The Temple Owls’ Brief Moment on the Big Stage
Less than a block west of Temple University, drug dealers used to take over a vacant bodega where you could buy nickel bags of weed from someone on the other side of a barricaded window. A few blocks to the north of the main campus, there was an open-air drug market amid the burned-out row homes and urban blight that’s too common this far north of the Rocky steps in front of the art museum.
North Philadelphia will never be confused with the bucolic campuses that house the nation’s top college football programs. Parts of this urban wasteland make up one of the poorest sections of one of America’s poorest big cities, where public schools run out of toilet paper and don’t have enough books or teachers.
“We’re not South Bend, Indiana,” says Temple Athletic Director Dr. Patrick Kraft. “That’s not who we are. We are proud of being from North Broad Street and representing Philadelphia. That’s who we are. We’re going to be gritty, we’re going to grind it out. We’re proud of everything we do.”
It’s an unlikely place to find one of the great stories in college sports. Temple, a respected academic institution with solid business, law and medical schools, has been slowly transforming North Broad into something better for many years. But the transformation of its long forgotten football program has been rapid under third-year head coach Matt Rhule.
The school motto is Perseverantia Vincit, or Perseverance Conquers, and that seems to be the Temple’s game plan every Saturday.
The Owls, who do not have their own football stadium and play home games on the south side of the city in the mostly empty Lincoln Financial Field (the home of the Philadelphia Eagles), were 2-10 in 2013. They were 6-6 last year in Rhule’s second season. But this year started with the program’s first win over Penn State since 1941, and the Owls were a perfect 7-0 headed into Saturday’s nationally televised home game against Notre Dame.
On Halloween, Philly was the center of the college football universe – ESPN’s Saturday road show, College GameDay, even rolled into town – and No. 21 Temple wasn’t just masquerading as a likeable underdog against the No. 9 Irish. The Owls lost a tough one, 24-20, but they won a great deal more this weekend than any football game could have produced.
“We proved we’re a really good football team,” Rhule said afterward.
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