by April Lisante
On a February night in 1971, a sports obsession was born.
Sitting in the center of the old Spectrum with his older brother and his father, 8-year-old Michael Egenolf was riveted to his first Flyers game, rapt as he watched them pummel the first-place Chicago Blackhawks 6 to 2.
He was captivated by the energy of the game, seeing up-close the players his father had always talked about.
“We were absolutely bitten by the hockey bug that night,” Egenolf recalls.
Fast forward nearly five decades, and that little boy is still as obsessed as ever.
Egenolf, 55, a Flourtown dad who has dedicated most of his life to being a die-hard Philly sports fan, most especially a Flyers fan, has just seen the culmination of his sports obsession brought to life. This month, he published his first book, available on Amazon, titled “Philly by the Numbers: 00 to 99: The Greatest Philly Sports Heroes by Jersey Number,” an opus celebrating all of Philly’s greatest sports figures and moments.
The book is a coalescence of all the years Egenolf devoted to becoming a walking encyclopedia of sports statistics. Known to rattle off sports facts and figures most would have to head to Google or Wikipedia to look up, Egenolf has created a numerical ode to sports history with this first published work.
The paperback, only for sale on Amazon right now at $14.95, is a treasure trove of baseball, basketball, hockey and football history, both an entertainingly nostalgic and methodically analytic look at the quirky and obscure stats and moments that have made Philly’s teams notorious. The book is organized by jersey numbers, beginning with the famous – and infamous – who wore number 00, all the way to the greats who donned number 99. For sports nuts, the tome is nothing short of a dream come true.
“This book combines my love of math with my love of writing,” said Egenolf. “I had never seen anything like it before.”
The book took more than a year for Egenolf to complete. He began thinking about the Flyers’ greatest players and what their jersey numbers were. Then, he started to arrange them in numerical order, and then he began to add other sports figures to the mix. Working at night after spending long days at his catering job, a year passed and the book of his dreams had taken shape.
“It was just my lifelong love of math, and these were all of my childhood heroes,” Egenolf said. “The book took about six months to compile notes and decide on which players to profile, and another six months to write.”
Math plays a big role in Egenolf’s statistical obsession. As a child living in the Northeast, he excelled in the subject at school. But once his sports love began to grow, he used math to feed his obsession.
Not content just to play street hockey or collect massive amounts of baseball cards like most kids his age, Egenolf had to take it up a notch. By age 10, he had kids in his class rolling dice at recess to bet on his sports games.
“I would create my own fantasy leagues,” he laughed. “I’d write out rosters and we’d roll dice.”
His book is a solid compilation that will make everything from game day debates to cocktail party conversations a lot more interesting. The book begins with NHL Hall of Famer Bernie Parent, number 00, who played from 1972 to 1973 and led the Flyers to their first Stanley Cup. If you don’t remember Parent, flip the page and you’ll learn no Phillie, Flyer or Eagle has ever worn the number 0.
Keep flipping through the meaty 200-plus pages and all the greats are commemorated. There are interesting stats and facts about hundreds of players, from Sixer Allen Iverson, number 3, to Eagle Nick Foles, number 9, and Sixer Maurice Cheeks, number 20, to Phillies great Tug McGraw, number 45.
The book is more than just jersey numbers. Egenolf also offers tons of “Did You Know?” gems and little-known items to keep sports fans geeking out, like in 1971, all four Philly teams had losing records, or did you know that in 1943, the Phillies owner tried to change the team’s name to the Blue Jays? And did you know the Phillies’ Richie Hebner, number 18, was known as “the Gravedigger” because he used to dig graves in the offseason?
“It isn’t just the greatest to wear each number,” said Egenolf, “It’s also about stand-out moments, good and bad.”
So far, Egenolf has had a nice reception to the book on Amazon, but he’s hoping it takes off this spring. He has his first book signing at 7 p.m. on Friday, May 17, at the Grey Lodge, 6235 Frankford Ave., in the Northeast. No matter what happens now, though, Egenolf feels that through this written tribute to his sports heroes, he has realized a dream.
“I just wrote the kind of book that I would like to read, and I hope that others like it as well,” said Egenolf. “There’s really nothing else like it out there.”