I suppose that if you keep telling yourself something, you might be able to believe it. The real question is whether anyone else will believe it.
At the high end of the food chain in college athletics, you'll associate the Duke Blue Devils with excellence in college basketball and the USC Trojans with the same in college football. There are many upper echelon teams, and then there are those teams that make you wonder why they're still having at it.
Such as Temple University football, a program that cannot draw fans in Philadelphia, a program that has not had a winning season in ten years, a program that is a perpetual money loser.
At the end of last season, the team was at its nadir. Kicked out of the Big East, having suffered yet another losing record, they also lost three players who declared early for the NFL Draft. On the one hand, you can't blame those kids. They want to move on to the next level, and they aren't winning in Philadelphia. On the other hand, if the Owls had three players who are draft-worthy, they probably wouldn't be as bad as they were. Which means, on balance, that these particular kids could be part of the source of the problem for Temple -- they think they're better than they are. One, LB Rian Wallace, is a bona fide prospect, but it's hard to say whether the other two are.
Why? Because while Temple is a Division I-A football team in one of the top 7 media markets in the country, they are not the most popular I-A football team in their city. No, despite the fact that Temple is located in Philadelphia, Penn State, located four hours away in central Pennsylvania, draws more press. Even if they have been in a tail spin that rivals that of the Washington Nationals. As a result, the Temple team gets very little coverage, and you also could argue that Division I-AA stalwarts Villanova and Pennsylvania draw more fans.
So what is Temple going to do? One might have thought that after years of futility, the school that brought you Joe Klecko would have folded up the tent, saved the money it was spending on football and plowed it into other meaningful ventures. No one would have blamed them. Nope, they didn't do that. They also could have dropped down to I-AA, but then they probably wouldn't have had any chance to draw fans. And, running a I-AA program doesn't really save a school money (which is why few schools drop down a level). So, they're not doing that either.
Nope, they're staying at it. They'll be independent next year, and then perhaps they'll try to join the conference that gave us Byron Leftwich, Chad Pennington and Ben Roethlisberger -- the Mid-American Conference -- the year after. Imagine the excitement, the potential to see such natural rivalries as Temple-Toledo, Temple-Akron and Temple-Marshall. Compelling rivalries, all. I am sure that most Philadelphians will be lining up to buy tickets to those games. Heck, they wouldn't be lining up to go to those games if the Eagles were 0-16 four years in a row. For whatever reason, some force of nature keeps the fans away.
Which, to a degree, is a shame. My father played football for Temple after the Second World War, and he was a big HS kid on the same team with a bunch of hardened WWII vets, and despite the influx of talent the team was only fair. When I was a kid, he took me to games at Temple's small stadium in one of Philadelphia's neighborhoods. They had some good players, played the equivalent of a I-AA schedule, and had their moments when George Makris retired and Temple brought in Wayne Hardin to coach the team. The Wayne Hardin who coached Roger Staubach and Joe Bellino at Navy and then moved to the University of the Pacific before coming back east to Philadelphia. Great innovator. Unbelievable game coach; one of the best I ever saw.
And then everything changed. Temple improved its schedule, had a Maxwell Award winner in 1973 in Steve Joachim (as well as a TE named Randy Grossman, who won about four Super Bowl rings playing for the Steelers) and played with some of the big boys of the East -- Boston College, West Virginia and Penn State -- and won their fair share. The Owls had their moments against Penn State, too, losing close games in the 1970's that basically confirmed that Temple was destined to be a Charlie Brown of college football. True, Wayne Hardin outcoached Joe Paterno, but Penn State won the games, and that's what mattered. Ultimately, the rivalry fizzled.
And so did Temple football. Wayne Hardin retired, and he had no heir. Temple needed an innovative coach, and they got Bruce Arians, a Bear Bryant assistant at Alabama who was from the Philadelphia area. Arians was not ready to be a head coach, and he flopped (he ultimately landed in the NFL as an assistant, and he was Peyton Manning's QB coach when the QB broke into the NFL), and then Jerry Berndt got the job. Berndt excelled at DePauw and then Penn, where he turned around a dead program and created a killer football spirit that remains to this day. Berndt had returned to Philadelphia from Rice, where he had failed, and he couldn't get it going at Temple either. After Berndt there was Ron Dickerson, a former Paterno assistant, and his teams had few memorable moments. Now there's Bobby Wallace, who had success at I-AA North Alabama.
