I honestly had never watched the great Dave Smuckler play until reviewing this today.
Sitting in the press box at the Meadowlands on a Saturday in December of 1979 and watching Temple dismantle a pretty good California team for the Garden State Bowl, I was pretty much convinced I was watching the greatest Temple football team to that point.
The other thing I remembered from that day was thinking I was freezing to death.
It would not be until 2009—almost 30 years later to the day—that I was convinced I was freezing to death standing outside tailgating before a late December game in Washington, D.C.
That caused me to flip through the pages of the 1980 Philadelphia Bulletin Almanac. It said the temperature at kickoff at the Garden State Bowl was 40 degrees. The kickoff temperature at the Eagle Bank Bowl against another California team, UCLA, was 11 degrees with a wind chill of -11.
The point of this story is perspective. Even though I am partial to the 1979 team and still tailgate with many of them, feelings should never be confused with evidence.
My FEELINGS were that I was cold that day in 1979 but the evidence was of a much colder bowl game in 2009.
It’s all about perspective and solid evidence. The same can be said for being the best Temple team of all time. It’s not that the players of today are bigger, faster and stronger than those of the past (arguably, because it’s hard to imagine anyone stronger than, say, Joe Klecko). It’s what you do against the college football landscape as it existed and exists that determines a legacy.
The goal posts haven’t moved since 1934. If the 2018 team wants to be the best Temple team of all time, it will have to do something the other two teams haven’t done: Finish in the top 14 in the nation.
That said, after another look at the Bulletin Almanac (before Google, the greatest research tool ever), we’re going with the 1934 team as the best team in Temple history. Not only was it the first team to play in the Sugar Bowl (a better bowl than Eagle Bank, New Mexico and Gasparilla), the Owls of that day were unbeaten in the regular season. The Tulane team the Owls lost to in the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day 1935 was better than the Cal team that the Owls beat in 1979 because the Green Wave finished 11th in the nation. In the only “poll” of that day, Temple finished 15th. In 1979, the Owls finished 17th in both major polls. The 1979 team was special in that it was 10-2, with losses to only Penn State (after leading at halftime) and Pitt (a 10-9 final). Had the Owls been able to win both, and also a more high-profile bowl game, they probably would have had a strong enough schedule to be declared national champions.
Pretty heady stuff.
In the 1934 season, Tulane was co-SEC champions and shared that title with Alabama, the co-National champions that year.
I would rank the 1979 team as No. 2 and the 2016 team, the AAC champs (a team in the top 25 for much of the second half of the season), as No. 3. No. 4 would be the 2011 Owls of Steve Addazio, who not only beat an 8-4 Wyoming team in the New Mexico Bowl but destroyed a Power 5 team, Maryland, on the road, 38-7. That was the same Maryland team that a week before had beaten Al Golden’s Miami team, 32-24.
No. 5 would be the 9-1 Owls of 1973 and they probably would have been higher if they had been able to beat Boston College that year.
They lost that game, 45-0, but redeemed themselves the next season with a 34-7 win over the Eagles before nearly 20,000 fans (capacity house) at Temple Stadium. The team the Owls thumped, 34-7, in 1974 finished 8-3 but did not beat a team with a winning record.
By then, though, it was too late. The Owls finished 8-2 in 1974 but immersed themselves into the Temple record books with a 14-game winning streak over two seasons (the longest in the nation at the time). Greatness might not quit, but it has standards much higher than a 6-6 regular season or 45-0 losses.
The benchmarks are set for these Owls of 2018. Finish ranked a consensus No. 14 or higher and they are the greatest Temple team of all time. It won’t be easy, but greatness never is.
No members of the 1934 team are still alive but I do know that nothing would please members of the 1979 team more than these Owls being able to forge that kind of legacy.
True greatness, not slogans, will be the reward.
Friday: Temple TUFF and SOFT