Being cooped up with family for a week around the holidays is the best time to sit on the couch and enjoy the long reads you’ve been stockpiling since September.
To get you started, the staff of Billy Penn picked out some of our favorite stories we published throughout 2016 that might have fallen through the cracks. Here are 15 stories you might have missed, in order of when they were published:
1. There’s a real-life ‘Creed’ right here in Philly
Last year’s new Rocky movie “Creed” did the series — and Philadelphia — justice. But Philly has its own Adonis Creed of sorts, who plays the leader of the dirt bike crew that follows around Apollo Creed’s son in the movie. But the story of Kingsessing’s Marquise Noel goes a lot deeper. He’s a Golden Gloves boxer with a coach and a father figure who sounds a bit like Rocky himself.
2. Philly’s status as a one-party town
In Philly, registered Democrats outnumber Republicans at nearly an 8-to-1 margin. It’s been like this for decades. The city’s status as a one-party town has plenty of drawbacks: It impacts how members of the community treat each other and continues through a cycle of general elections involving incumbents who easily win year after year. It can ease the way for corruption. And it allows long-time pols the flexibility to hand-pick their successors. Here’s a piece about the history of Philly’s status as a one-party town, and another about how a retiring state senator in Philly chose her successor — the son of a former mayor.
3. The other side of WIP’s Angelo Cataldi
He’s the mouth of Wing Bowl. And he’s the crazy sports guy yelling at ungodly hours in the morning. Angelo Cataldi is a former Pulitzer finalist who turned into a sports talk radio host that the city just loves to hate. But there’s another side to the 65-year-old Cataldi, who’s a self-described socially awkward “loner” who, off-air, could easily be mistaken for a quiet grandfather from Medford.
4. Villanova’s title really is an anomaly for Philly
The list of sports championships Philadelphia can claim is well, in a word, short. There are only about a dozen times a Philly team has won a championship — that’s what made Villanova’s national title this year so much more special. The last basketball championship was when ‘Nova won the title in 1985. Two years prior, Moses Malone, Dr. J and the Sixers took home the NBA title in convincing fashion.
5. How the Philly accent changes by neighborhood
You’ve surely heard about the Philadelphia accent. It has quite the reputation, and has been called one of the most distinctive accents in North America. But that accent isn’t universal in the city — ask someone from South Philly if they talk like a resident from the Northeast or Gray’s Ferry or Roxborough. They don’t. This year, we tested how the Philly accent changes from neighborhood to neighborhood. Watch and listen in here to experience it for yourself.
6. Philly’s spending millions to fix its overcrowded prisons
Philadelphia’s prison problem has been well-documented. The facilities are overflowing with inmates, and at least one of the city’s prisons is literally crumbling as we speak. In order to save money and — more importantly — focus on rehabilitation instead of imprisonment, Philadelphia is dumping millions of dollars into cutting its prison population by a third in just three years. But that money didn’t come from nowhere. We explain here where the problems are and how city officials went about securing the funds needed to get the job done.
7. Can Jared Kushner make the Piazza great again?
Since this story was published in April, Jared Kushner’s profile has risen significantly. The son-in-law of Donald Trump, Kushner is married to Ivanka Trump and considered to be one of the president-elect’s most trusted advisors. He’s also a real estate magnate himself and the owner of the Piazza, the mixed-use complex in Northern Liberties that’s fallen victim to mismanagement. It’s the neighborhood’s most prominent piece of real estate, but it’s falling behind the rest of the neighborhood that it helped transform.
8. The new songs inspired by Philly soul clips
The best thing about this year’s Wawa Welcome America concert was the tribute to soul music in Philadelphia. The city has so much to be proud of when it comes to soul music’s roots here. And you’ve probably heard the influences of Philadelphia soul music in your favorite hip-hop and rap music today without even realizing it. We talked to top producers about 12 Philly soul clips and the newer music they ended up inspiring.
9. Inside a marijuana growing operation
Medical marijuana is officially legal in Pennsylvania, but the state and the city are still in the process of getting the infrastructure in place to actually make it happen. There’s a good chance there will dispensaries and marijuana growing operations in Philadelphia. But what’s that actually look like? We went inside a $25 million marijuana empire in Denver to show you what it’s like inside a marijuana growing operation.
10. The Philadelphia Eagles All-Name Team
Athletes have some of the greatest names of all time, hands down. The Philadelphia Eagles are no exception. We went through the names of every Philadelphia Eagle of all time and created first and second all-name teams complete with stats, photos and information on players dating back to the 1930s. Our personal favorites are Marvin McNutt, Bibbles Bawel and Dick Riffle.
11. PA state politics’ diversity problem
Billy Penn went through everything we could find in order to see how many women and people of color have served in statewide offices. What we found was unsettling. Since the 18th century, just five women have been elected to seven statewide executive positions. Twenty-five have been elected to statewide judicial seats out of more than 200 judges. Five African-Americans have been elected to the same courts. Read more here about Pennsylvania’s dearth of diversity when it comes to state politics.
12. Philadelphia political Candyland
Philadelphia politics are complicated. So one day, we at Billy Penn were kicking around ideas and started comparing city politicians to game figures in Candyland. Natch. So with the help of our ace graphic artist, we created a Candidate-land playing board that explains city politics — so it’s perfect for the wonks and those of us who aren’t as into it. It features power players in city politics, as well as well-known weird political things that can happen along the way.
13. How tall even is Joel Embiid?
It’s unclear how tall the Sixers’ Joel Embiid actually is. At games, he’s announced as being 7’2”. The Sixers list him at a measly 7’0’’. In basketball, those two inches can actually make a huge difference. So what’s the truth? We’re pretty confident in saying it seems likely Embiid is more than seven feet tall — and might even be more than 7’2”.
14. A gloomy Philly faces a Trump administration
Things were weird in Philadelphia on Nov. 9, the day after Donald Trump stunningly won the presidential election. This city — with its Democratic voter registration advantage — was pretty clearly With Her, as evidenced by the massive crowd that gathered for a Clinton rally on Independence Mall the day before the election. But after Trump’s win, Philly seemed a little gloomy. We talked with leaders in the minority community as well as just everyday citizens about how they were feeling the day it seemed like everything changed.
15. The challenges for DIY spaces in getting up to code
Since a warehouse in Oakland caught fire in early December, DIY venues have been in the news. It also left music fans, including here in the city, wondering: Could that have been me? The people behind the Girard Hall Collective talked with us about the DIY and old building scene — and how they’re finding it difficult to navigate city regulations to keep their spot safe.