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Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Hallelujah -- Temple Beats Penn State!

I waited my entire life for this. 

Like Coach Matt Rhule, I felt a sense of gratification that the team and fans did not "over-celebrate" because they flat out knew that they could win the game.  And win the Temple Owls did, because they simply out-hit Penn State on both sides of the ball, sacking the Nittany Lions' quarterback, Christian Hackenberg, ten times.  As the game moved further and further toward its end, a groundswell of emotions picked up in me.  Part of me had to convince myself that this was happening; the other part convinced myself that this really shouldn't have come as a surprise.  Yet, this was the biggest win in Temple's football history (or at least since 1941, the year the Owls last beat Penn State), even though these aren't your father's Penn State teams and, upon consideration, for symbolic reasons too.  The gritty urban underdog beat the pampered scenic wealthier cousin.  That doesn't happen that often.

The reason I waited my entire life for this is because my father went to Temple and had at least a cup of coffee or a thermos with the football team, playing in the late 40's with, among others, many WWII vets who were a lot older and hardened by the war.  From the time I was a little kid, we trekked first to Temple Stadium, then to Franklin Field and then to Vet Stadium to watch the Owls.  Temple Stadium was intimate; Franklin Field a great venue but far from packed, and the multi-purpose Vet soulless as it played to mostly empty crowds. 

We saw some good players under George Makris, among them quarterbacks Tommy DiFelice and John Waller and wide receiver Jim Callahan.  And then entered Wayne Hardin, the coaching brainiac who had coached both Roger Staubach and Joe Bellino at Navy.  Hardin could innovate, motivate and recruit -- especially if you were a favorite, and we saw Maxwell Award winner Steve Joachim, future Steelers' tight end Randy Grossman, linemen such as Bill "Skip" Singletary (now a HS coach in Philadelphia) and Jim Cooper, who would go on to play for the Cowboys.  We saw what we thought was the best nose tackle known to man, a barroom brawler named Joe Klecko, and we saw a graceful receiver in Steve Watson. The former would go on to star for the Jets, the latter for the Broncos.  We also saw the great kicker, Nick Mike-Mayer.  Of course, there were many others, and I've probably forgotten a few whom I should not have who excelled and brought many fond memories.

We saw the Owls upset West Virginia in the early 1970's at Temple Stadium, with the team carrying Hardin off the field.  We saw Penn State nick them at Franklin Field by a point, even after on one of the first plays from scrimmage Cooper bowled offer Penn State's all-American linebacker Greg Buttle to spring Bobby Harris for a 75-or-so-yard touchdown run.  We also saw the Owls lose 10-7 at the Vet late in the game on a field goal by one of the Bahr brothers, this after the game was tied late in the fourth, the Owls were driving and the Owls coughed the ball up.  It was in that game that Hardin punted consistently on third down to pin Penn State deep in their own territory, deploying the nation's leading punter, Casey Murphy, deftly. 

There were so many memories because this was the father-and-son thing that we did.  We went to Temple football games, and, of course, heard many disrespectful comments in the process.  We were surrounded by Penn State fans, who view their school and team as superior.  As to the latter, well, way back when, in the 1960's and 1970's, it wasn't necessarily bragging if you could back it up.  And Joe Paterno's Lions could.

But I didn't care.  This is what I did with my dad, and this was our team.  We loved the Owls, Hardin's innovative style, the way they played hard and won many more than they lost.  Temple Stadium was tiny but intimate, and we trekked their many Saturdays and watched with great interest.  I still cherish those days.  It was special time that we had together, uninterrupted, eating hot dogs, drinking soda, eating peanuts, talking football. 

It wasn't quite the same at Franklin Field or the Vet, and I'm happy to see bigger crowds at the Linc.  Dad died in the mid-1980's, and my interested waned.  Put differently, I lost my football-watching buddy, and to be honest there aren't many around who, with an increasing number of choices, would select going to Temple football games above them.  I kept up my interest, occasionally watching them on television or listening on the radio, and most usually I read the newspaper accounts.  I liked Bruce Arians' promise and then was sad as a succession of coaches couldn't bring success to North Broad Street.  It was an empty feeling -- not only was my father gone, but the current version of what had created fond memories had cratered.

Then came Al Golden, who resurrected the program, and then Steve Addazio, and now Matt Rhule.  My guess is that better facilities and the fact that schools can no longer hoard players has helped the Owls get better ones, as has the current crop of coaches.  The buzz got louder, the players and team got better, and that led up to Saturday's game. 

I saw the point spread and hoped for the best, liked what I had heard on ESPN that morning and read enough to know that the Owls had a very good defense.  As the game played out, my mind raced from here to there, from the time I went to games when I was a young kid (I think I went as far back as 1965) to the mid-1980's, before Dad died.  And oh did he love his Owls and going to games.  I felt his spirit, as though he were pointing out the gaps in the Penn State line for Temple's pass rushers to exploit.  When it came to Temple football, I was a dormant volcano's worth full of emotions.  I always had hoped to be able to open that vault and express them, but feared that I never would in my life time. 

But then the game happened and ended, and the Owls won.  I smiled a very big smile, and had a trace of tears in my eyes.  Okay, so the Lions weren't nationally ranked, big deal.  To see so many Temple fans at the Linc wearing the cherry and white there to enjoy to watershed moment was something to see.  We saw some close calls, but felt like Sisyphus -- our team had pushed its proverbial rock up the hill only never to get there.  But on Saturday they did.  And it felt good.

I told my son that for my sports-watching and rooting experience, this was like a major shift of tectonic plates, a fault line, a discovery that there is life on Mars, that chocolate can cure cancer or something else that hard to fathom.  It was a great thing to see, it really was.

I just wish my father were there to watch it with me. 

And perhaps sitting with me on the porch all night, sampling sipping whiskey, talking about all the games we went to until the sun rose. 

Temple beat Penn State.



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