Mondou-Missi, and Corbin Miller. But after the break, Penn slowly chipped away at the Harvard lead and pulled even at 30-30 on a Cartwright #superhoop. The crowd erupted once more, only to be silenced by Miller's three. Harvard stretched that lead over subsequent minutes before Penn called timeout and got a basket to cut the lead to seven with eight minutes left.
Harvard came down the floor, passing the ball around the perimeter, then inside, then back out to no avail. The Quakers were focused. Harvard couldn't turn the corner on any Penn defender or run a good pick and roll. With twelve on the shot clock, they backed it out again and set up a play. It was the same as their first of the game: a baseline screen designed to free Casey for a midrange baseline jump shot. Casey received the pass and hesitated, dribbled slightly, and threw a two-handed pass to Miller in the opposite corner. #Superhoop. Harvard, 44-34. 7:23 to go. Penn got close at the end, pulling within three on a Zach Rosen three with 0:23 left but could not overcome the ten-point hole. Harvard remained unbeaten in league play with a 56-50 win.
One thing I remember from the Philadelphia church is that ancient Greek has four words for love. The name of the city comes from one of them, philia, a dispassionate virtuous love often used between friends and community. There was not a lot of philia on display as people bemoaned Tyler Bernardini's four-foul, two-point performance on their way out but Philadelphia is a strange sports town. Philia also doesn't quite capture how I feel about this game and this project either. I'm not sure which word does. But one thing I've learned from this site is that we choose to do because we choose to love. I love being part of...this, the mid-major basketball fan experience, cheering for David going against Goliath, and enjoying our joys and struggles. And that's why I made the choice to cross the bridge tonight and take in a basketball game I had no rooting interest in. Wonderfully, it was rewarded.
On the way home, I listened to "One Voice" by The Wailin' Jennys, a (mostly) Canadian female folk trio. It's the opening song on their debut album, arguably their most famous, and their singalong closing number at live shows. A wish for fellowship, it moves from the singular ("This is the sound of one voice") to the corporate ("This is the sound of all of us") to a single, unified whole ("This is the sound of one voice"). "The sound of one who makes a choice" becomes a part of "a song for every one of us." Whether that's crossing a bridge, a plain, a forest of evergreens, snow-covered city, or something else, that choice becomes part of this crazy experiment. It's our song, for all of us each of us, one that we've chosen to do and love, and that makes it special, no matter what hue colors your team's jersey.
HARVARD 56, at PENNSYLVANIA 50 02/10/2012
HARVARD 21-2 (7-0) -- B. Curry 0-5 1-2 1; O. McNally 2-6 4-4 8; L. Rivard 0-5 2-2 2; K. Wright 1-5 2-3 4; K. Casey 6-9 2-3 15; S. Moundou-Missi 3-6 3-4 9; C. Miller 5-10 4-6 17; C. Webster 0-2 0-0 0; W. Saunders 0-0 0-0 0; J. Travis 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 17-49 18-24 56. PENNSYLVANIA 12-11 (4-2) -- Z. Rosen 6-21 2-2 16; M. Cartwright 4-7 2-2 12; R. Belcore 3-8 0-0 6; T. Bernardini 0-5 2-2 2; F. Dougherty 1-4 2-2 4; S. Rennard 0-2 1-2 1; H. Brooks 1-3 0-0 2; M. Kukoc 1-4 0-0 3; M. Howlett 2-2 0-1 4. Totals 18-56 9-11 50.
Three-point goals: HARV 4-19 (O. McNally 0-3; K. Casey 1-1; B. Curry 0-1; C. Webster 0-2; L. Rivard 0-5; C. Miller 3-7), PENN 5-22 (T. Bernardini 0-3; R. Belcore 0-3; Z. Rosen 2-9; M. Cartwright 2-3; M. Kukoc 1-3; S. Rennard 0-1); Rebounds: HARV 34 (K. Wright 13), PENN 32 (F. Dougherty 7); Assists: HARV 9 (B. Curry 4), PENN 10 (Z. Rosen 6); Total Fouls -- HARV 12, PENN 23; Fouled Out: HARV-None; PENN-None.