Andrew Kay can’t get his friends to talk about the Flyers in August. It’s the dullest part of the offseason and pucks are far from everyone else’s minds.
So imagine then how absolutely thrilled he was when Trey Anastasio, the lead singer of legendary jam band Phish, spent about 25 minutes chatting with him about the hometown hockey team before the band’s August 12 show at the Mann Center.
Kay, who is 30 years old, loves Phish – he’s seen them live maybe two dozen times. But that night in Fairmount Park, he wasn’t just a lucky fan plucked from the crowd for a meet-and-greet; he was there on business. Kay owns the “S” from the “SPECTRUM” lettering that hung for decades on the side of the venue that once stood in South Philadelphia. He’s on a mission to have every living athlete and musician known for playing there autograph the 6-foot-by-4-foot, 70-pound hollow blue letter.
That includes Phish, whom he saw live for the first time at the Spectrum years ago. And Anastasio, who grew up nearby in Princeton, N.J., was almost as excited about his signing the “S” as Kay was.
“It was just a crazy moment,” Kay said. “Trey started telling us stories about his dad taking him to Flyers games, how awesome the building was, all his memories. We talked about the current Flyers, which was awesome. Seriously: I was talking to Trey Anastasio about the Flyers! It was nuts.”
Kay’s “S” adventure began in 2010 with an e-mail. He learned of a website on which memorabilia from the building nicknamed “America’s Showplace” would be up for auction, and he flipped through the listings on a whim.
There were seats. There were benches. There were photos. There were jerseys. There were even urinals.
“And then I saw they were auctioning off the letters,” Kay said, “and I was like, how cool would that be? Everyone has seats in their man cave or whatever, but how cool would it be to have the actual ‘S’ that was on that building?”
He put down an offer of $400 and forgot about it. He figured he’d get outbid, and didn’t want to tempt himself by engaging in a bidding war (he’s admittedly a little competitive). But two weeks later, Kay got an e-mail congratulating him on his auction victory. The “S” was his.
So a new challenge arose: How to get it home?
The “S” is heavy enough that it requires two people to transport it any distance beyond a couple feet. It’s bulky enough that it doesn’t fit in most cars or SUVs. To bring it home from the Spectrum, he had to borrow a buddy and a pickup truck.
“My dad was like, ‘That is amazing,’” Kay said. “He saw why I wanted it. My mom was like, ‘Why are you buying dumb shit? What are you going to do with a 6-foot ‘S’?’”
But Kay knew as soon as he brought it home what he wanted to do with it. The mission to collect signatures has some momentum these days, but it’s taken a lot of hustle (and heavy-lifting) to get to this point. Kay has basically had to network as if he were desperately job searching.
The work has paid off: He’s up to 41 autographs. The Flyers sign in orange permanent ink, red for the Sixers and gold for the musicians. Signatures range from Flyers chairman Ed Snider to Flyers captain Bobby Clarke to Sixers great Julius Erving. And, of course, the members of Phish.
Every time Kay gets a lead on a potential signer, he has to rent a UHaul and find a friend willing to hoist the thing into and out of it. Sometimes, the leads pan out. Sometimes, they don’t. To get Phish’s attention, Kay printed out a giant banner, left work early and waited along the pathway where bands’ tour buses arrive at the Mann. It didn’t work on the night of the first show, but the second attempt a day later led to autographs and, of course, that treasured offseason Flyers talk.
“Pretty much everyone at first is like, ‘What is this giant ‘S’?’” Kay said. “But once I tell them, it’s so cool, because then everyone wants to talk about their memories of the Spectrum. Everyone loved playing there. The first thing anyone mentions is how loud it was and that it was an honor to play or perform there.”
And along with the signers’ stories come the stories of the signings. Joe Watson, a defenseman on the Flyers’ Stanley Cup-winning teams, accidentally signed the “S” twice. How anyone could forget signing the thing is beyond him, though Kay jokes that Watson holds the record for most signatures on the Spectrum “S.”
And then there was Anastasio, who begged to sign next to his childhood hero Flyers right wing Reggie Leach instead of with his bandmates. Those stories are more valuable than the autographs, Kay said, and were a totally unexpected part of the experience.
He’s gotten every living member of the Broad Street Bullies save for Rick MacLeish to sign, but Kay is far from finished. He’s still after Sixers legend Charles Barkley, and musicians have proven particularly difficult – he’s working all angles to try for Pearl Jam, Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen, among others.
Still, the “S” has taken on a life of its own. It’s on Twitter. Kay keeps a Facebook photo gallery of every signer he gets. And it’s become so much more of an adventure than he could have imagined.
“I thought maybe if I was lucky, I would go to one or two private signings,” Kay said. “And maybe if I was really lucky, I’d get [Flyers goaltender] Bernie Parent or something. But on one piece, to have all these amazing people … I mean, all my childhood memories are from the Spectrum. My first Flyers game. My first concert. My first Sixers game. They were all there. Now I have this piece of memorabilia with most of the people who made the building special.”