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Temple's present becomes its future

Why Temple's loss to UCLA proves that the Owls have achieved real success.

UCLA 30, Temple 21: Kevin Tatum | Notebook | Phil Sheridan | Mike Kern | Rich Hofmann | Notre Damus

National coverage: L.A. Times | T.J. Simers | L.A. Daily News | Notebook | Jill Painter | Washington Post | Washington TimesDick HellerAssociated Press

WASHINGTON - It didn't really dawn on me until right as I was walking into RFK Stadium that after the game, I'd be hearing in person from Rick Neuheisel. Of course I knew he's UCLA's coach, but BCS-conference football is a distant thing to many of us.

It's not even like seeing Jim Calhoun or Ben Howland on the dais at the NCAA Tournament. Somehow, college basketball coaches seem less removed from our sphere - well, maybe not John Calipari or Roy Williams, but many of them.

So I couldn't possibly tell you if Neuheisel really meant it when he heaped praise on how far Temple has come after the Bruins beat the Owls in the EagleBank Bowl. We do know Neuheisel's history, after all.

But I can't help thinking that yesterday represented something quite significant. It wasn't just that Temple was in a bowl game for the first time in 30 years. It was that UCLA genuinely took this game and their opponent as seriously as they would any other.

Many of you have followed Temple football far longer and far more closely than I have. So you know better than I ever could the degree to which the Owls have been somewhere between irrelevant and a laughingstock for years.

Now, though, they are neither. Their relevance was proven by the fact that both the Inquirer and Daily News sent columnists here yesterday, and their rise in the college football ranks was proven by UCLA's second-half comeback.

Yes, you read that right. That's not to excuse Temple's problems in the second half, from Vaughn Charlton's poor throws to a questionable play-call or two.

But when the Owls went up 21-7, the Bruins could easily have decided it wasn't worth the trouble. Instead, they adjusted to Temple's gameplan, took the Owls' running backs seriously and turned the momentum around.

I am sure that the way the game ended stings for many of you, with the safety coming after the goal-line interception that put UCLA up for the first time. And I could have come up with an analysis of Bernard Pierce's injury and the decision to start Vaughn Charlton over Chester Stewart at quarterback.

But I'd like to think this day was about more than that. I'm not going to call it a disappointment, and I'm not going to call it the Froze Bowl.

(Though I will call out UCLA loudly for not sending its band to the game. That put a huge dent in the atmosphere, and I heard throughout the afternoon from UCLA fans who said the same thing. Yeah, it would have cost money, but it's a bowl game. Spend it.)

I'd rather call yesterday a step forward for Temple. Al Golden seems to have put Temple football on a path towards not only being stronger, but being sustainable when he inevitably moves on.

Heck, if a quality high school running back in the Philadelphia area picks Temple over another school because of what Bernard Pierce did this year, that will be a great success in and of itself. Do that a few times and the Owls will really be on to something.

And I'll say this, too, about the Temple fans who traveled to the game. The noise when Steve Manieri scored the game's first touchdown was as loud as I've ever heard after any soccer goal I've seen at RFK Stadium.

I hope that when you've had a chance to defrost and settle down, you'll also look at this day as not being just about the present. It was a step towards the future, and I don't think you'd have to look through cherry-colored glasses to see things that way.

There are two videos for you to check out from the game. One is highlights of the postgame press conferences, and the other is a video from the fans' pregame tailgate parties. I hope you enjoy them.

I'll be back on New Year's Day with the latest Schuylkill 16 as we head into a monster weekend of college basketball.