30 years ago, Temple defeated California for the Golden State Bowl II title.
The newspaper clipping with the final Associated Press Top 25 poll from 1979 still hangs on former linebacker and team co-captain Mike Curcio’s refrigerator.
Even as it yellows and frays at the edges, he can make out the football team’s No. 17 finish, ahead of teams like Michigan and Penn State thanks to a 28-17 win in the Garden State Bowl II against California.
“We were picked to lose to Cal,” said Curcio, who was a senior that season. “Cal wasn’t even ranked, but they were a Pac-10 team. I remember every play of that game and that season. We knew we weren’t going to lose.”
The 1979 Owls opened their season with three straight wins before a 10-9 loss to Pittsburgh, which finished No. 7 in the nation and made its way to the Fiesta Bowl. Temple rebounded with five consecutive victories for an 8-1 start. After a loss to Penn State, the Owls closed out their regular season with a 42-10 win against Villanova.
Watching the Owls in that last game of the regular season was California coach Roger Theder.
“He told reporters after that game that we shouldn’t be in a bowl,” then-Temple coach Wayne Hardin said. “He said that we weren’t the caliber of competition California should face and that we didn’t deserve to be there. He said the Garden State Bowl shouldn’t even be played.”
When the Owls players heard that, it immediately became bulletin-board material.
“We knew it. They talked crap all week about the big, bad West Coast team coming in,” then-sophomore linebacker Steve Conjar said. “We had all the articles up in the locker room. They were coming in from the West Coast to the East Coast in December, and they weren’t used to the cold weather. We were. Plus, we were ready for that game. We counted the Mirage Bowls as bowl games because you have that whole hype of a bowl game and that week of preparation. [Temple played in the 1977 and 1978 Mirage Bowls in Tokyo. The Owls lost to Grambling in 1977 but beat Boston College in 1978.]”
Hardin and his staff watched film of the Golden Bears leading up to the matchup on Dec. 15 at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. Hardin said they noticed two flaws that the Owls exploited early on in the game.
“On defense, their [defensive linemen] would cross as they went toward each other, so a whole side would clear out,” Hardin said. “We got 21 points just by rushing the ball before they changed their defense. They were also a very fast team, so we used some misdirection plays.
“On offense, the quarterback checked down his reads and then threw blindly into the flat, so we rushed just two men and held eight men back and one in the flat.”
The Owls jumped out to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter, as Eastern College Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year Kevin Duckett rushed for two touchdowns.
The Golden Bears cut the lead to 21-14 at halftime and then added a field goal early in the third quarter.
But quarterback Brian Broomell led a 14-play, 78-yard scoring drive that culminated in a 5-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Gerald Lucear.
Running back Mark Bright earned Most Valuable Player after 112 yards rushing on 19 carries.
“There was nothing like holding up that trophy after the Bowl win,” then-co-captain and punter Casey Murphy said. “The rest of the seniors and I went back and smoked cigars in the locker room after the victory. Back then, there were only 15 bowl games, so only 30 teams got to go. Now, there are 34.”
The 1979 offense still holds five major records at Temple. The Owls scored the most touchdowns in a season, 50. Their 23 passing touchdowns and 26 rushing touchdowns top the charts, and their 4,815 total yards of offense led to 399 points.
“About two to four years after the Garden State Bowl II, Theder called me,” Hardin said, “and he told me, ‘Man, did you guys give us a coaching lesson.’ But I never caught a pass, I never handed the ball off, I never ran a play, I never tackled anybody, all I did was stand on the sidelines.”
Jennifer Reardon can be reached at email@example.com.