It’s what fuels sports, it’s what makes it go, makes it fun, makes it intense, compelling and dramatic.
While the college basketball world is fixated on match-ups like Duke-North Carolina and Kentucky-Louisville, here in Philadelphia, it’s all about the Big 5.
And these days, no rivalry inside a rivalry stands taller than Temple and Saint Joseph’s. Say what you will about the “Holy War” St. Joe’s has with their Main Line partners in Villanova, but they don’t play in the same conference. They don’t face each other two times a season. They don’t fight over recruits and national television airtime the same way the Owls and Hawks do.
So with Temple set to do battle with St. Joe’s this Sunday at the Palestra, the rivalry between the two schools has never been more heated. Both are fighting for a bye in the first round of the Atlantic Ten Conference Tournament. Both are fighting for city bragging rights and a share of the Big 5 title. And most of all, both schools are fighting with each other, on 33rd and Spruce streets, just like old times.
Temple and St. Joe’s first met during the 1901-1902 season, as the Owls downed the Hawks by the final count of 27-4. Yeah, you read that right. The schools then played off and on for the next few decades, before settling down and playing each other at least once a season beginning in 1932.
At that point and leading up to the creation of the Big 5 in 1954 and later when the two schools joined the A-10 in 1982, the Owls and Hawks rivalry still hadn’t taken on a life of its own. La Salle, Penn and Villanova were still in the mix, and during the early part of the ‘90s, Massachusetts and Temple really had something quite unique going on between them.
Meanwhile, as John Chaney arrived on North Broad Street in 1982, the Owls began a decade and a half long streak of dominance over the Hawks, as they went 34-10 against St. Joe’s during the first 18 seasons of the former Temple coach’s era. Then, as Jameer Nelson entered Hawk Hill and Temple’s program began to fall apart, there was something of a changing of the guard.
Between the 2001-2002 season and today, the Owls have beaten the Hawks just three times. They’ve even lost five in a row and 12 of the last 13. And the games weren’t even close, as St. Joe’s won by an average of close to 12 points per game. Included in that span were two losses in the A-10 Tournament, a head coaching change at Temple, and of course, “Goongate”.
Temple center Nehemiah Ingram’s hard foul on John Bryant sent the rivalry into another dimension. St. Joe’s people were not happy with the way things were handled, Temple’s people apologized and just wanted it to go away. But what was a friendly relationship between the two schools turned sour, as Phil Martelli and Chaney didn’t even talk to each other until some other Big 5 coaches got involved and tried to patch things up.
When Fran Dunphy became the coach at Temple, he brought his friendship with Martelli along with him. Perhaps that helped smooth some things over between the two schools, but the damage was already done. The administrations, the alumni, the fans, the students — they plain just don’t like each other. And you know what, that’s a good thing.
Temple’s really never had a true in-conference rival until now. Things have been too one-sided in the past, with neither program having consistently good teams at the same time. But with last month’s classic at the Liacouras Center and the impending revenge game on Sunday, this season could mark a new chapter in the Owls-Hawks rivalry.
Martelli has built up a good program, one that will stay in contention for the NCAA Tournament for the foreseeable future. And Dunphy is in the process of doing the same here. So with both teams peaking or about to peak, Temple and St. Joe’s just won’t be another Big 5 and A-10 game. It’ll mean more than that. It’ll feel more than that.
It’ll be an actual rivalry. Something that transcends the game, something that means more than just wins and losses. And with that, all we as spectators and fans can do is sit back and enjoy the ride. Because it really should be a good one.
Todd Orodenker can be reached at email@example.com.