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Which, he says, is not to imply that the current Owls won't beat one of the nationally ranked teams on their schedule. "If this team hits oil, everything will come up roses," offers Hardin in an exquisitely mixed metaphor. "When that first whistle blows, it's always nothing-nothing on the scoreboard. Anything can happen."
Anything does happen to Temple. In a 1--11 season two years ago, the Owls dropped three games in overtime, one after an extra-point attempt to tie the score was wide left. "Our players haven't had much luck on the field," Bradshaw concedes. They haven't had much luck with fields, period. Temple didn't know where it would play its 2003 home opener until three weeks before kickoff. With the school's agreement to use Lincoln Financial Field still being made final, one of the alternative venues under consideration was decrepit Veterans Stadium, which was being phased out and would be imploded seven months later. "We would have considered playing at the Vet while it was being blown up," says Bradshaw. "If you're losing, you've got to promote something other than your team." Ultimately Temple was able to play (and lose to) Villanova at Lincoln Financial.
A hardy realist under no less pressure than any other Division I-A AD, Bradshaw says his contract is a "multiweek agreement." He was hired in 2002, 16 months after the Big East voted to kick out Temple, effective after the 2004 season, because of its dismal conference record (14--80 over 14 seasons) and an inability to draw an average of 25,000 fans for home games, a league requirement.
"Basically," Bradshaw says, "Owls football is not a habit in Philadelphia." In the City of Brotherly Love, gridiron talk is 100% T.O. and 0% TU. Over the past 10 seasons average attendance at this urban commuter school has broken 20,000 only twice; it was 16,456 a year ago.
Temple's original 2005 schedule, which had prominent names such as Maryland, Miami ( Fla.), North Carolina State and Navy traveling to Philadelphia, was set up to change that. Then "there was a series of unfortunate events," says Bradshaw, sounding like Lemony Snicket. "Normally you try to land four games you have a reasonable chance of winning, four you probably can't win against attractive opponents and three that could go either way. But this year the process was as convoluted and frenetic as a game of Parcheesi."
The shuffling began last December, when Navy, in search of an extra home date, offered to extend its series with the Owls by two years in exchange for moving their Nov. 19 meeting to Annapolis. With seven home games, Bradshaw was happy to oblige. A month later the ACC changed the dates of four of Temple's games against its schools ( Maryland, Miami, N.C. State and Virginia).
In May, when Temple was accepted into the MAC, things got tricky. "We already had three games set with colleges in the conference," Bradshaw says of home dates with Toledo and Miami ( Ohio), plus a road game at Bowling Green. "To be eligible for [one of the MAC's two bowl tie-ins], we needed one more." Never mind that Temple hasn't been invited to a bowl since 1979.
The Owls found a willing partner in Western Michigan, but there was one problem: With 11 games already on their schedule, the Broncos couldn't add Temple without dropping an opponent. Western Michigan was scheduled to visit Wisconsin on Sept. 10; Bradshaw offered to take over that commitment in exchange for the Broncos' coming to Philly on Sept. 24. "It's the only team we may be favored to beat," Bradshaw says of Western Michigan, which was 1--10 in '04. He takes a deep breath. "Maybe."
Now, however, Temple had the conflict: The Owls already had home games on Sept. 10 (against N.C. State) and Sept. 24 (against Middle Tennessee State). So Bradshaw and MAC commissioner Rick Chryst negotiated an agreement to drop the Wolfpack and the Blue Raiders from Temple's schedule and have them play each other.
His work done, Bradshaw is preparing to watch his team take its lumps. He hopes a more favorable schedule--which won't happen until the Owls play a full MAC slate in 2007--and more aggressive recruiting will change Temple's fortunes. "We're about three years from where five wins is not a good season," he predicts. In case you were wondering, the Owls last amassed five wins during the first Bush Administration. The George H.W. Bush Administration.