Monday, January 28, 2013

The Greatest Super Bowl Story Never Told

"If we win the Super Bowl, I want to see TEMPLE back on the helmets, coach."

Jim Harbaugh's Temple connection:
1) Applied for Temple job in 2005
2) Finished behind Paul Palmer in '86 Heisman balloting
3) Dad's team was awarded a forfeit over TU in same year
4) Faces Bernard Pierce on Sunday
If you pick up a newspaper this week, any paper in any town, you'll  have to thumb through several pages of  Super Bowl coverage.
Pick a day, any day, and you'll probably find out several times that this is the first Super Bowl ever that brothers have been opposing head coaches and they'll probably find seven ways until Sunday to write the same story.
Yada, yada.
That'll be the most over-told Super Bowl story of the week.
The greatest Super Bowl Story Never Told is The Temple Connection. You won't read about that anywhere but here.
On one side, you have Jim Harbaugh, the 49ers' coach, who once applied for the open head coaching job at Temple and called it a "great job."
Harbaugh made to to Temple's campus, went through an interview and was in the top three for the job that went to Al Golden, now the University of Miami head coach. (Brian White, a Syracuse assistant, was another finalist then.)
That wasn't Jim's only connection to Temple, though.
Harbaugh, then a Michigan quarterback, finished third in the Heisman Trophy balloting in 1986.
Ahead of him was a running back from Temple: Paul Palmer. A guy named Vinny Testaverde, also from Miami, won it.
In that same season, Harbaugh's father, Jack, the head coach at Western Michigan, was spanked, 49-17, by Bruce Arians' Temple team, only to be awarded a victory when Temple voluntarily forfeited the game.
So Harbaugh's deja vu with Temple involved finishing in the top three of something 25 years apart and a guy from Miami figuring in the top three.
On the other side of this story is a Baltimore rookie running back named Bernard Pierce.
It's no secret to any visitor of this website that Pierce was and remains my favorite Temple player of the post-Hardin/Arians' Era.
Pierce shows future TU RB Bryant Rhule how to do it.

After writing the "Who's Paul Palmer?" story that appeared on this website, Bernard's mother, Tammy, sought me out in the Lincoln Financial Field concourse to thank me for all the nice words I've written about her son. She didn't have to do that, but I appreciated the fact that she and Bernard noticed.
To be sure, Henry Burris was an outstanding quarterback and so was Adam DiMichele, but Pierce was the guy who brought back "winning" and Temple in the same sentence, so he edges both of those guys out. (Although DiMichele was screwed out of a winning season by some bad coaching in both the Navy and Buffalo games his senior year.)
There was a direct correlation to Pierce's playing and the Owls winning.
When Pierce was out in the MAC East championship game with Ohio in 2009, the Owls lost, 35-17.
With Pierce playing in the first half of the Eagle Bank Bowl, the Owls had a 21-10 lead. Without him in the second half, the Owls lost, 30-21.

Since 1975, 12 Temple football players had made 19 appearances in 15 Super Bowls with 14 winning championship rings. Pierce, a third round pick of the Ravens, is just the sixth Temple player to advance to the Super Bowl during his first season. The last Temple player to get to the Super Bowl was linebacker Rian Wallace (2002–04) who won a ring with the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XL.
With Pierce playing in the first half of the Penn State game (2010), the Owls had a 15-13 lead. Without him in the second half, they lost, 22-15.
Had Pierce played 60 minutes in all three games, I think the Owls would have won two and possibly taken Ohio down to the wire in the other.
Penn State might be Linebacker U, but Temple can make a strong case for being "Super Bowl U" because, since 1975, 12 Temple players have made 19 appearances in "The Big Game" and the 12 have a grand total of 14 rings. Dan Klecko, the 2002 Big East Defensive Player of the Year, has won with two teams (Patriots and Colts).
For the record, I think Temple made the right move in hiring Golden, who had East Coast recruiting connections and the kind of temperament required to right a sinking football and academic ship. Harbaugh, while a brilliant coach, probably did not have the patience to clean up the mess that Golden found left by Bobby Wallace.
Had Pierce played with Harbaugh instead of against him, who knows what would have happened?
That's a story that will never be told but might have needed to be.

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