On any given Saturday in NCAA Division I athletics, the prospect of a football game between Notre Dame and Temple University would be anticipated with the words "the horror . . . the horror."
But this wasn't just any given Saturday. It was Halloween, a night to exorcise demons of past failures in a Temple football program that spans 120 years. And Temple went into this game as the closest thing to equals with the Fighting Irish since Pop Warner asked Knute Rockne, "That's not your real name, is it?"
As I write this, I have no idea who will win this weekend's nationally televised game at sold-out Lincoln Financial Field. What I do know is that, for the first time in my lifetime, Temple's had the elusive "mojo advantage" going into "probably the biggest game in school history," according to the sports blog SB Nation.
"Temple Owls are pesky enough to beat Notre Dame," read the headline above Bran M. Vance's story declaring that Temple football is "ready for the limelight." He wrote that undefeated Temple (7-0) could be on its way to a 10-, 11-, or "even a 14-win season."
Please forgive my incredulous tone. In 40-something years of rooting for my alma mater's sports teams, the words undefeated and Owls football never found a perch near each other. Temple football fans learned to approach each season with an Ernie Bankslike enthusiasm: "Let's win two!" Of course, Banks meant a doubleheader rather than the entire season.
Meanwhile, Notre Dame polished its halo with multiple national championships and inspirational films. "Win one for the Gipper" is part of our national lore. And the movie Rudy had more fathers wanting their sons to be scrubs on the Notre Dame practice squad than to be the starting quarterback for what haughty people call Temple Who.
"We're witnessing a miracle," wrote Rodger Sherman in SB Nation. "Let's smile with the Temple Owls, who are good for pretty much the first time ever." The word amazing appears a dozen times in the story.
"You must understand the complete, overwhelming historical suck of Temple football," Sherman wrote, citing the 0-11 season in 2005 and humiliating losses to Wisconsin, 65-0, and Bowling Green, 70-7.
The current squad has been on the national radar since opening day, when the Owls ended a 74-year winless streak against Penn State by scoring 27 unanswered points after falling behind 10-0 in the first half.
As my wife and I watched the game on TV that afternoon, I lamented: "What bugs me is that what sports commentators will be talking about tomorrow isn't how good Temple played; it will be about how bad Penn State played."
I was wrong. Even during the game, ESPN color analyst Brock Huard saw the Owls as solid and impressive. In the final minutes of the game, Huard looked over Temple's schedule for the coming weeks, including away games against defending conference champion Cincinnati and East Carolina.
"Could you imagine?" Huard began. "Is it unrealistic with this defensive group and the way they ran it and the way the quarterback has been playing today to think they could be undefeated when Notre Dame rolls into this building?"
In 12 decades, Temple's football team has never been undefeated seven games into a season, and yet Huard's analysis proved spot-on.
Past Temple teams would have found a way to fumble this historic start, but not these Owls, even with Notre Dame looming like Mount Everest on the calendar.
Last week, ESPN's popular College Game Day program announced it would broadcast live Saturday morning from Independence Mall. The social media lit up with Owl talk.
On Wednesday morning, the Temple University Alumni Association sent out an email announcing a sunrise pep rally on campus at 6:30 Saturday. By 11 p.m. Wednesday, of the 791 people invited to the rally, 597 said yes, while 236 responded maybe. That's 833 responses. "What a great time to be an Owl," commented Robin Thomas from Brooklyn.
I saw one "just in case" chink in the Temple confidence armor on social media. Brad Ford of Havertown posted a video of the huge mural on the Notre Dame library that overlooks the football stadium. The mural, featuring a Byzantine-style mosaic of Jesus raising both arms above his head, is officially named "The Word of Life." But everyone calls it "Touchdown Jesus." Ford posted the video on the Temple Alumni Facebook page with the message "In case we need to rehearse the words."
When you click on the video a big red Temple T logo appears on Touchdown Jesus' chest and his arms move in a familiar way as the Temple Marching Band can be heard playing and a stadium crowd singing proudly, "T - for Temple U . . . U-niversity . . . We'll fight, fight, fight for the Cherry and the White, for the Cherry and the White we'll fight, Fight, FIGHT!"
Now that's Temple addytood.
Clark DeLeon writes regularly for Currents. firstname.lastname@example.org