WASHINGTON - Go to a prestigious postseason game in a destination spot, and these things don't happen. No one has ever lost the Rose Bowl or Sugar Bowl because of a patch of ice.
Go to the Froze Bowl or the Shiver Bowl or the PenguinBank Bowl, and things can slip away - literally - in a hurry. That's what the Temple Owls learned last night in the frigid mausoleum known as RFK Stadium.
After a 30-year gap between bowl appearances, the Owls were thrilled to be invited to play UCLA here. And Al Golden's team played as if it were in Pasadena or New Orleans or Glendale, with a national title up for grabs. Temple dominated the Bruins in the first half, only to see it all go wrong in a nightmarish second half.
The Owls deserved better, they really did. And while no one wanted to claim a moral victory after blowing a 21-7 lead, it is a measure of Golden's progress on North Broad Street that the Owls were disappointed to lose a bowl game.
"Hopefully, our kids will glean a lot from this experience," Golden said. "We'll learn, and we'll be able to take that next step. That's what we want to do here."
"Yeah, it's disappointing," senior safety Dominique Harris said. "We've been through a lot together. We've been through a one-win season, four wins. Then we just built up. We wish we could have won this game, but at the end of the day, we did have a successful season."
When they look back on this game, the Owls will wonder how they managed to lose. UCLA scored on the final possession of the first half (a field goal), then marched to a touchdown at the beginning of the second half. Even then, Temple had a 21-17 lead, and its offense seemed able to move the ball virtually at will.
Vaughn Charlton, the surprise starter at quarterback, ran the offense with authority. Matt Brown, the 5-foot-5 change-of-pace from star running back Bernard Pierce, was popping out of holes and zipping by UCLA defenders. Even when Pierce left with a shoulder injury, Brown seemed able to carry the load.
Then the Owls hit an icy patch. Not a figurative icy patch, a real piece of frozen ground at one end of the field. They had driven to the UCLA 10-yard line, where they faced a third-and-2 situation. Brown took a pitch from Charlton and ran around right end.
He got close enough to the first down that the officials needed video replay to check the spot. They wound up putting the ball "half-a-foot" from the first down, according to Golden.
The easy call would have been a field goal. Golden decided to go for the first down. It was not a by-the-book call, but it was a smart call. UCLA had just driven for an easy score, and a field goal was only going to make it a one-touchdown lead.
"I just felt like we could make it," Golden said. "I didn't think three points was going to help us much. It had been a while since we scored on them, and it was a chance to answer. I don't regret that. I wanted to show the kids confidence all night."
Brown took the handoff and ran inside. He said he saw enough space to squeeze in for a first down, but the footing was bad, and he couldn't get there in time. The Temple players made several references to the icy area near that end zone, and they wound up spending most of the fourth quarter there, unable to get offensive traction.
So Golden was right to try to put the dagger in. Trouble is, when you miss with the dagger, you have to live or die with the consequences. That's a valuable lesson, one the Owls were forced to learn twice. After a roughing-the-punter penalty gave them a first down at the UCLA 40, Charlton threw a ball up for grabs. It was intercepted, and Temple never had another chance to score.
"We got caught in a couple of bad situations, and we couldn't get out of them," Charlton said.
The worst was third and 20 from the Temple 8-yard line. Golden wanted a safe, short pass that would give the Owls a little breathing room to punt. Instead, the play knocked the wind out of them for good. Throwing from near his own goal line, Charlton hit UCLA linebacker Akeem Ayers in the hands. Ayers caught the ball and jogged a couple of easy yards for the game-winning touchdown.
Golden talks about his players investing completely, holding nothing back. It is an approach that makes winning more satisfying and losing that much harder.
It is the approach that got Temple to a bowl. Unfortunately for the Owls, it got them to the Froze Bowl.