Temple football is going bowling today and no, it's not just a postseason trip to the local alleys for a few players on winter break. The Temple Owls are actually in a bowl game, and it's today. Bowling. Temple. Today.
This next statement is not to undermine the quality of season the 9-3 Owls had this year, but the fact that Temple is playing UCLA in the EagleBank Bowl…on a Tuesday…in late December…in Washington, D.C. with a local kickoff time of 4:30 p.m. proves there are just too many bowl games. Temple lost its first two games – to FCS stalwart Villanova and then-#5 Penn State – before rattling off nine-straight victories over MAC opponents until a regular-season ending loss to Ohio in a game that would have gotten them into the MAC title game. But they're bowl eligible, so darn it if there isn't a bowl for them!
Now let's look at UCLA for one second. The 6-6 Bruins traveled across the country over the Christmas holiday to play in a bowl game they were only invited to because Army couldn’t beat Navy to earn bowl eligibility. UCLA was the back-up plan to Army, so imagine how many fans will be crossing the country for this one. Add in the fact that the game is a 1:30 p.m. local start for UCLA fans still on the left coast (on a Tuesday, we'd like to remind you) and this game has all the makings of one of those ESPN Instant Classics. Make sure you save this tape, WWL.
Ooh, to add to the excitement surrounding RFK Stadium today will be frigid temperatures, with a game-time forecast just around 35 degrees. Let's not forget windy too. While the wind should subside around halftime, the temperatures by the fourth quarter will be below freezing. If there are more than 1,000 fans in the stands by game's end, I will buy each one of them a hot chocolate (note: this is not a binding contract).
When you're UCLA, you shouldn't have to settle for flying across the country to play in the EagleBank Bowl in DC. But for a team that has just two bowl victories since 1997 and finished 4-8 last season, holding up a trophy on the front cover of your media guide is probably worth the trip – empty stands in the background or not. After all, a trophy is a trophy.
And that's precisely why Temple should win this game. This isn't just a trophy to Temple Football. UCLA's bowl history is draped with Roses and Fiestas and Cotton. Safe the first-ever Sugar Bowl where #3 Temple – under stewardship from legendary coach Pop Warner – lost to #13 Tulane on January 1, 1935, Temple's bowl history is far from illustrious. In fact, there's only one other game in Temple's bowl history, coming 30 years ago in the Garden State Bowl at Giants Stadium where the Owls beat another team from California who had to fly across the country to play a cold-weather East Coast bowl game in December – that time the lucky victim was the Cal Bears, who, coincidentally, finished the season at 6-6 in 1979.
Thirty years without so much as an appearance in one of these postseason exhibition games can make a program pretty hungry. And that's not to say Temple didn't have good teams, or good players, in the last 30 years. Remember Paul Palmer, the Heisman Trophy runner-up to Vinny Testaverde? He was Temple's all-time leading rusher, before sending the program back to anonymity after admitting he took money from an agent during his senior season. Temple forfeited six games from that year and expunged all his awards and records from their history books and really never recovered. This old SI story (linked from Temple Football Forever) of former Temple head coach, current Steelers offensive coordinator, and coincidentally my old neighbor, Bruce Arians is an interesting look into what life was like for a school wanting to be big time, but never really figuring out how.
The fact of the matter is, Temple is a city school without the proper resources or facilities to succeed at a major-conference level. That's the reason the BIG EAST dumped them – they had no facilities, no stadium and no fans. Temple rented space from the Eagles and never truly had a home at the Vet, which for Temple games from the late 90s and into the early 2000s, was the most depressing place on Earth. Trust me, I was there for some of them. A lease deal to play games in Lincoln Financial Field didn't save the team from BIG EAST execution, because state-of-the-art NFL stadium or not, nobody was coming to the games. Even this year, for a 9-3 season, Temple is averaging just 17,379 fans. And what's worst is that Temple was almost eligible for the bowl because of record on the field, but ineligible because of its NCAA academic record off it.
It seems, however, that the Golden Era has changed the fortunes of Temple Football both on the field and in the classroom, as the team performed so well in both areas that the future once again (finally) looks bright for the Owls. In one of 34 bowl games taking place this season, Temple has a chance to beat UCLA and finally become relevant again. How long that relevance lasts, of course, depends on whether Al Golden takes over for JoePa in State College next year, or the year after. Success is fleeting, after all.â†µ
This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.