Every house, no matter how big, starts with a foundation. The house that Joe Paterno built into the record books at Penn State seemed to have the security of Fort Knox. The events that have unfolded in the past year have showed just how vulnerable every big college sports program is, and that Penn State’s dominance was really as fragile as a house of cards. It had a solid base, but it didn’t take much to topple down.
Forget last week, forget next week, forget this year. When Temple takes on Penn State in Happy Valley, the mood will be anything but joyful. Regardless of the outcome of the game, the teams will enter and leave the contest heading in completely opposite directions.
Nobody can tell Penn State players that the last seven victories it recorded against Temple didn’t count, and that its last official win occurred in 1997. And the Owls, coached by a tough-as-nails Steve Addazio definitely don’t want to take the victories away from the Nittany Lions either. Temple averaged six points per game throughout that span and the only contest that was decided by one score was last season’s 14-10 loss. The games counted. No NCAA sanctions, technicalities or locked up assistant coaches can take that away from them.
Temple hasn’t beat Penn State since 1941, and as anticipated as this match-up will be, in the grand scheme of things, is really insignificant. Temple wants to prove that it is better than the team it fielded against Maryland, and Penn State wants to prove that it can rebound and have a successful team in a season that has begun with so much disappointment. But none of that will matter after this Saturday. The Owls and Nittany Lions will enter the game on complete opposite ends of the college football spectrum, and 60 minutes of football won’t change that.
Temple is in the Big East Conference, something it worked tirelessly for, and proved it by earning a bowl victory in the first year of the Addazio era. Temple has a school and a city that is excited about college football for the first time in a while, and the school is looking at taking in a mammoth amount of extra revenue with the conference realignment. Penn State is recovering from a tainted university image, a hurting community, hefty fines and strict regulations. Temple has never looked more promising, and Penn State has never looked more vulnerable.
Pennsylvania football fans can attest that this wasn’t always the case. In 2005, the Owls had just been removed from the Big East, people weren’t coming to football games and the team was almost disbanded entirely. The Nittany Lions on the other hand, had one of their strongest seasons to date, won the Orange Bowl and came within two points of an undefeated season.
In Penn State’s situation, football became a lifestyle larger than the rest of the university. Penn State was a football team that had a school, not a school that had a football team. With the rise to power that Penn State went through, football became the main source of revenue and identity for the university.
Temple is not at that level yet, but it could be. Boosters and attention will come as attendance rises. Once the mindset is developed that a program is too big to fail, it will.
In State College, Pa., it was proved that not even a statue of an idol is set in stone. In its rise to power Temple must remember that scrutiny will only increase with expectations, meaning that now more than ever, the school needs to embrace the fact that it could soon be the state’s football team.
The biggest crime for any party involved would be to become too passive or comfortable with anything happening in an organization, especially one growing as fast as Temple’s. The giant house of cards built by an entire campus is as fragile and vulnerable as everything else in the world. It only takes one person to come bump the table before the only game you can play on Saturdays is 52 pickup.
Ibrahim Jacobs can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @ibrahimjacobs.