All of 12 miles separates Villanova’s campus from City Hall. Twelve miles.
You probably drove 12 miles on your morning commute, probably with the radio dial tuned to a sports chatter recapping Villanova’s NCAA Championship. Yet a weird phenomenon gripped social media after the Wildcats’ dominating win, as hordes of self-righteous “Philly” fans demanded to know why a pretentious university from the Main Line deserved to be honored with a ticker-tape parade. Banner raisings and street closures are reserved exclusively for “city teams,” according to many indignant critics.
“Who’s paying for the non-Philly college again to have a parade in Philly? Kenney still hasn’t revealed how much the city taxpayers will pay for the Eagles parade. At least they are an actual city team,” wrote one commenter on Philly.com.
Lines on a map
Some say it comes down to simple geography: the city is not the suburbs.
That line of thinking gets torn down by one of the region’s best-known sportstalkers.
“The city versus suburbs argument is stupid,” said Glen Macnow, host on SportsRadio 94WIP. “When I’m on the radio I get calls from South Philly and Southampton and I don’t see a difference in the teams they root for.”
Now, Macnow has no skin in the game. In fact, he is admittedly “anti-Villanova,” having taught journalism at Saint Joseph’s University. He understands the loyalties that stem from to college allegiances, but thinks sometimes, petty differences just need to be put aside.
“I know this isn’t the Eagles winning the Super Bowl, but bringing home an NCAA championship is an amazing accomplishment,” he said. “If it brings the city together, then it’s a good thing and I’m all for anything that allows the community to celebrate.”
Defining a hometown
So how do we define what it means to be part of the community, what it means to be a Philadelphian?
I grew up in the tiny hamlet of Ambler and dare anyone — in the city or in the suburbs — to tell me I’m not from Philly. Seriously, try it. You won’t get past the framed Chuck Bednarik photo in my bedroom.
Many claim Mike Trout as local, yet he grew up 46 miles away, in New Jersey. Bradley Cooper is from Jenkintown. Taylor Swift is from Reading. Wilt Chamberlain called Overbrook home, but when he played for the Sixers, he commuted to games from his penthouse in. That doesn’t exactly scream city pride to me.
“Geography shouldn’t be the only defining factor of what constitutes a city school,” opined Lauren Reiley, a diehard Nova hoops fan who owns degrees from both Temple and Villanova. “Philly is the City of Brotherly Love, after all, and Villanova embodies those values. Twelve miles isn’t a reason to refuse a celebration.”
But naysayers are quick to argue that Villanova gave up their right to be a Philly team when they left the hallowed Big 5 in 1991. If this were Temple or Saint Joseph’s or La Salle or Penn, then it would be different, says this crowd. Those are real “city teams.”
Rhea Hughes, cohost of the WIP Morning Show on 94.1 FM, can appreciate the Villanova vitriol in small doses — except when it undermines the convivial spirit of the city.
Hughes is a proud graduate of Temple, her sister played basketball for St. Joe’s and one of her brothers attended Penn. She rooted for Nova in the tourney. “You know what I’m not ever going to do? Rain on somebody’s parade,” Hughes told Billy Penn. “I don’t dislike Nova. Do I want them to lose when they play Temple? Sure, I do.”
For love of Jay
It all starts with Jay Wright. The good will he has ushered as Villanova’s coach — from reviving their role in the Big 5 to mentoring young coaches to his unselfish work with Coaches Versus Cancer — has made the team tough to hate.
“Jay is a class act,” Hughes said. For me, he’s ruined the rivalry by being too darn likable.”
“No one dislikes Jay Wright,” agreed Macnow. “Jay is such a great ambassador for the game, and he pays tribute to Philadelphia basketball.”
I had the privilege of covering Wright when I worked at Main Line Life newspaper. I remember interviewing him in 2004, three years after he was hired. He was a smooth talker who endorsed Augustinian values and boasted “every basketball player that has stayed all four years at Villanova has earned a degree on time.” Wright was ever conscious of Villanova’s place in the city’s storied hoops landscape, along with his personal impact on the impressionable student-athletes in his charge.
“It’s definitely an attitude,” Wright said at the time. “Whether it’s life or basketball, you can’t always affect what happens in life, but you can control how you react to it.”
Back then, the city was so starved for a championship that it was considering a victory parade for a horse. Two national titles and 14 years later, a small Catholic university located 12 miles from Philly will toss confetti on the same streets the Super Bowl champions did. It’s up to you how you choose to react to it. Personally, I’ll be cheering Philly’s new and unexpected role as a City of Champions.
And who knows? Maybe this is a precursor to two more victory laps, with the Sixers and Flyers both poised for what we hope are lengthy playoff runs.
“We are two-for-two in championships,” said Macnow. “Maybe this is our year.”