Settling The Greatest Team Debate

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.


Fullback Mark Bright was MVP of the GSB

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



8 thoughts on “Settling The Greatest Team Debate

  1. the greatest Temple Team is the team that beat PSU…, and, it will always be until another TUFB has a more meaningful win

    • Definitely a meaningful win but not a great Penn State team and no Temple team that loses to Toledo for a shot in the top 25 deserves that distinction.

  2. The 1990 team is definitely belongs in top 10 teams. Wins on the road against BC, Pitt & Wisconsin. In addition to Wins against Rutgers and VA Tech

    • Maybe the top 10, but certainly not with the two-loss or less teams. Tried to keep the elite list to two losses or less. Owls did lose to Wyoming that year.

  3. Mike you’re really challenging this team and Collins aren’t you?

    That UCLA bowl loss was a good game. My son-in-law watched Bernard Pierce and after BP went down and couldn’t finish the game said, “Temple would have won if that running back had been able to finish.” Of course that “snatch the ball out of the air at the line of scrimmage” interception when TU was moving in for a TD near the goal line didn’t help either.

    I’ll take you’re word for it about the Sugar Bowl team being the best ever. But in modern times the ’79 team for me was it. Sorry KJ but beating a not-great PSU team, while finally breaking a jinx and becoming a milestone, but did not make that team the best. 4 losses including a bad beating against a MAC team in a bowl game, is not greatness (the 10 wins and beating PSU was pretty awesome tho). Each to his own. I forgot about the 9-1, ’73 team – after being back from Vietnam, having a new family and starting a career had me pretty preoccupied back then.

    Collins making some coaching changes has me really looking forward to the coming season, but we’ll see…..

  4. What was the worst team? Even the 0 win teams had some fight in them and played tough. The loss to Rutgers in 2003 was the worst team/game I ever saw. So many penalties we had to leave early. Even the radio color commentator was disgusted,

  5. Lots to choose from for worst team. But worst coach has to be Wallace. TU should have let him go 2-4 seasons earlier. I agree Mike, that 0-11 season following a couple 1-2 win seasons added up to disaster. That was a horrible period. And yet he beat VT didn’t he?

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