What's in a name? For instance, try visualizing Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science. Inner-city location. Old brick building that looks more like a factory than a school. Immediate placement for graduates: males start out in the garment district unloading racks of dresses, coeds get the latest model Touch & Sew on the assembly line and an ILGWU card. To avoid open revolt among students, there is an athletic program of sorts at PCT&S, but you not only have to earn your letter sweater, sweetie, you have to knit it, too.
Philadelphia Textile fits that picture about as well as Kate Smith does a size 5. To begin with, the school is blessed with a real campus, the equal scenically of neighboring Villanova and St. Joseph's. Located on 40 wooded acres of the old Bond Bread family estate just north of Philadelphia in Germantown, Textile's fall foliage is more colorful than an ad for Burlington House. One of Pennsylvania's oldest Atlas cedar trees, a massive specimen, thrives beside the admissions building, and the surrounding neighborhood is just as impressive. If you head up Henry Avenue past Schoolhouse Lane, you come upon the Kelly mansion, where construction-tycoon John B. raised a daughter named Grace, who grew up to be a movie queen and then a real live princess.
The college is hardly a spawning ground for blue-collar workers, what with the annual tab for tuition, room and board running to about $4,000. PCT&S offers degrees in everything from business administration to pre-med, but the school's principal concern is turning out chemists, engineers and future executives for its principal benefactor, the textile industry. It is the oldest and largest institution of its kind in the country and it likes to think of itself as the MIT of cloth. Down through the years the research department has been called upon to restore Betsy Ross' original flag when it started coming apart at the seams; to design flame-retardant flight suits for NASA; and to produce replacement parts for the human body, such as the connecting piece made from Dacron, which British doctors successfully used during intestinal surgery on the Duke of Windsor.
Textile is no pushover in the sports world either, despite an enrollment of only 1,300 students and a 39-letter name that drives Athletic Director Harry Pure—and many others, he fears—to distraction. "I thought something had to be done, so I went in to see the president about our name and the confusing image it projects to some people," says Pure, who is as devoted to horticulture and public relations as he is to balancing the athletic budget. "The president just looked at me and said, 'Harry, if you want to give a million dollars a year to the school, we'll be glad to call it Pure College. If not, it's going to remain Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science.' "
November 29, 1976
Apparently a cumbersome name hasn't hindered the success of the school soccer team, which made its sixth consecutive appearance in the NCAA tournament this fall, or of Striker Dale Russell, a four-year All-America who won what amounts to the Heisman Trophy of college soccer last year. However, it is Textile's basketball team, a small-college juggernaut for more than a decade, that is in a class all by itself.
Once known as the Weavers—what else?—Textile now answers to the chant of "Rams, Rams" from hometown partisans while trying to ignore a lot of unprintable epithets from its poor oppressed opponents on the road. The Rams have qualified for the NCAA small-college tournament every year but one since 1963. Their coach, Herb Magee, has the highest winning percentage of anyone in Division II, the spare room that the NCAA has made up to accommodate little guys like Philadelphia Textile, which play good basketball but cannot afford a major-college traveling schedule. In Magee's nine years as coach he has produced a 195-53 (.786) record and has won more than 20 games eight times. The only year he failed to receive a postseason bid was in 1974, when he suspended three starters for violating training rules.
Em (the Gem) Sammons was a meek freshman in those days, still feeling his way and unable to do much to stop the slide to 10-14. In three years, the bearded 6'1" guard has matured into the leader of an all-Philly contingent that again is a good bet to win the national championship. Last year Cheyney State upset the Rams 60-59 in the regionals, ending a 22-game winning streak and a 25-3 season on a sad note. Sad, that is, until the postseason party where community and school leaders surprised Magee with a new Dodge Charger and his players with watches to make up for the ones they didn't win in the tournament.
Sammons, a 19.1-points-per-game scorer who finished fourth in the nation in free-throw shooting (.888), is typical of Magee's players, a product of the Philadelphia Catholic League where Magee himself played and where teamwork and defense are considered the main tenets of success. Sammons was so overlooked by major colleges that he finally walked into Magee's office in August before his freshman year because he was tired of waiting for a phone that never rang. The rest of the starting five—and for that matter the remainder of the team—have similar stories to tell; they were all told they were "too short" or "too slow" or too something to make it at a major college.
Center Ray Tarnowski ended up at Textile because he was too bad. He was the 15th man on his high school team, the guy whose name almost never appeared in the box score. Now the 6'9" senior is a double-figure scorer and rebounder who seldom misses from inside 12 feet. Captain Jim Edwards, a 6'5" forward, is the strong, silent type. Critics said there was no flair to his game—and there isn't to this day. Edwards is just a likable guy with a 3.5 academic average who' makes about as many mistakes on the floor as he does in the classroom. Forward Rick Watson, one of two public league players on the team, got lost in the shuffle at Overbrook High, which has had wall-to-wall talent ever since Wilt Chamberlain went there. Guard Lloyd Ranson was considered an in-betweener at 6'3" and 180 pounds, but can jump so high and take care of himself so well that Magee is thinking of sending his name to the Dallas Cowboys and Baltimore Colts, who circulate questionnaires asking basketball coaches if they have any potential football players on their squads.
