“Jack just looked at me and said, ‘Dunph, seriously?’ ” Dunphy said with a smile. “I said, ‘Sorry, Jack; I forgot.’ We went and practiced in the auxiliary gym.”
And, of course, everyone talked about the Key.
“I found it,” Scheuer’s son Bobby said with a huge smile. “I told my mom, ‘I didn’t care if I got anything else from the house; I just wanted the Key.’ ”
Scheuer was 88 when he died Oct. 16 after a lengthy battle with cancer that didn’t really slow him down until the last couple of months. He was an icon in Philadelphia, having covered the Phillies, the 76ers and college basketball for the Associated Press for 50 years. But his fame went well beyond that.
Let’s start with the Key.
Jack had a key to the back door of the Palestra — college basketball’s most famous and wonderful arena. It was given to him years ago by Dunphy, sort of — at least the way Dunphy told it Thursday.
“I think he stole it from me,” he said. “Well, maybe not stole it but talked me into it. It was somewhere in between.”
Scheuer convinced Dunphy to give him the key so the Wednesday hoops players could park in the back and walk inside without circling to the front door. Jack not only ran the noon games — with an iron hand — but was, more often than not, the best player. At the least, he was the best shooter.
In fact, if you ask anyone in Philadelphia sports who the leading scorer is in the history of the Palestra, they will tell you — without missing a beat — it is Jack. Forty-five years of playing every Wednesday, almost without fail, will do that for you. At his birthday party 13 years ago on the floor of the Palestra, Jack was asked to shoot 10 free throws so everyone could see he still had it.
Jack made all 10.
Jack was no more than 5-foot-6, but he could make an old-fashioned set shot from anyplace on the court. He played high school basketball growing up in Philadelphia, then played at the Division III level and even coached for a while after college before enlisting in the Army and serving in the Korean War.
He came home to Philadelphia, went to work for the AP and married Jean Moran in 1956. They had four children — two boys and two girls — and, later, eight grandchildren. On Thursday, Jean stood to greet everyone coming into the church and acted as if she were hearing every story for the first time.
“My dad looked at life the same way he looked at basketball,” Jack’s son Ken said during his eulogy. “Basketball’s a simple game: You pass the ball to the open man, shoot when you’re open and play good defense. Life is simple, too: You take care of your family, and you treat people the way you’d want them to treat you. Simple.”
I first met Jack as a young reporter and became addicted to sitting with him during college games in Philadelphia, especially in the Palestra. Not surprisingly, Jack broke games down simply: good hoops and bad hoops.
Two years ago, during a Palestra game between Saint Joseph’s and Loyola Chicago, which had played in the Final Four the previous March, he shook his head early on and said: “Bad hoops here. This game is not worthy of this building.”
He was right. The final score was 45-42, and only a three-pointer just before the buzzer prevented overtime. “I’m almost always up for five more minutes of basketball,” Jack said. “But not tonight.”
Jack loved baseball, but he loved college hoops and the Big Five more than anything outside his family. He thought (correctly) that the Big Five was unique and fought to save it when Villanova and Temple tried to get out of it in the late 1980s.
In fact, Jack was lured to that 75th birthday party by a phone call telling him the Big Five schools were holding a meeting that night to discuss adding Drexel, a move anathema to most Philadelphia traditionalists, Jack among them. He had to be there to argue against the move. Instead, he found the Palestra floor covered with tables and people — including all the Big Five coaches — there to honor him.
There wasn’t a young reporter Jack met whom he didn’t willingly counsel and teach. One of the eulogists Thursday was Aaron Bracy, who worked with Jack at the AP for 20 years. Bracy talked about learning from Jack how to write a story on deadline and how he always knew just what detail to put into the lead. He also talked about Jack’s disdain for technology.
“If Jack’s watching this in heaven,” Bracy said, “I guarantee it’s not on an electronic device.”
In fact, for years, Jack wrote his game stories in longhand, a lead to file at game’s end and then an alternate top after he had been to the locker rooms. Then he would dictate the story to the desk. He did figure out email and would often drop me notes that always included one of his famous trivia questions.
Jack always would end his columns with one of those questions. On Thursday, his family put two trivia questions they had dug up from one of Jack’s notebooks on the back of the program.
Question one: Who are the only two players in baseball history who are the career leaders for their teams in singles, doubles, triples and home runs? To me, Willie Mays and Roberto Clemente made sense. Wrong. Stan Musial and George Brett.
The second question was classic Jack: Who was the oldest member of the Phillies to get a base hit? It was Jamie Moyer, who won 269 games as a pitcher but also singled for the Phillies in 2010 at age 47.
There was probably no one in Philadelphia’s sports media community who hadn’t been tripped up by one of Scheuer’s quizzes, since the city is as close-knit of a sports town as there is, especially among those who love college basketball. Three things were apparent from the crowd that gathered Thursday. Everyone who ever met Jack learned from him. Everyone who ever met Jack loved him.
The third thing? There was only one Jack Scheuer. I will still love going to games in the Palestra, but the place will never feel the same without Jack.