Temple football barely had a pulse six years ago.
Kicked out of the Big East after the 2004 season because of their sub-par athletic facilities, anemic financial backing and hapless performance on the field, the Owls had devolved into a rotating cast of junior college transfers who traveled the country like itinerant workers playing hopelessly lopsided road games against perennial powers — the only dates they could muster as an independent.
Had Temple’s trustees voted to kill the football program altogether, as they nearly did in 2005, it’s doubtful anyone in Philadelphia would have noticed.
“We were at the bottom,” Temple Athletic Director Bill Bradshaw said bluntly. “If there were 120 [teams in the top level of college football], we were 120-B. In every respect.”
Saturday at Byrd Stadium, Temple made clear how far it has come since being cast out of the Big East, manhandling Maryland, 38-7, in a rout that was more punishing than the score suggests.
Fulfilling the “Temple Tough and Philadelphia Proud” mantra of first-year Coach Steve Addazio on every snap, the Owls scored five rushing touchdowns, controlled the ball 41 minutes to Maryland’s 19 and, once ahead 31-0 at halftime, showed a measure of benevolence in “managing” the second half rather than running up the score.
Maryland and its fancy uniforms never crossed midfield in the first quarter and didn’t reach the end zone until 4 minutes 31 seconds remained in the game. In the end, the Terps’ third ensemble of the season — black helmet, gold jersey and black pants — proved little more than pretty gift-wrap on an empty box.
It was a crushing comedown for the 39,102 who showed up expecting so much more from Coach Randy Edsall’s bunch, given their season-opening victory over ACC rival Miami.
But Temple’s dominance was a thing of beauty to one enormous man: former Washington Redskins offensive lineman Tre Johnson, a 1999 NFL Pro Bowler and Temple alum who suffered through many of the Owls’ trials in the trenches.
“You know, owls — we eat turtles! We take ’em back to the tree and peel the shells off!” Johnson said with a mighty laugh midway through the game.
Not much can persuade a former NFL lineman to stand on his feet for three hours at a stretch, whether his knees are original or surgical upgrades. But the 40-year Johnson, who played at 326 pounds and is no slimmer today, was an immovable force on Temple’s sideline.
“Being down here at ground level — seeing the hits, the speed, the level of athletic performance — it does my heart good!” said Johnson, who played on the 1990 Temple squad that finished 7-4. Nearly two decades of losing followed. Still, Johnson distinguished himself enough to get picked in the second round of the 1994 NFL draft while earning both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
“We finally have the attitude where we’re not satisfied with giving anybody a good fight anymore,” Johnson said. “We want to win!”
Temple’s turnaround began under Al Golden, the former Virginia defensive coordinator who took the job in December 2005, convinced he could turn the Owls into a credible force.
While Bradshaw credits Golden with the critical “paradigm shift,” Temple football also benefited greatly from joining the Mid-American Conference in 2007 (the Owls compete in the Atlantic 10 in all other sports). Temple also signed a long-term deal to play its home games at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field, home of the NFL’s Eagles.
When Golden was coaxed away by Miami after last season, Temple tapped Addazio, a former assistant at Florida with seemingly limitless enthusiasm for the game and his adoptive home town.
Through four games under Addazio, Temple has outscored opponents by an average of 28 points while giving up just six points per game.
Still, there are other statistics that ought to catch the eye of every major conference that’s trolling for members.
Temple is in the nation’s fourth-biggest media market. It plays at an NFL venue and has $30 million committed to an expansion of its football practice facility. It has home-and-home series scheduled in the coming years with Notre Dame, Penn State, Maryland, Army, Navy, Connecticut and Rutgers. And after years of irrelevance, Temple has gotten Philadelphia sports fans excited about college football again.