All of which made it ironic when the Rams' discredited players stepped up in class last year and beat both Villanova and Temple in the Palestra. Understand that the Palestra is the house of worship for Philadelphia basketball. The city championship is held there every year, and there isn't a player in Philadelphia who doesn't murmur to himself, "Gotta get to the Palestra, gotta get to the Palestra," every night along with his prayers. Herb Magee was no different, except that he was a good enough shooter to get his West Catholic High team there in 1959. Overbrook, the public league champ, had Wally Jones and Walt Hazzard and won going away.
"I'd been saying, 'Gotta get back to the Palestra' for 17 years when we met Villanova in last year's season opener," says Magee. "They were supposed to have more firepower with the Trigger Brothers, Keith and Larry Herron, but we beat them 65-59, and suddenly Textile was front-page news in Philadelphia." Sammons & Co. had Temple down by 23 points in the Palestra later in the season and won 70-58. Villanova Coach Rollie Massimino has not yet carried out his jovial threats to drop Textile from the Wildcats' schedule. But after three losses to Textile in the last four games, Temple has taken the Rams off its schedule.
The Rams are no stranger to the spotlight, nor unaccustomed to springing the big upset. In 1970 Magee took one of his patchwork teams to the Division II championship. In the finals the Rams knocked off powerful Tennessee State, which was led by future pros Lloyd Neal and Ted McClain. It was a very good year to win, because 1970 was the only year the tournament has ever been on national TV. No polls were taken to determine how many Philadelphians knew what title Textile had actually won. But the City of Brotherly Love, hungry for a champ in any sport, welcomed the Rams home with a parade to the mayor's office. When Magee and the players returned to Germantown, campus buildings had been hastily rededicated (via poster board, paint and brush) in honor of the five starters. Althouse Hall, for example, became McGilvery Hall in deference to Jim McGilvery, the Rams' leading scorer and rebounder who had originally planned on paying his own way at La Salle until Magee offered him an extra scholarship he couldn't seem to find a body for.
So here was Herb Magee: flying high, a brilliant judge of talent with a telegram from Richard Nixon on the wall and an NCAA title under his belt, only 29 years old and on his way to the top. And from whom does he get one of his first telephone calls? John Wooden, asking him to be an assistant at UCLA? Jack Ramsay, looking for a new face on the 76ers' bench? Nope. "It was a guy over at the Germantown post office," Magee recalls. "They had heard our name, figured we were an industrial league team and wondered if they could get a pickup game with us. It reminded me of the time I went to talk to the father of a recruit. 'Thanks for your interest,' the man said to me, 'but we want our son to go to college.' "
There is another side of small-college life, that smalltime, nobody-knows-we're-here kind of feeling that pervades even a successful program like Philadelphia Textile's. Pete Mimmo and Steve (Cazzie) Rush, the Rams' sixth and seventh men, seem to describe this malaise best.
Mimmo says, "It's the six-hour bus rides to the Juniatas, the Albrights, the Susquehannas—teams you blow out by 30—that kill you. Then back on the bus for six more hours, and you get home by, oh, four in the morning. Feel tip-top for class the next day, right? And when we play at some places it seems like one of the referees could be the athletic director's brother. We thought we were the best team in Philadelphia last year, but people can always stop you with that zinger: 'Yeah, but who do you play?' "
Rush is a total basketball freak who collects memorabilia like Rick Mount's old Baltimore Claws jersey and talks incessantly about his own jump shot being the best in the country. His presence eliminates the need for a full-time sports information director at Textile, because, for example, he has memorized all of Sammons' statistics and can rattle them off at a moment's notice: "Emory was 11 for 13 from the field and 7 for 7 from the line against Old Dominion for 29 points. Came out with an itchy finger and made his first three shots on the way to 40 points against Delaware Valley." And so on. The Caz is a delight to be around and he can go all day if you let him. But his entire act seems a way of covering up his own disappointments.
"I got hundreds of letters as a junior in high school," he says. "The key is they were just letters, not scholarship offers. I was really selective at first; you wouldn't believe the schools that ended up in my wastebasket. Then, as a senior it boiled down to Massachusetts. They wanted me to meet Julius Erving and all that. Then they came to see me play, and suddenly they weren't inviting me up."
If the Rams can win another national championship, it will make a lot of people like Cazzie Rush very happy. It may not change their lives, though, the way it would if they were at Villanova or any major-college school. Harry Pure, bless him, will go on spending extra money to alter the layout of a new soccer and baseball field, so that a beautiful old copper beech will not have to be cut down. Herb Magee is committed to Textile, having survived this far after living first in the infirmary and then in a trunk room as an undergraduate. Emory Sammons' chances of playing pro ball hinged more on the existence of the ABA than on the prospects for an NCAA title this season. He will be drafted, win or lose, but whether or not he makes it is up to him. No way the Gem gets a no-cut contract.
Sammons is a good small-college player, as are his teammates, and in his element he can look as dazzling as, say, Michigan's Rickey Green does in his. Both players are concerned with trophies, engraved watches, championship rings—tangible rewards that make their endeavors seem worthwhile. In that sense, Sammons and Green are probably alike. Sammons may not be as talented or as tested, but he is cut from the same piece of cloth.