By Bill Campbell
Until Todd Herremans and Michael Vick banged helmets on Sunday night in Atlanta, it looked like college football around here.
It’s been a long time since college football produced the game of the weekend in Philadelphia but, with the Eagles playing at a time reserved for the late show in Atlanta on Sunday night, it looked like that kind of a weekend. Temple and Penn State filled the breach and their respective supporters responded. Prior to the game, Temple fans thought they might come close to outnumbering Penn State supporters at Lincoln Financial Field. They didn’t really. There was, indeed, more than a sprinkle of cherry and white throughout the crowd and they did their team proud. Temple had not beaten Penn State since 1941 – before Pearl Harbor. And in the last 70 years it has seldom, if ever, led during a game. But they led in this one drawing first blood to lead 7-0 well into the second period. Their good start in this game justified Joe Paterno’s pre-game observation that this was the best Temple football team he had ever seen. And Joe has been around long enough to have seen quite a few. Again in this game, Penn State’s third of the season, Paterno confined his on-field presence to pre-game activities. Once the game began, the 84-year-old Nittany Lion head coach retired to a press box location. Usually the windows are opened in the press box and Paterno was a visible participant for all to see. But the first two games were played at Penn State where Paterno was almost the landlord. And there were people around who knew how to open the windows. No one had that knowledge at Lincoln Financial Field and Joe-Pa, though unseen by others, was all-seeing himself. We also were informed that the first 10,000 fans to enter the stadium were Temple fans, this being a bit of a trip for the Nittany Lion supporters. But overall Penn State had to come from behind to win the game 14-10 – and also the crowd count. The overall attendance was 57,323, the largest Temple student crowd in Temple football history.
Speaking of college sports, as we do occasionally, it is in a state of great upheaval these days. Syracuse and Pittsburgh, which have been in the Big East forever, it seems, are leaving to go to the Atlantic Coast Conference, putting the ACC in nine contiguous states from Massachusetts to Florida. Their reasons for making the move are extended exposure and conference stability. Whatever the reasons, they’re shaking up a lot of people and redrawing what seems to be somewhat different maps for college sports all across the nation. Just looking at the areas closest to us, the Big East can survive as a basketball conference with DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John’s, Seton Hall and Villanova. But minus Pitt and Syracuse, the league counts only six major football-playing members: Cincinnati, Connecticut, Louisville, Rutgers, South Florida and West Virginia along with 2012 incoming addition, Texas Christian. Syracuse was a founding member of the Big East in 1979 and Pitt joined in 1982 – and they will be missed. Some administrators across the land understand the various moves; others are not and some are quite critical. Of course, there always are rumors about Notre Dame, which is a Big East member in basketball and lower profile sports but has retained its independence in football. In the judgment of many, this really is the tip of the iceberg in conference membership and shifting. And more changes could be forthcoming.
The Eagles did manage to play on Sunday night if at a later time. You might remember that their first round pick in the college draft was a guard named Danny Watkins. He failed to make the starting line-up for the opener last week in St. Louis. The Eagles managed to pluck Indianapolis cast-off, Kyle DeVan, to play that position only a week before the game – unusual to say the least. But these are not usual times. This season produced lock-out problems wherein any player who failed to accept post-lockout, first contract offers was going to miss crucial times in the initial installation of a team’s system. If one had endured the usual practices and OTA’s, customary training camp, it wouldn’t have mattered. But in this lock-out era it was most important to be there. Even second round safety, Jaiqauwn Jarrett, was mentally overwhelmed and so was third round pick, Curtis Marsh. And they both had reported to the team on time. Late arrivals such as Watkins placed more responsibility on player agents. Watkins feels he could have started last week if he had reported earlier, that he missed the time usually devoted to fundamental teaching. His agent is Joe Panos, a former Eagle player, who wanted all of Watkins’ four-year contract guaranteed. The Eagles would guarantee only three of the four years and Watkins and his agent wouldn’t budge. The Eagles, along with most of the teams drafting in the bottom third of the first round, were following an agreed-upon policy here. Agent Panos reacted to it, saying “Tough decision. You have to separate the business part from the football part and you always want the best for the kid.” Twenty-one of the thirty-two first round picks reported late including six of the seven offensive linemen taken in the first round. But three of those seven managed to start in last week’s opening games. The decision had little or no significance on the games but it was tough on Watkins personally who said, “I missed the bread and butter days. It was critical. I needed to be here.”
There was a golf accomplishment in Alabama that deserves more than passing attention. Sixteen-year-old Lexi Thompson became the youngest player to win an LPGA golf event when she won the Navastar LPGA Classic with a 17 under par 271. And she won comfortably, by five shots. She broke the age record for winning a multiple round tournament held by Paula Creamer, who won in 2005 when she was 18. After her victory last week, Paula Creamer approached Thompson on the green and said to her, “If anyone was going to change the record, I’m happy that it was you.” Thompson said that Ms. Creamer’s comment meant a lot.