When senior running back Matt Brown found out that Temple would be competing in the Big East Conference for the 2012 season, he didn’t believe it.
“I heard about it through my little brother,” Brown said. “He told me, and I thought it was him fabricating. At first I thought everybody was making it up, like a joke, but it’s true. The Big East is here.”
Senior offensive lineman Martin Wallace said he was in the car with his dad when he was notified that Temple was getting into the Big East.
“I got an email or a text,” Wallace said. “I looked at my dad and I said, ‘OK it’s official. We’re in the Big East.’”
“At first I was like, ‘wow we really did it, we’re really here,’” Wallace added. “Now as the days get closer to the first Big East game, it’s becoming more of a reality. It’s a next step in my college career.”
Temple will compete in the Big East for football this season for the first time since its 2004 departure, three years after the Owls were asked to leave the conference due to a lack of competition, university support and poor attendance.
In 2001, Temple went 4-7 and 2-5 in the Big East, finishing third to last in the conference. From the time the Owls joined the Big East in 1991 until 2001, Temple had 11 consecutive losing seasons and finished in the bottom third of the conference every year.
The Owls practiced on the newly dedicated Edberg-Olson Hall, a $7 million project that barely resembled the multi-million dollar complex that stands on 11th and Diamond streets today. For home games, Temple shared the 30-year-old concrete disaster that was Veterans Stadium with the Phillies and Eagles. In 2001, the Owls had an average attendance of 18,440, ranked No. 94 out of 115 in Division-I football.
The problems were so great that they led to a conference formally voting out one of its members for the first time in the history of collegiate athletics.
But thanks to a lifeboat contract deal with the Mid-American Conference and the efforts of coach Al Golden, who in less than five years transformed a winless independent in 2005 to a Temple team that earned its first bowl berth in 30 years in 2009, the Owls found themselves back on their feet again.
Now, Temple is coming off the second bowl victory in program history and three straight winning seasons, something that hasn’t happened here since Wayne Hardin was coaching the team in 1975. The Owls play at Lincoln Financial Field where their average attendance last year was 28,060, a 7,545 increase from 2010. Edberg-Olson underwent a $10 million expansion and upgrade this summer, including a 15,000 square-foot addition.
Now that it has been thrust into Big East competition once more, Temple is far better prepared for success this time around. Attendance is up and the Owls finally have the university support they need. More importantly, they have a coach with a résumé chock full of competition in a power conference and a team that says it has nothing to lose.
“This is the start of a new era,” coach Steve Addazio said. “A lot of work has been done here by a lot of people. Now we take that next step and build this thing and keep it growing.”
“There’s nowhere to go but up,” Brown said. “The most dangerous person is the one that has nothing to lose. We’re going to represent and do what we say we’re going to do.”
After their unceremonious departure from the conference eight years ago, the Owls were met with a lukewarm Big East welcome at the end of July 2012. Media representatives from each team in the conference picked Temple to finish last in the annual preseason media poll.
“Preseason polls are preseason polls,” Wallace said. “I understand why they did what they did, but I’m not going to get too hung up with the noise that comes with it. We just have to play our game.”
“Maybe it’s because we’re new to the conference,” senior placekicker Brandon McManus said. “I know what we’re capable of and the team knows what it’s capable of. We’ve got a great bunch of players here. Everyone wants to win.”
For McManus, getting into the Big East means an opportunity to transform not only the culture of the school that he plays for, but also the city that he lives in.
“Hopefully we can make Philadelphia a college sports city, because it’s such a professional sports town,” McManus said. “But we’re all excited and just glad to be in the Big East.”
“I think this is the start of a new era, not just for Temple, but for Philadelphia,” Addazio said. “It’s major college football. I think it’s tremendous and I couldn’t think of a city that would embrace it more than Philly.”
Addazio said progress will be made this season, regardless of how many games the team wins.
“We’re way further ahead to compete in the conference,” Addazio said. “Will that translate in season one? I can’t answer that. But I can tell you that our facilities, our program, the support and alignment in our university, those things are all where they need to be.”
Brown, thrust into the starting position following Bernard Pierce’s departure to the NFL, said he’s embracing the challenge of proving to the Big East that this is a different Temple team from eight years ago.
“We’re definitely going to show them that we’re worthy of playing in the Big East,” Brown said. “We’re not the Temple that you’ve seen previously.”
“There’s never intimidation,” Brown added. “Only motivation and determination.”
The determination Brown is speaking of is a determination to not let history repeat itself.
Joey Cranney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @joey_cranney.