Sam Donnellon: Temple launches Heisman campaign for soph running back Pierce

Bernard Pierce puts a move on Bryant Rhule, son of offensive coordinator Matt Rhule.
Bernard Pierce puts a move on Bryant Rhule, son of offensive coordinator Matt Rhule.
Posted: July 16, 2010

PAUL PALMER feigned horror when he saw Bernard Pierce chatting up his eldest daughter after a Temple spring practice.

"Mo, why you talking to him?" the former Temple football star chided his 22-year-old. "Don't be talking to the enemy."

Anyone who knows Palmer knows that he is a man who loves to laugh and loves to have fun. Pierce knows this now, which is why, when he was asked about their relationship yesterday, Temple's current Heisman Trophy candidate continually looked over to Moet Palmer, a student receptionist in Temple's football office, and broke into bent-over laughs.

"He says because I broke some of his records, I'm the enemy," Pierce said, finally.

Far from the enemy, Pierce already has reclaimed some relevance for Palmer, now an assistant football coach for Haddon Heights (N.J.) High School.

As part of its media blitz to garner Pierce Heisman consideration, Temple yesterday launched a Web site, www.Pierce4Heisman.com. The intent is to tell the nation how special Pierce is, and to tout the sophomore running back as a serious Heisman candidate, which it does. But in doing so, it reminds those old enough to remember that Palmer was pretty special too, finishing second to Vinny Testaverde in the Heisman balloting in 1986.

And it informs those not as old - like the players he now coaches.

"These high school players are constantly looking for me on YouTube," Palmer was saying. "I can't even find anything."

Most of the stuff Palmer has from his days in the mid-1980s - before Pierce was born - comes from others. The famous comic book that hyped his Heisman candidacy. The rulers given out that included his gaudy statistics. But he has little footage of his runs, and only the memory of a billboard that once dwarfed the Schuylkill with his likeness.

"When you're young," Palmer said, "you think it's going to go on forever."

This time, Temple has purchased five billboards with Pierce's likeness, three stretching down I-95, two others strategically placed on the Schuylkill and the Pennsylvania Turnpike. "Hunt For The Heisman," a slogan coined by coach Al Golden himself, also adorns SEPTA buses and Pepsi trucks - all of it testing both the school's marketing budget and Pierce's humility.

The cost for each billboard, said Temple sports information director Larry Dougherty, was $10,000 to $14,000. The ads on the SEPTA buses were another $5,000. A giveaway magnet cost another 3G.

There's never been anything like this in Temple football history. The last time it came close was when Palmer was running all over the place.

"I've never seen a picture of me that big," Pierce said of the billboard ads, one which greets him on the way to and from his home.

"But I don't let the hype get to me."

He has tried hard to go the other way. Pierce asked his offensive line to attend yesterday's meeting with media outlets.

"I really couldn't do without them," he said. "Honestly, they basically put their lives on the line for me. So I can at least put them on TV, you know?"

He also seems genuinely embarrassed when peers catch him amid interviews. His peers seize on that, of course. When Pierce walked into a weight room dominated by defensive players yesterday, he was greeted by a rambunctious chant of "Hollywood!"

Mostly overlooked as a high school player out of Glen Mills, unsure he would even attend college because of an infamous fight, Pierce endures this more than embraces it. That's something Palmer - who officially lost his senior records after accepting money from an agent while still playing - hopes will change.

"They probably don't realize that stuff makes him enjoy it less," Palmer, now 45, said about the ribbing. "You're almost forced to be humble about it. He's in a fishbowl now. Say anything that doesn't sound right, and someone might think he's an [expletive]."

That, he said, is the only advice he would give the young and talented Pierce, who last year toppled Palmer's freshman records in leading the Owls to a 9-4 record and a berth in the EagleBank Bowl. Breathe it in. Seize the moment.

"Try to enjoy it some," Palmer said. "It's a little stressful. There were times things were going so well, I kept expecting it not to continue. You're so in the moment, you really don't get how special it is. I wish I had a picture of my billboard. I wish I had paid more attention. I hope he takes a camera and takes a picture of one of those billboards. Because, trust me, he's going to want it someday."

Maybe someone can take it for him, I suggested. Maybe Paul Palmer.

"Good idea," he said. "Maybe I will."

Send e-mail to donnels@phillynews.com.

For recent columns, go to

http://go.philly.com/donnellon.

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