A Warner Primer for Finding Your Roots

Bobby Salla Jr., son of the one-time Temple career interception leader of the same name, is the latest in a long line of legacy players at Temple. (Photo courtesy Zamani Feelings)

Someone needs to give Henry Louis Gates the phone number, email, or Twitter handle of Kurt Warner.

Gates is the Harvard professor whose “Finding Your Roots” on PBS is low-key one of the best shows on television. In the show, notable guests discover their family roots based on genealogical research and DNA results.

Now we don’t know if Kurt Warner is related to Pop Warner but it would be a terrific story if he was.

The storyline goes like this: Gates turns the page only to show Kurt a photo of Pop Warner, the legendary Temple coach, and reveal that Pop is his third Great Uncle.

Or something like that.

Kurt leans back in his chair, puts his hands behind his head, and lets out a big: “Wow.”

Come to think of it, Pop bears a slight facial resemblance to Kurt Warner (or Harry Chapin).

The TV screen then shows photos of Pop coaching Temple and Kurt’s son, E.J. playing for Temple and both Kurt and Pop being inducted into their respective Halls of Fame.

“I guess it was meant to be,” Kurt might say.

What we do know is that Kurt and Pop were born exactly 100 years apart. Pop in 1871, in Springville, N.Y., and Kurt in 1971, in Burlington, Iowa.

(Ironically, both of Kurt’s current college sons, Kade and E.J., started their careers in Pop Warner football.)

If so, Temple can somewhat claim E.J. as a legacy player in the long line of guys who succeeded relatives who made a name at the school.

I don’t think a single school has the history in that area that Temple does.

Almost in all instances, at least at the college level, the sons exceeded the contributions of the fathers. Even Joe Klecko’s son, Dan, arguably did more at Temple from a recognition standpoint than Joe did. Dan was named Defensive MVP in the Big East, then a Power League on the par of all the current Power 5 schools. Dan has three Super Bowl rings. Dad will be the one going into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in January, though.

Temple defensive end Raheem Brock, the son of 1,000-yard rusher Zach Dixon (1978 Owls), also became an NFL player.

Mark Bright, the 1979 Garden State Bowl MVP, is the son of Jim Bright, the starting fullback for the 1950 Owls who tied Penn State. When the younger Bright was a fullback at William Tennent, he had no offers. Then Jim sent Wayne Hardin his film. Hardin knew Jim played at Temple and offered him on the spot.

Temple opened the checkbook to hire Warner away from Jason Wingard’s alma mater, Stanford.

“At Temple, we take care of our own,” Hardin said at the time.

Mark more than repaid the scholarship.

Those are just a few examples. There are at least a couple more, including kickers Jim Cooper and Jim Cooper Jr. Mike Walsh, a three-year starter at tackle for the Owls in the mid-70s, is the son of Bud Walsh, a former tight end for the Owls in the late 40s.

The latest is Bobby Salla Jr., the son of Bobby Salla, who at the time he graduated (1977) was the all-time interception leader at Temple. Salla Jr. is only getting started, a true freshman who was in on the kick coverage team when De’Von Fox blocked three kicks a week ago.

Judging from history, his best contributions are yet to come. Only a possible future Finding Your Roots episode will reveal if one of his current teammates is a legacy guy, too.

Friday: UMass Preview

Sunday: UMass Analysis

Monday: Optics

No such thing as a moral victory … but

Stopped at Vincent’s Pizza in Rockledge on the way home from the Temple game on Saturday and a couple of young girls at the counter looked at my Temple Football Forever T-Shirt.

One of them said: “Were you at the Temple game today?”

“Yes.”

Not much to choose between these two teams.

“We were too. We were at the student tailgate. It was so much fun. We only saw a little of the game because we had to get back to work here.”

“Good. I hope you guys are fans for life like me.”

“Oh we are.”

That was their first Temple football game. It was my, by rough estimation, 612th going back to the time I split as a grade school youngin between Penn and Temple football games.

When Wayne Hardin came to Temple, I gave up the Penn fandom altogether.

One school in Philadelphia had the best coach in college football and it wasn’t Penn.

Sometimes the lifelong fandom comes as much in a loss at much as a win. I’ve always said there is no such thing as a “moral victory” but maybe an exception came in a 16-14 loss to unbeaten Rutgers on Saturday afternoon.

A lot of Rutgers fans said they were going to “take over” Lincoln Financial Field. Far from it. There were at least 70 percent Temple fans there, as one of their “honest” fans said.

These Rutgers fans were on the money.

More importantly, Temple was without its best offensive lineman (Adam Klein), best linebacker (Tra Thomas) and two top running backs (Texas A&M transfer Darvon Hubbard and Illinois transfer Jakari Norwood) and played Rutgers to a virtual standoff.

Of course, a real standoff is preferable to a virtual one but the point is all of those guys will be back for the more important conference games.

