The football team, led by Al Golden, will travel to Washington, D.C. for the EagleBank Bowl.
Temple Football’s unofficial slogan the last four seasons? “Don’t Stop Believin’.”
As the football team learned its bowl game fate, players, students and fans began screaming the lyrics of Journey’s song of karaoke-bar fame in the Liacouras Center lobby Sunday night.
The Owls learned that their 30-year bowl appearance drought had finally come to an end when ESPN’s bottom line read that Temple would be playing in the EagleBank Bowl Tuesday, Dec. 29 at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C.
Temple will not know its opponent until Saturday’s Army-Navy matchup at Lincoln Financial Field. If Army (5-6) defeats Navy, the Owls will face the Black Knights. Temple defeated Army, 27-13, on Homecoming Oct. 17. If Army loses, the Owls will battle the UCLA Bruins.
“It feels good because four years ago, we stood right in here, and we had a dream. We had a vision, and a lot of people said, ‘OK, show me,’” coach Al Golden said. “And I’m OK with that because that’s Philly style. I get it. These kids, I’m really happy for Temple University and our administration, and it’s a great moment for us.”
It is a moment 30 years in the making. Temple was last bowl-eligible in 1990, and the Owls’ last bowl game appearance was in 1979 when they beat California, 28-17, in the Garden State Bowl.
“We always had the heart and the courage to get to this point,” senior cornerback Dominique Harris said. “But you got to put the right pieces together, the right pieces of the puzzle. We did that this year. It’s been a long road, but it’s very rewarding to get here.”
The first key to the puzzle was bringing in someone to put all the pieces in place. Golden, who was defensive coordinator for the University of Virginia for five seasons, was hired after the 2005 season. At the time, the Owls were coming off an 0-11 season, just one year after being kicked out of the Big East Conference.
When Golden was hired, the football team’s goal was to avoid another winless season while slowly brightening the program’s future.
Temple won just one game in Golden’s first season and then improved to 4-8 and 5-7 in 2007 and 2008, respectively. The Owls started the highest number of true freshmen in 2006 and 2007.
“It’s gone fast,” Golden said. “I couldn’t be more proud of the team and the staff. We have a great staff. The staff’s made an incredible time investment and commitment above and beyond what is really on their job description.
“And the same thing for the players. To get something like that turned, it’s going to be years before we think about what happened, to be that bad and to turn it around four years later. Either way, Temple is in a bowl game, and it’s great,” Golden added.
Record-setting is the word used to describe the 2009 season for Golden and the Owls. After opening the season with losses to Villanova and Penn State, Temple reeled off a school-record nine consecutive wins to make the team bowl eligible for the first time in 19 years.
The Owls finished the season 9-3 overall with a 7-1 record in the Mid-American Conference East Division after falling to Ohio, 35-17, Nov. 26. With the win, Ohio went onto the MAC Championship. The Bobcats fell to Central Michigan, 20-10.
A record eight Owls were named to the All-MAC First Team. They were led by freshman running back Bernard Pierce and sophomore defensive end Adrian Robinson. Pierce, the MAC Freshman of the Year, set Temple freshmen records for yards (1,308), touchdowns (15) and 100-yard rushing games (6). Robinson set the season record for sacks with 12, tops on the Owls and in the MAC, and finished 10th in the nation.
“We’ve come a long way. It’s not done. It’s not completely done, but we’re proud of what we’ve done so far,” senior linebacker Alex Joseph said. “We’re just very excited that we’ve made it to a bowl game. We’ve always talked about aiming to go to a bowl game and trying to get there, and now, we’re actually there, so now we just have to perform. It doesn’t matter who we really play, but we just have to play our game.”
For tight end Steve Maneri and the rest of the upperclassmen, it has been a very rewarding season. They have heard all the jokes and even witnessed locals throwing rocks on the field as the Owls practiced at Edberg-Olson Hall.
But winning can change that very quickly in Philadelphia.
“You see all the support we have now and people calling you left and right and talking about how you had a good season and everything,” Maneri said. “You have to take a second and think about what we’ve been through as seniors and juniors. It’s a great feeling to know that we’ve accomplished something, and we’re going to the postseason.
“It’s nice to have a destination and kind of starting to draw a map on how to achieve our goal, which is win that bowl game,” Maneri added.
Postseason and bowl game sounded foreign when discussing Temple football in the past. Fantasy has now become reality, and Golden said he sees this as a beginning.
“It just means we’re checking off boxes,” Golden said. “I remember sitting up there when we had a one-game win streak and that was the longest in two years. And then we had a three-game win streak, and then we won five games, and then we won nine games. And now, here we are going to a bowl game. I think it’s great for our team, and obviously, the next step is to become a program and you do this every year, and that’s our goal.”
Pete Dorchak can be reached at email@example.com.