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

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

American Underdog: We’ve Come Full Circle

Saturday night usually is movie night for me so, being a Temple football fan, I scanned through the new offerings of Amazon Prime and found out I could purchase “American Underdog.”

It was the best $19.95 I’ve ever spent, not quite bringing me as much bang for the buck as the $125 I spent for a bus trip to the AAC championship game of 2016 (that included tickets) but close. Hell, a championship is worth a million, not a mere $125.

With the signing of Elijah Warner less than a week ago by new head coach Stan Drayton, this seemed like a pretty good time to revisit the story of his dad, 2017 NFL Hall of Famer Kurt Warner.

In the movie, it was funny to hear coaches at several levels call Kurt “Pop” referring to one of the greatest coaches of all time who made two schools (Temple and Stanford) famous for football back in the day. We’ve come full circle now that his kid has “fallen in love” with Temple, whose President played football at Stanford. His winning Super Bowl coach with the Rams was Dick Vermeil, a West Coast guy who fell in love with Philadelphia and still lives a figurative stone’s throw away from Temple.

Vermeil believed in Kurt, a true American Underdog who was bagging groceries at the Iowa equivalent of “The Ac-a-Me” (or Shop-Rite) before the Rams signed him.

Kurt, Elijah and Brenda on signing day.

Evidently, others believe with me. The movie gets a solid 75 percent from critics on Rotten Tomatoes, beating by almost 20 points my second favorite movie of this calendar year “Don’t Look Up” which has quite a few more A-list stars. The 98 percent rating from viewers is off the charts.

It’s easy to see why.

American Underdog was extremely well done and should resonate well here, not just because of the Temple/Warner/Vermeil/Philadelphia angle.

There are so many wired storylines in this family, Philadelphia, and Temple to shut down a Texas power grid.

Something tells me this “Warner Era” at Temple is going to work out. Elijah, like Kurt, experienced his share of rejection along the way, only to be told by other schools he was “their guy” one day who then called that they signed another guy the next day. Drayton said he liked Elijah because he had that same “chip on his shoulder” his dad did after getting rebuffed by the Packers only to prove himself in the Arena Football League and again with the Rams.

In that case, Drayton might be Temple’s Dick Vermeil.

As a big recent fan of thoroughbred horse racing, I’ve long been a believer in bloodlines of champions. The best horse in the business right now is named Flightline, who is the product of the great Tapit. Temple is the one school that has success with bloodlines. Temple NG Joe Klecko’s son, Dan, was Big East defensive MVP at Temple. Jim Bright, a 1950 fullback with the Owls, sired a 1979 Garden State bowl MVP, Mark Bright, also a fullback. Zach Dixon, a terrific 1,000-yard running back with the 1978 Owls, sired future NFL defensive end Raheem Brock.

Now we get to adopt a Northern Iowa son, just like Kurt adopted Brenda’s son, Zach, in the movie. (If the “I pick you” line doesn’t get you in the feels, you don’t have tear ducts.)

Unless the son of John Elway, Dan Marino or even Tom Brady walk through the E-O door, Temple is going to do no better from a gene pool standpoint than Warner.

Not many schools are.

I’ve never seen his mom throw a football but I’ve seen his dad chuck it several thousand times.

If Elijah wings it the way his dad does and both Tapit and Flightline run it, the Owls should be in pretty good shape.

Somewhere up there, the real Pop Warner is looking down and smiling.

Friday: The Case For the Defense