What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
The word “temple” can evoke many different visions. Health fanatics love the cliché “the body is a temple.” For the people in the predominantly Jewish neighborhood I which I live, it has another meaning entirely. One thing that Temple hasn’t brought to mind in 20 years is winning football.
Mind you, that wasn’t always the case. Temple University is one of the “old school” members of Division I football; having began playing organized football in 1894. As a demonstration of just how long Temple has been a part of college football, historians commonly agree the modern era of Temple football arrived in the 1920’s, the same decade that brought us a baby Joe Paterno. But as JoePa has been a stalwart fixture on the college football landscape for nearly sixty years, the Temple Owls have been a bit more mercurial.
In 1925, Henry J. “Heinie” Miller was hired as head coach, and under his leadership, the Owls became a regional power. This rise allowed Temple to hire a “big-name” coach in 1933 when Miller departed. In the prior 19 seasons, the legendary Glenn “Pop” Warner had won three national championships at Pittsburgh and Stanford, winning three national championships. He spent his final six seasons as a head coach at Temple, compiling a 31-18-2 record. The height of the Warner era on that sideline in north Philadelphia came in 1934, a season that saw the Owls post a 7-0-2 regular season mark earning an invite to the inaugural Sugar Bowl in New Orleans on New Year’s Day 1935.
But as all things that go up must come down, Warner’s retirement in 1938 served as the peak of the roller coaster. Over the next 25 years, the Owls had only 4 winning seasons. The ebb came in the late 1950s, a time when Temple endured a school record 21-game losing streak.
The 1960’s saw the beginning of the swing back, as the Philadelphia northsiders became essentially a .500 team; the 1970’s saw Temple enjoy a 14-game winning streak and the school’s second bowl game appearance, a defeat of California in the 1978 Garden State Bowl. Under head coach Wayne Hardin, the Owls of the 1970’s were one of the more stable Eastern football powers and often defeated local rivals West Virginia, Rutgers, Syracuse, and Pittsburgh.
But when Hardin retired in 1982, the pendulum began another regressive swing leading to the dark days as a member of the Big East Conference. This was a 14-year period that saw the Owls win three conference games in a season only once, and go 0-for-the conference schedule six times. Overall, Temple compiled a 14-80 record against Big East foes.
Now for the good news; this might just be the dawn of a Golden era at Temple. Ever since head coach Al Golden took up the Temple sideline near the end of the 2005 campaign, there has been slow, but steady improvement. Even as the Owls lost their first 8 games under Golden, and even though they only managed one win in that first season, it was a Homecoming victory that also halted a 20-game losing streak.
Temple quadrupled that win total in 2007, including three consecutive wins. The Owl defense improved its ranking from 118th to 49th; the offense also showed faint signs of life, moving from 118th to 113th. The Owls continued the upward swing in 2008, posting five victories. 2009 already promises to show more progress, as Temple currently has a 4-2 mark, including their best start since 1986, and a 4-game winning streak, their longest in 24 years. At the heart of this resurgence at Temple is a young, but talented defense.
Many great historical battles came down to the defense. The battle of Marathon in 490 B.C. saw 10,000 Athenians repel 50,000 Persian invaders. The Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 saw Lord Nelson end Napoleon’s hopes to invade the British Isles. Even the American destruction of the invading Japanese fleet at Midway in 1942 can be considered one of the great defensive struggles of all time.
Perhaps what happened in Philadelphia on Saturday lacks the historic cache of those aforementioned battles, but this battle against the Army Black Knights came down to the Owl defense. In the fourth quarter, Army was marching, albeit deep in its own end. However, the Owls dug in and stalled the Army drive; eventually forcing a turnover on downs by stonewalling the Black Knights at their own 24-yard line on two first down attempts from less than a yard.
The two pivotal plays of the game saw both sides dug into their trenches much like the Germans and the Allies during the Battle of the Somme. Twice Army tried to bulldoze its way to the 18 inches it needed to keep the football, and twice they were denied.
With third and 18 inches, and two snaps, if you can’t get 18 inches, what makes you think we’re going to win a football game?” Army coach Rich Ellerson told Rivals.com. “What type of magic is going to happen out there that you’re somehow going to manufacture points?”
Of course, it is easy to dismiss Temple’s accomplishment. After all they are the only team to go from a BCS conference to a “small” Division I conference (the Mid-American Conference). Army is currently a 3-win, 4-loss team that is in the midst of its own football doldrums; the Black Knights haven’t been to a bowl game since 1996.
But as the old football cliché goes, you can only beat the teams you play, and you can only win the games on the schedule. Granted, Temple beating Army is no upset, nor will it have the BCS implications that Purdue’s victory over Ohio State or Washington’s toppling of Southern Cal will have. Nevertheless, winning games in the way the Owls did is what teams that are destined for bigger things do.
Does this mean Al Golden is on his way to a place in Temple history next to “Pop” Warner? Nobody can really know the answer to that, but it is safe to assume Temple would like again to be known for winning football rather than its most famous football alum.