What Temple Football Is Doing Right Now Is Simply Historic
Are the Temple professors who badgered former president Peter Liacouras for years to disband football and budget more money for education teaching their lessons today with a little less verve?
The Owls are 7-0 as we speak, with a massive battle looming at Lincoln Financial Field on Halloween night against Notre Dame. I had made a cryptic comment a couple of weeks ago that the Owls would dress up in costume that night as a Division I football team. Now I don’t know what to think. Because if Temple beats Notre Dame, the group of eggheads who make up the BCS bowl selection committee might be forced to stick this upstart Temple team in there in a national championship scenario.
Who would have thunk it.
I always thought that the only way Temple football could compete nationally was to, well, cheat. There is only one major football program in America that doesn’t have to cheat: Alabama. Five-star recruits recruit Alabama, rather than the other way around. The Crimson Tide coach, Nick Saban, a man about as congenial as a nor’easter, simply picks and chooses the best of the best. And the Tide roll. You think those SEC schools who have to lure the great recruits away from ’Bama, to compete with ’Bama, aren’t getting a little help from their boosters in the form of $100 handshakes and a dorm room full of strippers?
In the case of Temple, a school that doesn’t even have their football field on campus, how do you build a program? What Matt Rhule has done at the school on North Broad Street this season may rank as one of the most accomplished jobs in the history of college football — especially if the Owls can beat Notre Dame.
I covered Temple football for the Philadelphia Inquirer back when they hired Bruce Arians, now the highly successful head coach of the Arizona Cardinals of the NFL. Arians came from the Bear Bryant tree, having coached with the great Bryant. But he knew right away his biggest challenge was to try to get great players to go to an urban school that had been known mostly for John Chaney’s basketball success. He somehow managed to land a swift running back from Maryland named Paul Palmer, who would rewrite rushing records and land later on as a first round NFL pick.
I don’t know how Arians got Palmer. All I know is that the man nicknamed “Boo-Boo” always rode around campus with a sweet ride.
Years later, still in my capacity as an Inquirer reporter, I came across a small story with an Associated Press byline about a corrupt agent named Norby Walters. Walters was making it fashionable to get great college players, as they were in the primes of their college careers, and pay them to sign post-dated contracts that would take effect upon the completion of the final season. In other words, when their NCAA eligibility expired, Walters would be their agents. The NCAA was incensed and vowed to prosecute Walters through federal legislation. In that same AP story, I noticed that Paul Palmer (at the time playing for the Kansas City Chiefs) was one of the ex-college players who would testify against Walters in front of a federal grand jury in Chicago.
On a whim, I called the Illinois state’s attorney and asked him why Paul Palmer would be one of the chosen players for the grand jury.
Without hesitation, the state’s attorney told me: “Because he was one of the players that took money from Walters,” Boom. I had a page one story. Temple’s main star was getting paid to play college football. I called Temple’s then athletic director, Charles Theokas, for comment on the story.
“We investigated this story thoroughly and determined that Paul Palmer never took money to play football at Temple,” Theokas told me.
“What was the extent of your investigation,” I asked Theokas.
“We asked Paul and he said he didn’t take any money,” he replied.
My, how things have changed. Today, the Temple Owls are a hard-charging, together, overachieving unit and has seemingly, under Rhule (and playing by the rules) done things the right way. And even if you’re a Penn Stater like me, and your squad has already been beaten by Temple this season, you want the Owls to succeed.
It’s just a great sports story. And even the curmudgeons have to admit it.