Temple going bowling in D.C.

Temple football players celebrate the team's selection for the EagleBank Bowl in Washington.
Temple football players celebrate the team's selection for the EagleBank Bowl in Washington.
Posted: December 07, 2009

Three decades is a long time to wait, even if it was only the second-longest bowl drought in Temple history.

But last night, for the first time since 1979, the football team on North Broad Street got to celebrate along with 67 of the other 120 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Inclusion is always a good thing.

The Owls (9-3) had pretty much known for weeks that they would have another game to play, their reward for putting together a winning season for the first time since 1990. But that year - when there were 15 fewer bowls - the 7-4 Owls stayed home.

Not this time.

Now the inaugural Sugar Bowl (20-14 loss to Tulane in 1935) and the 1979 Garden State Bowl (28-17 win over California) has company on Temple's postseason lineage.

The Owls will play in the first EagleBank Bowl on Dec. 29 at RFK Stadium in Washington. Their opponent will be Army (5-6) if the Black Knights can beat Navy (8-4) this Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field, the Owls' home field. Army has lost seven straight to Navy, its longest streak in the series. Army hasn't been to a bowl since 1996. And the Knights lost to Temple in South Philly on Oct. 17 by 14, a game that was tied midway through the fourth quarter before the Owls stopped Army on a fourth-and-1 deep in Army territory.

If the Cadets can't get it done, Temple will face UCLA (6-6), which had won three in a row for second-year coach Rick Neuheisel before losing its regular-season finale on Nov. 28 to Southern Cal, 28-7. The Bruins have never played Temple. In fact, they haven't played in the Eastern time zone since a trip to Ohio State (42-20 loss) in 1999. They haven't played a team, home or away, from the Northeast since flying to Pittsburgh in 1972 (38-28 win).

"I think it's the best place for us to go this year, I really believe that," said fourth-year coach Al Golden, who watched with his players and fans in the lobby of the Liacouras Center as the pairings were officially announced on ESPN. "We have to learn how to do this. When you can go close to home, it eliminates a lot of excuses. Either way, it's great. We have a national opponent.

"It just means we're checking off [more] boxes. I remember when we had a one-game winning steak [in 2006], and it was the longest in 2 years. Now here we are. The next step is to become a program, and you do this every year. That's our goal.

"Four years ago, we stood right in here and had a dream. We had a vision. A lot of people said, 'OK, show me.' I'm OK with that. That's Philly style. I get it . . . It's going to take years before we think about what just happened, to be honest. To be that bad and turn this thing like that, 4 years later."

For what it's worth, Golden interviewed for the UCLA job when Neuheisel got it.

Interestingly, UCLA didn't win a game in October, and Temple went 5-0 that month.

The Owls won nine straight, a school-record for one season (they did win 14 in a row in 1973-74), before closing with a 35-17 loss at Ohio that cost them the Mid-American Conference East crown and a spot in the title game.

"That was frustrating," said senior tight end Steve Maneri. "But it's nice to start drawing a map to how to achieve our goal, which is to win a bowl game. We didn't know what the situation was going to be.

"You have to take a second to think about what we've been through, the guys who've been here. It's a great feeling to know we accomplished something, getting to the postseason."

The proximity factor should mean that a decent number of Temple supporters will be able to make the trip, which wouldn't have been nearly so feasible had the Owls been sent to Toronto, Detroit or Mobile, Ala.

And the Owls do significant recruiting in that area, which can't hurt.

"I really appreciate getting to this point," said senior defensive back Dominque Harris, who's from the nation's capital. "When you're struggling, it's hard to see us doing anything. We had the heart and courage. We just had to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

"It's been a long road. But very rewarding. It just makes this even more fulfilling."

For the second consecutive year, the MAC has placed five teams in bowls. Last season, they all lost.

Ohio will face Marshall in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl on Dec. 26 in Detroit. Bowling Green will get Idaho in the Humanitarian Bowl on Dec. 30 in Boise, Idaho. Northern Illinois drew South Florida in the International Bowl on Jan. 2 in Toronto. And Central Michigan plays Troy in the GMAC Bowl on Jan. 6, in Mobile.

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