Feb. 5, 2005

PHILADELPHIA - By Phil Denne '98

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Philadelphia Big 5. On February 7 in front of a national television audience, the same two schools that began that tradition on December 14, 1955, Saint Joseph's and Villanova, face each other again in the same building.

The world has certainly changed in the years since and many memorable Saint Joseph's-Villanova games have been played. Several of those contests are recalled now by a few simple words. Donches' Shot...The Bomb Scare...Pick Brown's Drive...40-9. In each case, the frozen moment represents a memory for some, or perhaps a piece of magical, legendary history for others.

But the series is more than that. The rollouts...The Streamers...The Mascots. Those things that demonstrate an atmosphere, the feeling that a special rivalry brings out.

What was it like some 50 years ago? These were two teams that hadn't met for 16 years. Less than 3,000 folks looked on from The Palestra benches. Two teams from opposite ends of the Main Line had come to 33rd Street for the renewal. The rich traditions of two historic basketball programs were about to converge.

The Hawks, coached by Jack Ramsay, won the inaugural City Series contest by a score of 83-70. SJU was paced by the play of junior Al Juliana, who poured in 22 points. The Wildcats, under the direction of Al Severance, jumped out to an early 13-10 lead, but the Hawks powered on top with an 11-0 run that gave SJU a 21-13 advantage.

The boisterous Hawk faithful helped Saint Joseph's push the advantage to 13 points, 32-19. Villanova, however, battled back as Jack Weissman and sophomore Jack Kelly keyed the 'Cats comeback, which closed the lead to just 36-31 at halftime.

Cold shooting plagued the Hawks early in the second half and 'Nova took the opportunity to go in front, 43-41. Kurt Englebert evened the game at 43 apiece, before Saint Joseph's captain Mike Fallon gave the Hawks a lead they would never relinquish, 45-43. Villanova stayed close, trailing just 51-49, but effective defense and the hot shooting of Juliana allowed SJU to pull away down the stretch.

Saint Joseph's went on to win the first-ever Big Five title with a 4-0 mark, 23-6 overall, and earned a berth in the National Invitation Tournament.

Today SJU holds an all-time record of 1,393 and 908. It will soon reach the 1,400 victory plateau, a mark reached by just 30 major college programs. The Hawks have qualified for the NCAA Tournament 18 times and the NIT on 12 other occasions.

In the Big Five, SJU has won or shared a record 19 City Series titles, nine of them outright. The Wildcast have won the crown 15 times, six outright. Head-to-Head, VU holds a slim 24-21 edge in Big Five meetings.

Sure its 2005. Things have changed. The Atlantic 10...The Big East...Satellite Radio. But tonight we can reminisce. Same teams...Same building...Same Intensity. Enjoy.