The Owls were in this game against a Big 10 foe until the very end and there are a couple of “should-have, would-have” plays both fan bases can point to as keys. On the RU end, Temple’s first play from scrimmage should have been a pick 6. On the Temple side, Nathan Stewart dropped a perfectly thrown touchdown pass from E. J. Warner.

Stuff happens. A few plays here and a few plays there make the difference.

On the way out of the stadium, Tony Russo–Anthony Russo’s dad–tapped me on the shoulder. Anthony Russo is one of the top four quarterbacks, statistically, in Temple history. He was 6-4. Warner, as a 6-footer, can’t be blamed for not picking up the danger that lay ahead in a real Pick 6.

“I really like E.J. Warner,” I told him, “but if he was 6-4 like Anthony, he wouldn’t have given up the pick 6. He would have seen over the defense.”

“He’s going to be a real good player here,” Tony Russo said.

“Yeah, I think you’re right.”

Pretty good endorsement from the dad of a former player. Kurt Warner should have been there to hear it.

Minus that play, Temple wins, but it shouldn’t have come down to that.

Temple had a nice little drive going from its own 10 in the final four minutes that would have set up Rory Bell to be the hero with a field goal.

About the second play in, I was hoping for Stan Drayton to throw the halfback pass. All the mental telepathy fell on deaf ears sadly. I think it would have worked. Trey Blair, his halfback, was a terrific quarterback in high school. Pitching it out to Blair might have suckered in the RU defense just enough that Blair could have found a wide-open Adonicas Sanders behind the defense for the win.

Maybe Drayton didn’t know Blair played quarterback in high school or maybe he’s saving that play for a conference game that puts him in the championship. My guess is that the new Temple OC doesn’t realize Blair was a damn good high school quarterback and the play was not in the books.

Hardin would have thrown that halfback pass against Rutgers. Maybe it would have worked, maybe it wouldn’t but he wouldn’t have left it on the table knowing it might have worked.

Moral victories meant even less to him but if Rutgers turns out to be the best team on the Temple 2022 schedule and the Owls use that to win the rest, this will be only “moral victory” we’ve ever seen at Temple.

Monday: Legacy Analysis

E.J. Warner: Temple Underdog

Who knew the possible sequel might involve Temple?

Driving home the other night, I turned on the Westwood One national radio broadcast of the Bills-Rams game to hear the best play-by-play guy in the business, Kevin Harlan.

After listening to the final minutes, Harlan signed off with this:

“Goodnight everyone and Let’s Go Temple and Let’s Go Kansas State!”

What?

Kurt, E.J. and Brenda Warner on signing day.

I was backing into the driveway when I heard that and almost knocked over two trash cans.

Obviously, the Temple reference was a tip of the cap to his color analyst, Kurt Warner, whose son plays at Temple.

Didn’t know until today that Warner also has a son with plays at Kansas State.

Warner’s laugh was the last thing I heard before the broadcast faded to silence.

The Warners, Kurt and Brenda, were at Kansas State vs. Missouri. After what their youngest son, E.J., did in a 30-14 win over Lafayette on Saturday, the Warners might be in Philadelphia this Saturday for the Rutgers’ game (2 p.m., Homecoming). He might even almost reunite with a former Arena League teammate, Brian Krulikowski, a pretty good former Owl player who is a regular at Temple tailgates.

Brian Krulikowski and Kurt Warner.

Warner, who started the season at No. 3 in the depth chart. was the surprise No. 2 quarterback and, while he hasn’t saved the year yet, he undoubtedly saved the day.

There is no doubt in my mind had D’Wan Mathis remained in the game and continued his horrible and disinterested play, the Owls would have suffered a 2013-type Fordham defeat. As it is, Warner was more than a game manager. Unlike Mathis, he took care of the football. Unlike Mathis, whose instinct for self-preservation trumps team preservation, he stood in and took vicious hits on two nicely thrown touchdown passes.

How bad would it have been to lose to a Patriot League team?

Ask Buffalo, which lost to Holy Cross, 37-31, tonight.

We wrote in this space a few days ago that Mathis needed to be replaced. In my 40-plus years of watching Temple football, I have seen few more talented quarterbacks than Mathis, but never a player who looks like he wants no parts of getting hit or even being out there. For all of the limited ability of recent quarterbacks like Chester Stewart, Vaughn Charlton and Mike Gerardi, there can be no doubt that all were trying their best.

I’ve never gotten the same vibe from Mathis.

We thought the logical replacement would be Quincy Patterson, who was 7-0 as a starter at North Dakota State last year, and previously led Virginia Tech to a 43-41 win over North Carolina.

Little did we realize that E.J. Warner’s career has progressed so rapidly since joining the team.

No one should know about career advancement more than Warner’s dad, who was the subject of the very best movie I’ve seen in the last dozen months. American Hero is a superb account of Kurt’s rise from college to Arena League All-Star to NFL MVP.

Mind you, we’re not saying E.J. will be an NFL MVP like his dad but, for one day, he was a Temple Underdog and that’s worth some kind of sequel. If he beats Rutgers, Temple Underdog sounds like a box office hit.

Monday: Warts and All