- Andrea Adelson, ESPN Staff Writer
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Temple athletic director Bill Bradshaw shared the perfect anecdote when his Owls gained re-admittance into the Big East, the ultimate reward for the amazing rebirth of the football program.
It was 6:30 a.m. last Wednesday, the day Big East presidents would vote Temple in or out. Bradshaw was driving down the Schuylkill Expressway, east toward Temple.
"The sun is shinning and there is not a cloud in the sky and I turn my radio on, and it's Ruby and The Romantics from 1963, and the song is 'Our day will come,' and I said, 'This is going to be a special day,'" Bradshaw recalled during the introductory news conference last week.
The hard work that went into rejuvenating a laughingstock of a football program made March 7, 2012, a day that will always have a special place in Temple history. It was eight years ago that Temple played its last game in the Big East, following years and years of misery. Temple managed to win 14 league games in 14 years, never once finishing with a better overall record than 4-7.
There seemed to be a lack of commitment to football at the time, and that malaise translated on the field.
"It was dreadful several years ago," said Lewis Katz, a member of the Temple Board of Trustees and chairman of the athletic committee. "You know, we didn't deserve, truthfully, to be in the football competition in those years. But it's hard to get kicked out. And now, people don't realize it ... Penn State won in the last (two minutes last year). We're going to kick Notre Dame's butt next year. We have a football program. We have a real football program."
A real football program that has reeled off three straight winning seasons, including bowl appearances in 2009 and 2011. Of the eight incoming Big East members, only Boise State and Houston have won more total games than Temple from 2009-11. During that span, Temple has:
won its first bowl game since 1979, beating Wyoming in the New Mexico Bowl last season.
beaten Maryland, UConn and Navy.
produced a first-round pick in 2011 (Muhammad Wilkerson) for the first time in 25 years.
had six players invited to the NFL combine in the past two years, including Bernard Pierce, Evan Rodriguez and Tahir Whitehead last month.
Former coach Al Golden had much to do with the transformation, instilling a disciplined, no-nonsense approach that got the Owls to where they are today -- worthy of inclusion back in the Big East. When Golden left, the Owls turned to Florida offensive coordinator Steve Addazio, who guided Temple to a 9-4 record in his first year.
Interest is certainly up in Temple football, and that obviously comes with fielding a winner. In its final year of Big East play in 2004, Temple averaged 16,456 fans and ranked third-worst in the nation when it came to filling its stadium to capacity (24.7 percent). Last season, Temple averaged 28,060 fans and filled Lincoln Financial Field to 40.9 percent capacity.
That is obviously a huge increase, but it is also worth noting that as recently as 2008, Temple averaged 15,582 fans. That was its most recent losing season. In the past three years, Temple has an average attendance of 21,984. That would place the Owls last among the eight schools set to play in 2012.
Still, progress has been made. Now Temple has to keep building, while playing in a more difficult conference. The signs of support are there. Temple has undergone a $10 million expansion and renovation of its football facilities; fundraising is up; and increased dollars from a future Big East television deal will bolster the budget as well.
"I just want to make this point, where we are right now, we're not trying to fumble around and see if we can find our way into major college football," Addazio said. "This is a plan that's been going on for quite some time. It's an exciting time for Temple. It's an exciting time for the Big East. We're so happy to be a part of this Big East family. It's a special, special day. It's a landmark day. And we'll make you proud, I promise you that."