The third annual Mayor's Cup between the Temple Owls and Villanova Wildcats kicks off this evening at 7 p.m. from inside Lincoln Financial Field (ESPN 3/1210 AM).
Through two seasons, the series is split 1-1, with both contests delivering high drama and plenty of late-game heroics. With the play so evenly matched in the first two seasons, the Mayor's Cup has been quite often, and frankly unfairly, characterized as something of a lose-lose for Temple.
Stop us if you've heard this before.
Should the Temple Owls prove successful in beating the Villanova Wildcats, they stand to generate little but the following dismissal from those already skeptical of the program, "You beat a team you're supposed to be better than—congratulations." On the flip side, should the Owls lose a heartbreaker to a I-AA program, as they did following the game's first playing in 2009, Temple supporters are likely to hear more of that same, pithy remark they've been forced to endure for so long: "Same ol' Temple."
So, rather than retreading that "same ol' argument" (again), here's a look at why the Mayor's Cup is actually a boon for both Temple and the city.
First, this game captures a greater level of local media attention than either squad would ordinarily receive on their own against a different opponent. Specifically, it sparks an interest for two programs stuck in a region more generally concerned with the exploits of an institution who plays its home games roughly three-and-a-half hours away.
Though college football will more than likely never reach the level of college basketball in Philadelphia, there's no reason for it to be shut out altogether, and this game helps to pave those necessary in-roads in securing public appeal. Really, Temple and Villanova have taken the Big 5 blueprint and run with it, proving that local rivalries do matter and can generate interest in sports other than basketball.
As Temple has struggled to match the opening night attendance of the Mayor's Cup throughout their last two seasons, Villanova continues to question whether or not they can generate a large enough fan base to satisfy the Big East. Still, there's no doubt the two can draw in tandem.
If last year's figure of more than 32,000 in the seats is any indication, the game will more than likely prove—if we exclude the 9/17 Penn State game—Temple's largest gate of the year for a third straight season. While some may object to it from a strict football perspective (see the "lose-lose" sentiment above), it's hard to argue against the financial rewards motivating both schools.
Granted, attendance did receive a bump in 2010—up approximately 5,000 from the year before—when the university offered a discount to any fans who already held tickets to the Phillies game two hours later. Still, with more than 45,000 sports fans not at CBP tonight, this year's game could do even better than last's in attracting fans to the stadium.
And if you're still hung up on that whole "Temple is a no-win position" myth, then consider the following. The Temple Owls lost the 2009 Mayor's Cup and went on to play in their first bowl game in thirty years. After winning their match up versus 'Nova in 2010, the Owls were left out in the cold as one of only two eligible teams not to play in a year end bowl.
Here's the takeaway, the Mayor's Cup will not make or break Temple's season. The Owls are not in some inescapable hell hole of a season opener. And if you remain so jaded as to continue to bury the program as that "same ol' Temple," then a win or loss in this game isn't likely to sway your opinion anyway and you can feel free to continue enjoying your outdated and unnecessary cynicism.
The Temple Owls are an improved football team. The Villanova Wildcats have been one of the best FCS teams in the country the past few years and have aspirations of moving to the Big East.
This is a good game. This is a good rivalry. Stop worrying for two seconds about "what the Mayor's Cup really means," and start having some fun with it. You might even surprise yourself and have a good time watching college football in Philadelphia. Don't feel guilty. It'll be a good thing.
As Temple head coach Steve Addazio has repeated so often over the last week, geographic rivalries are what make college sports so special, and we'd be remiss to overlook something that meaningful in our own backyard.
Now, assuming we failed to get you interested, you will find below a video of coach Addazio from his Mayor's Cup press conference last week. If you can watch that man speak, and not become yourself excited, or at least develop an appreciation for the room in which he's standing (see the vid), then it's not altogether impossible you're in a coma. But before you hear from coach, here are some quick updates on the Temple Owls heading into this evening's game.
--Coach Steve Addazio announced on Monday that the decision as to who will start at quarterback—either Mike Girardi or Chris Coyer—will be announced immediately prior to game time. As of Monday afternoon, Gerardi was listed No. 1 on the depth chart.
--Temple University quarterback Chester Stewart and defensive back Kee-ayre Griffin have been suspended for week 1 after violating team rules. The specific nature of the infractions has not been released.
--Junior running back Ahkeem Smith will be starting Thursday night, but not where you'd expect. Smith, who was slated to struggle for touches behind runners Bernard Pierce and Matt Brown, has been moved to the WILL linebacker position and is, according to the Inqy's Keith Pompey, really enjoying his new role with the team.
--Finally, Temple athletic director Bill Bradshaw announced today that the university has signed a multi-year agreement with 1210 AM WPHT for the broadcasting rights to Owls football and basketball games. Harry Donahue will be staying on for his 17th season as the play-by-play voice of both teams. Well alriiight.
--And now, Steve Addazio: