A Team Philly Deserves

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GORDONVILLE — It has taken five decades on this planet to get to this point, but I have learned the hard way that the best course of action following an emotive moment is to sleep on it.

And, fortunately, the late hour of the dramatic – and seemingly tragic – ending to Temple’s 24-20 loss to Notre Dame was a walk of the dog away from bed time.

I hit the hay still wondering what could have been.

What if safety Will Hayes had been in better position to either intercept, or defend, what proved to be the winning touchdown pass?

What if Temple quarterback P.J.Walker had put a little more on the ball and hit a streaking John Christopher for what could have been a reply that would have put Temple back on top, 27-24, with little time left for the Irish to reply.

When I woke up Sunday morning to walk the dog again, I was armed with an extra hour of sleep and a lot of perspective.

Will Hayes and John Christopher? These are guys who would have never even been recruited by Notre Dame. They probably wouldn’t have looked too closely at Walker, either, just based on his size (6-foo-1, 200 pounds).

We are talking about players who, if they went to Notre Dame and walked on, would be Rudy Ruettigers.

I could extend that to the likes of Temple’s stars, like running back Jahad Thomas and linebacker Tyler Matakevich, neither of which were seriously recruited by any other Division I programs.

While I could go on and on – as I tend to do with the irksome Eagles on the day after a narrow loss – but I’m not going to go play by play, and blow by blow, and try to resurrect a road map to a victory that should have been.

Temple gave it everything it had, leaving nothing on the field. The Owls came up short, in the final analysis, because Notre Dame simply had too many playmakers to deal with on both sides of the ball.

The defense came up with two turnovers in the red zone, so it may have been asking too much to expect a third break — the kind either the defense or the special-teams unit regularly creates — that would give the offense a short field to set up a score.

It didn’t happen, but something magical did happen.

In a city where all four sports teams are scuffling, at best, we have — in the now — the personification of Rocky Balboa.

A statue was built in honor of that fictional character, so one could hope the city — not just “Temple people” — remains in the corner of a program on the rise.

Temple proved it belonged on the same field with any team in the country, and the real test will be 5-10 years from now, when we learn if the 2015 season was the start of a special run or a sort of leap year.

If Coach Matt Rhule stays put, and says no to offers that are sure to come his way, we should be good to go.

And that’s the real story, the real game within a game, here.

While I’m not one for hype and build-up, and rarely even watch pre-game shows, this game was Temple’s moment.

You could say – at least it’s what I’m saying – is that the moment was bigger than the event itself.

The Owls may not have wanted to hear it, but they entered a packed and partisan house at Lincoln Financial Field already winners.

When Temple and Notre Dame agreed to play some games a few years back, it was out of mutual convenience.

It gave Temple a chance to sell more tickets to a home game, and some exposure to attract the two- and three-star recruits away from the likes of Rutgers and Pitt and Maryland. For Notre Dame, well, it was a guaranteed win and a chance to give four- and five-star recruits buried on the depth chart some of playing time they were promised

Who would have ever expected this? Honestly, not me. For one, we have the disparity in the types of players on the program’s recruiting radars – they were seemingly locked into two different worlds.

Notre Dame gears up for a national title. Temple’s more modest goals as a mid-major is to be bowl eligible more often than not.

Undefeated and ranked at No. 21, Temple did not play in shock or in awe of a team ranked No. 9, with its only loss coming in the down-to-the-wire contest in the eye of a literal hurricane to a Clemson team that some think might be the best in the nation when it all shakes out.

Yes, a win would have been huge, but a loss was not so bad.

Call it a superficial wound.

While I’m not a bigger believer in moral victories, let’s call it for what it is – a moral victory.

I wore my Temple gear in anticipation Saturday night, and I wore it for a different reason Sunday.

The morning after a 24-20 loss, I was proud to be an Owl (Class of 1988).

This column also appeared at http://www.phillyphanatics.com

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