Tuesday, April 04, 2006

How the Philly Phanatic Turned Green

"There's no damn business like show business -- you have to smile to keep from throwing up." Billie Holiday

Phillies opening day, first game of the season. And no matter how well the Phil's bats were swinging, the Cardinals lit up Phillies pitcher Jon Lieber like a pinball machine. (If you know your baseball movies, you'll recognize the line from Bull Durham.)

Final score, 13 to 5, Cardinals. A rout.

Even the temporarily bright red Philly Phanatic had a bad day. In the 6th inning his ATV stalled near third base, briefly stopping the game. I don't know about you, but the whole thing made me feel a little sick.

Which reminded me of my classic Philly Phanatic story. That's me in the picture above with the original Phanatic, Dave Raymond in 1982.

We got to know each other a little too well that day. No, not the way you think.

I was toiling in the PR game for a Philly ad agency at the time. My job was to help our client Hechingers launch three new stores in the area, starting with Oxford Valley.

In Philly, if you want to bring out a crowd, you hire the Mummers and the Philly Phanatic. The band showed up on time and strummed away as customers waited for the main attraction -- who was late. No cell phones back then, it was all about worry and wait.

Finally staffers told me the Phanatic had arrived. I ran outside to find an apologetic, disheveled young guy in the Phanatic costume, holding the giant headpiece.

He'd gotten lost. And also, he admitted, he wasn't feeling too well. Dave was pale, sweating and looking greener than his costume. I brought him in the back door to the staff lounge, got him a Coke and two aspirins.

Then I went out into the store to ramp up the Mummers and announce that the Phanatic was in the building.

We waited some more. The crowd grew increasingly restless. I was beginning to sweat myself. Suddenly someone came running and pulled me into the lounge. "Where's the Phanatic?" I asked frantically. "We're gonna lose the crowd."

The answer has stayed in my memory banks all these years. You'd remember it too.

"The Philly Phanatic is tossing his cookies all over the bathroom!"

Well. A unique PR challenge. My college frat party training kicked into gear. I found poor Dave kneeling on the bathroom floor worshipping the porcelain goddess and gamely help his head until he finished.

Without getting too graphic, let's just say I learned the hard way that the Phanatic had dined on pizza and hoagies before heading for the Hechinger gig.

I helped him clean up. We chatted a bit. Utterly unlike his frenetic alter ego, Dave is a low key, rather shy kinda guy. Soft voice, pleasant demeanor. The last person you'd suppose could pull off Phanatic-like antics.

He's also a trooper. And that night, cookies off-loaded, costume restored, weak but determined, Dave put on the headpiece and headed into the crowd in full Phanatic mode.

He gave a stellar performance. The crowd loved it, especially the frequent hugs he bestowed on me. Obviously Dave was trying to show his gratitude. But all these years later, I feel free to admit that every time he grabbed me I was treated to a ripe reminder of our special time together.

And I learned, up close and personal, that no matter what comes up, so to speak, even in sports the Show Must Go On.

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Anonymous Maggie said...

Oops, I meant this story.

3:10 PM  

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