Game 016:Wake Forest 67, at Temple 64 Monday, December 13, 2004 Liacouras Center - Philadelphia, PA
There are basically two things you need to know about Philadelphia: Pat's Steaks is a thousand times better than Geno's, and Bill Cosby pretty much owns the town. That's right, owns it. Local politics, sports arenas and the society pages are full of polarizing figures - many with more detractors than supporters, each with armies of fence-sitters ready to crap on them if they don't bring the city glory in the form of positive publicity, federal funds, or championships.
But it's just plain impossible for anyone to hate Bill. The city forgave him for Leonard Part 6, and forgave him for not having had any new ideas since the Eighties - he represents Philly, and that's all that matters. He's of the age now where he can just coast by and recycle all his stories in all manner of different ways - whether it's the third incarnation of "The Cosby Show," or "Little Bill," or I Spy Returns, or whatever.
So when Cosby decided to hold the world premiere of the new live-action feature-length adaptation of his classic "Fat Albert" cartoon series at Temple's Liacouras Center this past Sunday, Philadelphia did not collectively say, "Have you lost your freaking mind, man? Is there anything left in your oeuvre that you still consider sacred?" No, Cheesesteak City celebrated in grand style.
Because all The Cos has to do is show up in his baggy Temple sweatshirt and crack a few jokes about how wacky families are. And he knows it. Regardless of one's Big Five affiliation, they will fall all over themselves to give props to dear old Dr. Huxtable. I certainly didn't go to TU, and I'll find myself screaming out, "Yo Bill! I learned everything I know from 'PicturePages!' I wish you were my dad!" Even the Owls' hoops coach, hated by roughly four-fifths of the metro area, couldn't get that kind of unconditional love if he tried... even if he staged a disarmingly personal one-man comedy show titled "John Chaney: Himself."
There was a bit of Hollywood glamour and glitz left over on Monday, on a night when the Temple basketball team staged a high-profile home game. An oversize banner still spanned North Broad Street that read "Welcome Home Fat Albert", and a forty-foot-tall Fat Albert inflatable, lit by spotlights, graced the Liacouras' roof. Nationally well-regarded Wake Forest of the Atlantic Coast Conference was in town, and so was ESPN2. And so was Rick Majerus.
Rick's got a weird past when it comes to Temple. In 2002, back when he was still coach at Utah, his voting privileges were revoked by the USA Today/ESPN Coaches' poll when it was discovered that one of his assistants had cast Majerus' weekly ballot for him, and had placed a 9 vote for a Temple squad with a .333 winning percentage. The rationale given at the time was that the assistant knew how much of a big John Chaney fan Rick was, but that he somehow had no idea that Temple was 6-12 at the time. (And you wonder why we never mention polls around here?)
The game began just the way Temple liked: slow and bruising. Wake didn't look like the clean-burning efficient machine I'd seen on TV, they were groggy and unfocused (perhaps due in part to the post-exam trap). Point guard sensation Chris Paul and tough center Eric Williams didn't get to start because they had been late for the team bus, and any spark they brought the team when they checked in five minutes in was quickly doused by the already well-established snail's pace. The teams traded short runs as the half wore on - seven points here, five points there. This game would be decided in Temple's sixties, not Wake's eighties.
So I spent a good deal of the first half wondering what Majerus was saying on TV in his role as color commentator, down there on press row. I hadn't set the TiVo or anything, so I'll never know for exact-sure. He did make a few extra hand gestures when Temple scored, so I imagined that he was telling the audience at home about what a great guy John Chaney is. Good, I thought, he might provide some counterpoint to the treacly love sonnets ESPN sings to the ACC on a nightly basis.
The half ended with a 30-29 count in favor of Temple, despite a late eight-point Wake burst punctuated by a barrage of free throws resulting from a Cheney technical (more Majerus hand gestures). And after a lengthy trampoline dunk show exhibition by the "Extreme Team" and the Diamond Gems dance squad's tribute to the music of Prince, play resumed.
But just as the second half began, there was a buzz amongst the large assemblage, and then a roar - yes, Philadelphia's favorite son had entered the building. Thousands waved and cheered, and a hundred flashbulbs popped as Bill Cosby walked the perimeter of the court. He was making a beeline for press row.
As Ol' Bill sidled up to the ESPN2 booth, slipped on a headset and put a friendly half-hug on Majerus' plump frame, I knew exactly what was going on. He had a new movie that needed some pluggin'. "Uh-oh," I said to my seatmate, a Wake Forest alum who was catching a glimpse of TU's most famous booster through a pair of Bushnell binocs. "That's gotta be an awkward moment."
"Whatever do you mean?" he asked, the slightest Carolinian tinge in his voice.
Do I have to spell it out?
(And that, dear readers, is why I cannot take my rest this night, why the timestamp on this post is so god-forsakingly late. I fear sleep and the horrible spectres it holds in store for me.)
Soon after Cosby's work was done, the Demon Deacons gathered up their collective energies for one big spurt, a 12-4 run that unfolded and unfurled itself at the midway point of the second half. The Deacs' stingy trap defense led to a couple of unwanted time out calls by befuddled Owls, and Temple was heading into the final ten with a looming nine-point deficit, foul trouble, and one clock stoppage remaining. It appeared that Wake Forest was primed to twist the knife.
But that's when Temple's oversized point guard Mardy Collins went off, scoring the bulk of his jersey-number-matching 25 points. Wake and Temple went down the stretch matching blows, Trent Strickland jam for Collins trey. None of the Owls' shots were pretty - each one seemed to bounce once or twice on the rim before falling through, each one eliciting a huge gasp and then a deafening cheer.
And with 15 seconds to go, the final act. Wake was up by three points, and Temple had to go the length of the floor. They were able to put the ball in the hands of their best pure shooter, Dustin Salisbery, but the ball caromed hard off the rim as time expired. The Owls had kept their guests squarely in their preferred neighborhood of 60th Avenue, but they had not been able to extract rent.
Kenan Thompson, whom you might remember from Nickelodeon's All That, plays the title character in Fat Albert The Movie. He was asked last week by one of those "Hollywood Extra Insider" shows why folks should come out and see the film. He seemed surprised and unprepared, a rarity for the streamlined media junkets of the 21st Century. "Well," he said. "I think they'll like laughing at the fat guy."
Judging from the trailer, they probably won't have much of a chance - Fat Albert will be lucky to make it to a second weekend. Before you know it, it'll be sharing space on HBO2 with Ghost Dad and Mother, Jugs and Speed.
But you know what? We'll still love ya, Bill. Nothing will ever change that.