The national obituaries of Sen. Arlen Specter, who died Sunday at age 82 after a recurrence of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, will mention his tenacity and independence. They will mention his role in getting Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court and keeping Robert Bork off it. They will mention his “not proven” vote during President Clinton’s impeachment proceedings.
But it’s unlikely the obituaries will mention one other facet of Specter’s life: he was a devoted sports fan. More specifically, he was a Philadelphia sports fan.
Specter was born in Kansas in 1930. He came to Philadelphia at age 17 to attend the University of Pennsylvania. He later served as Philadelphia’s district attorney from 1966-74 before being elected to the Senate in 1980, where he served for 30 years, becoming the longest-tenured senator in Pennsylvania history.
Specter’s passion for Philadelphia sports was evident to listeners of WIP’s Morning Show. He called in regularly, usually around 7 a.m., to offer unique opinions on the pressing sports topics of the day.
I had the opportunity to witness Specter’s passion for sports first-hand. Prior to a Flyers game one night at the Spectrum, there was a private dinner for contributors to Sen. Specter’s re-election campaign. A lawyer from my father’s firm could not attend, so my dad asked if I wanted to go in his place (I was already going to the game).
We were escorted to a private dining room. Jay Snider, the Flyers’ president at the time, was present, as were a handful of people who had contributed to Specter’s campaign. There weren’t more than 20 people at the table.
Imagine my surprise when I was seated next to Sen. Specter. I knew it was probably impolite to discuss political issues or anything controversial, so I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to make conversation – or if I was supposed to say anything at all.
My worries were alleviated once Sen. Specter found out I was in my early years as a sports writer. He told me that if he hadn’t gone into politics, he would have wanted to become a sports broadcaster.
Sen. Specter and I discussed sports and sports media for a significant portion of the dinner. Instead of being worried about what we were going to talk about, I became concerned that I was taking up too much of Sen. Specter’s time when he should have been speaking with those who had donated money to have dinner with him. But I wasn’t the one prolonging the sports conversation. That was Sen. Specter’s choice.
I occasionally thought of that dinner when I listened to Sen. Specter offering his opinions on WIP. As with Gov. Rendell, I knew that Sen. Specter’s passion was genuine.
Sen. Specter leaves an interesting and controversial legacy. I won’t venture into political analysis on PhillyPhanatics.com, but I will tell you that he was a straight shooter when it came to politics. He didn’t always do what was popular, but I’m confident he always did what he thought was right.
But I’m even more confident that Sen. Specter’s passion for sports was genuine. I heard that passion on WIP and I heard it first-hand during dinner at the Spectrum many years ago.
I know Sen. Specter will be missed. And I know he will miss Philadelphia sports.