Unfortunately, Wallace has been unable to replicate that success in Philadelphia. He's had some moments, but the program is your same old Temple Owls. A program that has no tradition, a program that has so-so facilities, a program at a commuter school in a town that is mad for professional football.
It pains me to write this, but I actually think that Temple University should drop football, period. They've tried and tried to get something going, but they just haven't been able to achieve even a small measure of success. They are a school in the middle of a ghetto, and I can only imagine how much good the $3 million plus that the school spends on its football program could do.
It pains me to write this because Temple football is a rich part of my past. My father took me to Temple games from the time I was five or so. He and a friend were members of the Varsity Club, and because they were they got good seats, so we always sat close to the fifty yard-line. And, yes, people did go to small Temple Stadium then, if for no other reason than there weren't tons of entertainment options, the kids who played were local kids from the area, and the football was pretty good. I learned football at my father's side, I talked football with my father, I got a program or a pennant at a games, ate soft pretzels, ate peanuts, and generally had a good time. As the winter months grew closer, we bundled up in sweatshirts, wool hats, scarves and gloves, and we would go week after week.
Back then our society wasn't the event-obsessed society it is now. We went to the games because they presented experiences we could share, and it was a fun thing for fathers and sons to do. Today I realize that the quality of the football was above average, but boy you couldn't tell me that then. You see, I was going to games with my dad. And my dad worked hard during the week, so this was time for me to spend with him and him alone. And a lot of it was about me. Sure, he would talk with his friends, but he would also share his knowledge with me. Afterwards, on the way home, we would go over the games, what went right and what went wrong, and you would have thought we were prognosticators on the cable TV shows of today.
The Owls were our team. Sure, they weren't Darryl Royal's Texas Longhorns, Ara Parseighan's Notre Dame Fighting Irish or John McKay's USC Trojans. They weren't going to challenge for a national championship, and the best kids from the area went to State College to play for Penn State. They didn't stay home and go to Temple, and no one expected them to. But the Owls were what we had. Penn State meant little to us; no one in the family went there, so the lure of Happy Valley and the Kool-Aid of Joe Paterno had little appeal.
I shared a lot of experiences with my father, and many of them are gone. Temple Stadium was torn down years ago. Connie Mack Stadium, where the Phillies' once played, was taken out of commission in the early 1970's and subsequently burned down. A church stands where some awful Phillies teams used to play. Veterans Stadium, where my dad attended Game 6 of the 1980 Series, when Tug McGraw whiffed Willie Wilson to clinch the Series, was torn down a few years ago, giving way to new stadiums. His business died shortly after he did. Some of the restaurants we used to go to in Philadelphia when we both worked there are out, like Eddie's, a place not far from City Hall where the proprietor used to say to a crowded table, "What's the matter, gentlemen, don't you have a conference room in your office?" The ChockFull o' Nuts that served up a mean sugar donut, and the coffee room at the Bellevue-Stratford, a happening spot in its day. All gone.
And now another institution for me, a pillar of my childhood experiences with my father, is on the precipice. And, as much as I would like to see it remain for parochial reasons (although I confess I haven't gone to a game in years), as a reminder of happy times, I think that it's time for everyone to let this sport go at this school. I wish my dad were here for many reasons, of course, and I don't know at all what he would say about this situation.
But as much as he loved his football, he appreciated education even more. And I think that after witnessing the futility of the past 15 years, he would agree with what I'm saying. Spend the money on something else.
That is, if I would have been able to pull him away from leading my five year-old boy in the Philadelphia Eagles' cheer.
Many administrators, many coaches, two University presidents and many University trustees have tried to save Temple football. All have tried hard and admirably to do so. Those who are Temple football fans should be grateful for that, because they got many more years out of this program than they were entitled to.
But it's time to let go.
Turning Temple into a I-A power just will not happen.
And that's okay. No, it really is.
But failing to realize this cold fact isn't.
I'll keep my memories of course. I'll just have to create different reminders.