Niagara Gazette


January 11, 2014

McGRATH: A Niagara souvenir worth keeping


Niagara Gazette — He was supposed to be in intensive care for 48 hours, but was out in 12. He was up and walking a few days after surgery and became the talk of the hospital.

In the 10 months that followed, Phil was obsessed with keeping his promise that he would play basketball again. The odds were long, but on the night of Nov. 6, 1979, Scaffidi was back on the court in the Student Center (now the Gallagher Center) as Niagara played an exhibition game against a team from Taiwan.

Geared up in knee braces and a flak jacket, his introduction brought a standing ovation that lasted more than two minutes. It brought a smile to his face and — almost — tears to his eyes. He logged more than 10 minutes, setting up his teammates and scoring his only two points from the free throw line.

After that, he played several regular-season games, setting the NU assist record on Jan. 21, 1980. A week later he played his final game, a cameo appearance against St. John’s at Memorial Auditorium. Cancer was winning the battle by then.

There was a testimonial for him in Buffalo on Feb. 1, with Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy LaSorda among the more than 1,000 people who showed up. He was back at Roswell Park later that month, but he struggled out of his hospital bed to see Niagara beat Canisius at the Aud. It was the last time I saw him. Just a month before his 24th birthday, and only a few months before he was to be married, he was gone.

So if you are among those lucky enough to get a bobblehead Sunday, give it an appropriate place among your souvenirs. It truly represents a one-of-kind Purple Eagle.

Bill McGrath is a former sports editor of the Niagara Gazette and covered Niagara basketball for 30 years.

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