ALL DR. PETER Chodoff wanted to see was his Temple football team go to another bowl game.

Is that really asking too much? For the man who made a significant enough donation that the practice field, which opened early this decade, bears his name?

Well, for the longest while, the answer seemed painfully obvious.

For 17 seasons, starting in 1991, the Owls never won more than four games. And they only even managed to do that four times. So it didn't seem as if the odds were on his side. He is, after all, 83 years young.

Did we mention that in January 2005, the university almost voted to drop the sport after being kicked out of the Big East?

Yet through it all, which included way too many losses in front of way too few bodies, "Doc" remained committed. Or maybe he simply should have been committed.

"I can't give you a logical answer [why]," Chodoff said over lunch last week. "I'm not a giver-upper. And I guess you just keep deluding yourself that things would change."

Finally, though, they have. The Owls found a new home, in the non-BCS Mid-American Conference. And they got a new coach, former Penn State tight end Al Golden. Now, following their best season since 1979, the Owls (9-3) are one of the 68 haves in FBS playing one more game.

Today at 4:30, they'll face UCLA (6-6) in the second EagleBank Bowl at RFK Stadium in Washington. It's their first postseason appearance since '79, when they beat 6-5 Cal by 11 in the second Garden State Bowl.

Chodoff was there for that one. Of course, he will be in the nation's capital for this. Just as he went to all those Final Eights with John Chaney's basketball team. But for Chodoff, football always has been a different calling.

"When I was a student, I used to go to the games," said the Class of 1947 alum. "I just enjoyed it. Back then, we played SMU, Michigan State, Georgia, those type of schools. We did fairly well. We didn't get blown out. Then we dropped down to playing Gettysburg, and all that kind of stuff, and losing to them. You know the history of it over the last 20 years or so. It spoiled the perception of what Temple is, because I think it's a great place.

"It's a full-fledged research university. People don't realize that. The Law School, Medical School, Dental School, Pharmacy School. Temple has a campus in Tokyo. I could be wrong about this, but I think if you put basketball and football side by side, and the football team is bad, it outweighs the basketball team being good. Or maybe it's just me, because I like it better.

"A professor could win a prize or do some eminent research in the academic world, but the person in the street doesn't know much about it. And our athletic program for a lot of years was dismal. It painted the wrong picture. The two aren't related, but there is a connection. It's a perception thing."

Chodoff is hardly the only one who has cared. But he is among the most prominent. He has given his time, and financial support. Not that long ago, Temple coaches were asked to prepare for games against the likes of Miami on a hole-strewn grass surface across the street from McGonigle Hall.

These days, coupled with the facilities at adjacent Edberg-Olson Hall, the Owls are able to compete on an equal basis in the MAC. And perhaps beyond.

"I kept hoping we would get to this point, but you never know until it happens," said Chodoff, who grew up at 7th and Pine and worked aboard ships in both World War II and the Korean War. "That's why playing in the MAC, and winning in the MAC, is important to me.

"I don't like to hear people say we're only winning in the MAC. To me, we're a respectable program. We're not a joke. And we're enjoying it. Getting to a bowl, that represents a measure of success.

"Now, what I'd really like to see is us do even more, like win the Mid-American Conference championship. And I think that's a realistic goal. Two or 3 years from now, just getting to a bowl shouldn't be a big deal any more."

How about that?

"Al's done a remarkable job, and not just at being a football coach," Chodoff said. "If you had a business and wanted a CEO to run it, go get that guy. He gets along with the academics here, he's straightened out the discipline. I don't think they realize how he had to reconstruct the damn thing from the cellar up.

"In a selfish way, I could have made a greedy statement and say I'd rather have gone to Mobile [Ala.] and maybe had a better time. Isn't that silly? I guess we can do that next year . . .

"My brother is a doctor. He has questioned my sanity many times. He thought I was completely nuts. He thinks the drugs he gave me cured me. The antidepressants kicked in."

The best news is, he'll never have to explain himself again.

"I remember a conversation I had with [former Temple coach] Bobby Wallace at the NCAA Tournament one year," Chodoff said. "We're raising hell, and he looked at me and said, 'If you think this is fun, wait until you go to a bowl game.' He said that to me way back when. I'm about to find out." *