Published: Fourteenth Street Magazine online, Nov. 13 2015
Evident through its excitement, the Notre Dame contest October 31 meant something, not just for Temple, but for Philadelphia. It was the biggest support the city had given to a college football team, possibly ever. With the Eagles on a bye week and struggling to kickstart their offense, the Owls took center-stage Halloween weekend. College Gameday brought the hype, and students, alumni and Philadelphians brought the “fight, fight, fight!” Temple became a household name and continues to be as the team continues their winningest regular season in decades.
Halloween morning (12:30 a.m. to be exact) is when College Gameday started for me. I “got up for game day” and had my artistically-inclined friend paint my face like an owl; my own rendition of a Halloween costume with equal parts school and holiday spirit. I grabbed my corny gameday sign which read “This is Owl City”, and hoped my efforts would be displayed on ESPN. I coveted my opportunity to get five seconds of fame just as much as Temple coveted the media’s spotlight on our university.
Elation and caffeine kept me running – literally – to catch an Uber with my friends across campus. As I was jogging past Maxi’s, I looked up for a brief moment and saw a shooting star.
Call it superstition, but it was clear to me through this sign that the football gods were on Temple’s side. At this moment I decided not getting crushed by Notre Dame was not enough. My hopes of defeating a long-time superior football team became undeniable confidence which rose as the energy level – and sun – rose at Independence Mall that morning.
Standing in the front row for Gameday was magical, and worth the hours on our feet waiting for 9 a.m. to finally arrive. Seeing firsthand the passion and excitement behind Temple football amazed me and it occurred to me the upperclassmen around me had never experienced something like this before. How lucky we were to witness the biggest names in sportscasting talk about our school with dignity, how proud we were that day to be Owls.
In the end it did not matter that both Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit picked the Irish to win Saturday’s game. I did not expect the sportscasters to give Temple the benefit of the doubt considering Notre Dame has been defeating nationally-ranked teams for years. I was unphased by the decision. The important thing was that we were undefeated, ranked, and noticed. Temple was the underdog, but a competitive one, which delivered that sliver of hope. The thought of winning was distant, but visible.
The tailgates at Lincoln Financial Field were fueled by the typical selection of drunk college kids and faithful alumni, similar to the scene for the Penn State game earlier in the season. But what struck me was the number of Irish fans. The rumors were confirmed; Notre Dame fans travel well, are fans for life and everyone seemed to support the Irish. I saw an infant sporting a Leprechaun onesie and elderly fans guzzling beer alongside their grandchildren.The view from across the Wild Cherry student section was a sea of navy and gold.
Cherry-clad students filled the lower-level seats, and some were even forced to stand or sent to the 200-sections of the Linc. The sections behind one end zone were filled to the brim with Owls. That night, Temple fans let out the excitement they had been concealing for decades.
Every down on defense meant a thundering roar from the crowd. Junior linebacker Tyler Matakevich threw up his arms time after time, urging the crowd to be louder. Some used the provided “thunder sticks” but when they deflated too quickly, I and most around me resorted to banging on the seats.
While everyone that day showed up for an intense contest, one party shined brighter than all the others: the Temple football team. Head coach Matt Rhule had been feeding the media the same message for days leading up to the game; his team was prepared to go into this game like any other despite its magnitude for the University and the potential for a glorified upset. The players were unscathed by the hype and played the same football they had been playing for their 7-0 streak.
The defense put a tremendous – and unexpected – amount of pressure on Notre Dame’s quarterback DeShone Kizer throughout the entirety of the game leading to two end zone interceptions in the first half to prevent the Irish from taking a substantial lead. It was a wave of relief to see Temple take control of the football when the offense was not on the field.
It was what fans needed to see to keep their faith in the Owls, and one of the reasons why the Irish were held to the last minutes of the contest. The offense was not quickly counted out either. Quarterback P.J. Walker and Running Back Jahad Thomas repeatedly marched down the field with conversion after conversion, working around the powerful Irish defense. The effort and success was a sight to see and kept fans on edge, hoping for that upset. My hands spent a majority of the game covering my mouth in awe or anxiety.
It was a disappointing loss, but not disappointing in that the Owls made a number of mistakes or played poorly. The only Temple turnover was a pick thrown by Walker in the final minutes, which was gut-wrenching, and almost brought me to tears, but did not change my outlook of the game. The Owl’s’ ability to hold on through four full quarters gave now-number six Notre Dame quite a scare. Temple went into the Linc and did their job, making the doubters eat their words and Kizer quit his end zone taunting. After the game I was still proud to call myself a Temple Owl.