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Former Temple president Liacouras, unable to speak, still following the Owls

There were no words, and no words necessary. A touchdown shown on a television, a high-five between a father and son.

Former Temple basketball coach John Chaney (right) greeted the school's former president, Peter Liacouras, before a game in 2013.
Former Temple basketball coach John Chaney (right) greeted the school's former president, Peter Liacouras, before a game in 2013.Read moreRON CORTES / Staff

There were no words, and no words necessary. A touchdown shown on a television, a high-five between a father and son.

In a skilled-nursing facility just outside the city, there is one room with a banner that used to fly over North Broad Street.

"One of the giant original Temple 'T' banners," Greg Liacouras said over the phone. "It's right behind the TV set. The whole wall is covered by the Temple 'T.' "

His father, former Temple president Peter Liacouras, stays in that room. After a stroke in November 2010, Liacouras, now 84, is unable to speak, to form words. His intellect has remained. He could get to games in a wheelchair until this year. "He's really, really slowed down," his son reported.

The son walked into his father's room one morning in October and turned the television to ESPN. Or maybe an aide already had it on, Greg can't remember. That was the day the son brought the Temple 'T' to the room, Notre Dame day.

"He was very aware Temple was 7-0," Greg Liacouras said of his father, referring to Temple's record at the time.

The two watched College GameDay together. The son remembers the father being excited by the whole thing. The son would say things like, "This is something you always thought could happen." The words brought a smile.

When Peter Liacouras talked early in his tenure, which lasted from 1982 to 2000, of Temple's one day playing in the Sugar Bowl, it became a punch line, never forgotten in this city.

"He'd laugh about it because it was more people talking about Temple," Greg Liacouras said. "Obviously, he would have liked to go to a big bowl game. The whole point is you set a standard and you try to achieve it."

No, the Boca Raton Bowl isn't the Sugar Bowl. But 10-3 is 10-3, and a game on ESPN in prime time fits the loose definition of what Liacouras was always looking for and talking about.

Even in the depths of Temple's worst football days, Liacouras had decided it was worth all the millions they were losing. Jokes are better than silence. He poured resources into that stubborn belief.

"There were a lot of people who didn't want the football program, the majority of people," Greg Liacouras said. "It was probably a lonely place to be to support it."

You could argue that there wouldn't be a Temple football program today if not for Peter Liacouras. I know of one completely qualified candidate for the athletic director job years ago who interviewed and said the school should get rid of football. He had plenty of facts on his side. He did not get the job.

Greg Liacouras, an attorney who practices locally, called Owls coach Matt Rhule after the Penn State win - something he really doesn't do, he said.

"I just thanked him for finally beating Penn State," he said. "But for doing it when my dad could still enjoy it."

Peter Liacouras had watched it with his wife, his son said. She's in the same facility. Greg Liacouras went to the game, and to the Notre Dame game.

"He may have watched a little of it, but he can't stay up that late," said his son, who visited the next day after the Notre Dame loss. "I did play-by-play back for him. He was listening intently. Even though we lost you could see he understood we did well.

"He always understood the angles. He knew about the publicity all week. He watches TV, he reads the paper. People where he is couldn't stop talking about it, even people who don't care about sports - which was his whole point with sports. If you're not Harvard or Stanford, you cannot get that kind of advertising."

Father and son watched the American Athletic Conference championship game together. That high-five came when Temple scored against Houston to make a game of it.

The father also would turn his head on a bad play, or when Temple couldn't convert on third down. When the son suggested the Owls could still pull it out, the father laughed. Despite his public statements, Peter Liacouras was always a realist, too. If Temple couldn't get in a big-time league, football couldn't be justified. He'd tell his son that, too.

As for a stadium on campus, "He was always for it," his son said. "The money wasn't there."

"The one thing my dad always said, it's amazing how institutions can make mistakes and they never recover from them," Greg Liacouras said, mentioning the original Temple Stadium's being built away from campus, along with the hospital's being too far up North Broad, separating itself from campus.

While most of the night games were too late for Peter Liacouras to watch, his son said, and some games were on channels they don't get in his room, his son or daughter would report the results the next morning. The father understood the ramifications.

"Lately, he's been up more," his son said. "It's crazy. He's the most unbelievable fighter."

There were a couple of games where the son went to the Linc. It didn't upset the family dynamic. His father wanted him to go.

"He always liked watching it alone anyway," Greg Liacouras said.

When it came to Temple football, Peter Liacouras always was a singular figure.