Six weeks of winter

IN A TUNNEL UNDER THE HUDSON RIVER - This is going to be quite a weekend, isn't it? It's always a big deal when the Big 5 inducts a new class into its Hall of Fame, but this year's group of John Chaney, Rollie Massimino and Speedy Morris is a blockbuster. Saturday's La Salle-Temple game should be pretty exciting too.

And I'm not going to be around for any of it.

Yeah, really.

As I write this, I'm on a train to New Haven, Conn., to cover Penn's opening games of Ivy League play. The Quakers go to Yale tonight and Brown tomorrow, and I'll have a recap of the latter game in Sunday's Inquirer.

Why am I doing this? Well, as you all know, I do this every year. I've been at since 2006, and this is the first time I can remember that I'm missing a big City Series game for a road trip. One game in four seasons is a pretty good record, I'd say.

I'll also be in Boston for Penn-Harvard next weekend, though at least up there I'll have family to visit. The Quakers have two home weekends after that, which will finally let me see the region's other teams again.

Back in December, I had convinced myself that this season I would stay in town. But after Glen Miller was fired, I decided I needed to make this trip to see Jerome Allen's debut in the Ancient Eight.

I suppose I deserve this, in a way. Instead of listening to Chaney, Massimino and Morris spin yarns about their glory days, I'll watch three of the worst teams in Division I play low-scoring games in front of sparse crowds.

And if it's going to be cold in Philadelphia this weekend, it's going to be freezing in New Haven and Providence.

There's no question that Penn has been awful this year, and they've been hammered in almost every game they've played. But the Quakers' non-conference schedule would be tough in any season - at Penn State, Davidson and Duke, plus the usual Big 5 slate.

None of which is to excuse what's happened so far under either Glen Miller or Jerome Allen.  But it's gotten to the point now where the unprecedented anger I saw among Penn fans in December has faded into a kind of dull, monotonous sigh.

The program is still far from healthy. It has miles to climb on the court and in the stands, as evidenced by the home side's paltry attendance at the St. Joe's game.

(That's not a slap at St. Joe's; it really was Penn's home game this year.)

With that in mind, I would encourage all of you - no matter which city school to root for - to read Kyle Whelliston's latest essay.

Those of you who follow Kyle on Twitter know that he slept over in the Palestra on Wednesday night.

I was still at work (yes, I work that late) when he tweeted a photo entitled "The palace at 4 a.m." I clicked on it, and just about fell over in shock. I could tell something big was up, but I didn't know what.

Then last night, the answer came. It took me a long time to read the post, in part because it's 2,398 words long and in part because I couldn't help taking every word slowly and carefully.

I honestly don't think I've ever seen the Palestra's story told better. I know a lot of people have done it before, but this was somehow different.

Maybe it was how Kyle told of being woken up by the steam pipes at 2:30, or by Brian Fitzpatrick practicing a few hours before that.

Or maybe it was those whispers Kyle thought he heard, and that shadow he thought he saw passing by one of the entryways to the concourse.

And maybe it was the story a friend of mine who works at Penn told me last night after she read Kyle's story, about how she was in College Hall late one night and thought she saw someone walking by her office door.

Except the person was wearing colonial-era clothing, and appeared to be floating a foot off the ground.

Is it just a Palestra thing? I don't know. My guess is it might not be. I wonder what you would see spending a night in McGonigle Hall, or what you would have seen at the Fieldhouse.

What I know for certain is that the Palestra is best seen twice: once when it's packed to the rafters and once when it's completely empty. I figure you've done the former; if you haven't done the latter yet, try it sometime. Even the Villanova fans among you.

In just over an hour as I finish writing this post, John Chaney, Rollie Massimino and Speedy Morris will be in the Palestra together. My colleagues Ryan Wixted and Litty Samuel will be there to produce a video from the Hall of fame induction ceremony and luncheon, and you'll find it here on the blog later this afternoon.

Maybe you believe in ghosts, or maybe you don't. But as Dan Harrell likes to say, the Palestra is never truly empty.

If ever there was a day to remind us of what the place really means, this is it.