Hardin reminisces about Temple's last bowl game

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Al Golden and the Temple Owls will take on the UCLA Bruins in the EagleBank Bowl today at 4:30 p.m. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

FOR THE SECOND time in 3 decades, Temple is playing in a bowl game. And for the second time in 30 years, the Owls will be playing within a bus ride of Philadelphia against a Pac-10 opponent.

Today in the nation's capital, Al Golden's 9-3 team will face 6-6 UCLA in the second EagleBank Bowl at RFK Stadium. In 1979, it was a 9-2 Wayne Hardin squad taking on 6-5 California in the second Garden State Bowl at Giants Stadium.

These Owls aren't favored. Back then they were also a slight underdog.

These days there are 34 bowls. In '79, it was 15.

"Bowls were never a thought," said Hardin, now 83 and feeling fine after undergoing several recent procedures to relieve blockages leading to his heart that required the insertion of three stents and a pacemaker. "I think probably the biggest thing all those kids will remember is our last [regular-season] game at Villanova. We were terrible [in a 42-10 win]. The Cal coaches came out and scouted us. They walked into that stadium, which seats 10,000, with that little press box, and it came out in the papers that [head coach Roger Theder] didn't think it was fair his team should even be playing us. He was wondering how we ever got into a bowl.

"Years later a buddy I grew up with in California called me and said he had a guy sitting next to him that I might want to say hello to. They were trying to do some business. A voice says, 'Hey, coach, how are you? Man, did you give us a lesson.' It was [Theder]."

The Owls took a 21-0 first-quarter lead. By the half it was a seven-point game. Cal got to within three with 13 minutes to go. But Temple would head back down the New Jersey Turnpike with a 28-17 victory. There were 55,493 in the stands on Dec. 15, 1979.

The Owls finished 17th in the final polls.

It was Cal's first bowl since the 1959 Rose, and Temple's first since the inaugural 1935 Sugar.

Or was it?

"We played in Mirage Bowl I [in 1977]," Hardin said. "Mirage Bowl II [the next year] was even bigger."

Perhaps so, but it wasn't recognized as official. The Owls lost to Grambling in Tokyo, 35-32. Then they returned and beat Boston College, 28-24.

Those were trips. Cal was different.

"We just went up and played the damned game and came home," said Hardin, who went 80-52-3 in 13 seasons on North Broad Street (1970-82). "The kids were sky high. They thought they had a chance. We hadn't thought about anything else.

"We had good years before that. That was just another year that was more successful than some of the others."

The only losses that year were to Pitt (10-9) at the Vet on Sept. 29 and at Penn State (22-7) on Nov. 17, a game the Owls led at halftime.

A month later, the Owls left a closing impression.

"Cal wanted to exchange films of every game," Hardin recalled. "Usually you just take the first one, one in the middle and the last one. So I said, 'Find out which coaches on their staff want them?' Turned out, it was the defensive coaches. OK. We spent night after night after night, digging and digging and digging. We came up with one or two things we had to do.

"We found out that if we pulled our guards up the middle, we'd end up with one of them going down the field untouched into the secondary. So did the back. Get the hell out of the way. There was no one to block. We had 21 points on the board before we even started. We probably would never have discovered that, had we not graded all the film. That's how things work. You just don't know. They did me a favor. We got into the defensive coach's head."

The Owls outrushed the Golden Bears, 300 yards to 23.

It helped them on the other side of the ball as well.

"It's unbelievable," Hardin went on. "The quarterback [Rich Campbell] was taught, which we knew, to read when he didn't see anything [to] throw blindly into the flat to the fullback. I mean, game after game. The fullback was catching the ball and making big yards. So we developed a two-man [pass] rush, which we wouldn't have done. We'd have one guy come up to meet the fullback, whichever way he went, 5 yards deep in the backfield. And eight guys would drop into coverage. So there's nothing to read, except a lot of jerseys.

"The first time they do it, they completed it. I told Vince Hauk, the defensive coach, 'We worked on this. If our kid can't get to the guy, put [somebody else] in there.' I had already told [linebacker] Steve Conjar that he was going to intercept one for a touchdown. The second time, he makes a tackle. The third time, the ball hits him in the hands and he drops it. He would've walked in.

"You always wanted to put your team in a position to go."

Hardin, who had only one losing season at Temple in his first 10, went 4-7 in 1980, 5-5 in '81 and 4-7 the next year. Then, he was succeeded by Bruce Arians. Hardin's 80 wins are a school record. Henry J. Miller (50-15-8 from 1925-32) is the distant runner-up. The five men who have led the program since Hardin are a combined 85-218.

But Hardin likes what he sees in Golden, who just completed his fourth season. Who doesn't?

"From what I've observed he's built a great house, from the ground up," Hardin said. "He has solid structure and discipline. He's getting better every day. He's got some talent, and he's well organized.

"I don't know what happened [in the interim]. They fiddled around too long. I was afraid they were going to drop the sport. What they have right now is worth investing in. So I think what he's doing is absolutely super. Anything I can do to help him, I'm for."

Maybe he could dissect some tapes and draw up a few plays.

Or perhaps scout the field. Why not? It worked once.

"We had the world's largest artificial [practice] surface at Temple," Hardin explained. "It always amazed me how they laid out the grain, to know which way it was going and so forth. They told me that it always goes away from the press box, no matter where you're at. I thought they were kidding.

"When we played Cal, it was a nasty day. Rain, ice, a little of this and some of that. We ran all our plays into the press box [side]. They ran theirs away, and were slipping on their butt. Sometimes it's a lot of little things. When their kicker came on the field he was wearing sweatpants. He was cold. I said, 'Guys, I hope he doesn't have to come in any more. He'll never make it.' All I know is, you either win or you lose. We dissected them. That's what I took from it."

After so much time, that's still enough. And he'll be watching on TV to see if these Owls can do the same.

"I'll be rooting for them like hell," Hardin said. "My whole thing at Temple was very pleasurable."

Even if 60 minutes remains the reference point. So maybe it's about time for a new reference point. *