'The Significance of Temple's Bowl Berth' or 'The Existential Baggage Inherent in Shipping the Band to Albuquerque, New Mexico'

'The Significance of Temple's Bowl Berth' or 'The Existential Baggage Inherent in Shipping the Band to Albuquerque, New Mexico'

The Temple Owls did not meet their goal of winning the 2011 MAC Championship. This is a stand-alone point that requires no added explanation and possesses no reasonable refutation.

From the beginning of training camp all the way through to their official elimination at the hands of not one, but two different place kickers—neither of whom, by the way, were even playing Temple at the time—coach Steve Addazio and every single member of his program focused only on the conference title game in Detroit. It was the number one bullet point in every statement regarding the team's motivation, and the opening answer to every question about how Temple would ultimately measure itself.

But sadly for the coach, the team, and, ultimately, their perpetually disillusioned and cynical fans, the dream ended. The Owls, who fought all year for a for an accomplishment no longer in reach, were forced to pick themselves up and switch gears in an attempt to qualify for a bowl game. A month and a half later, they find themselves in (of all places) Albuquerque, New Mexico and without any discernible sense of failure. It's not "sort of" like all the MAC title talk never happened; in fact, it's exactly like it never happened.

Maybe some of that sentiment can be blamed on a convenient amnesia—that the original goal was merely forgotten in this new wave of still largely uncharted excitement—but even the most ardent defenders of Temple's "ever-rising" football program can't argue that the 2011 Owls didn't strive for something and ultimately fail.

Though, on the eve of the team's second bowl game in the last three years, it just doesn't really seem like that particular failure matters anymore. And there's a good reason why (even if it is a little disingenuous).

The beauty of qualifying for this bowl game is that both the university and its supporters have the potential to look back on this season and remember when the Owls made history. Bowl bids, especially in the modern era (when you can qualify even with a losing record), may not mean a lot to other institutions, but they certainly do to Temple. Such an appreciation for what others take for granted is no doubt the product of a history graced with such an opportunity a mere three times over the last thirty-two seasons.

When the Owls broke through with their bid to the 2009 EagleBank Bowl, securing their first postseason appearance in exactly three decades, it was a genuinely meaningful moment for a small, but disproportionately tortured fan base. No, they didn't beat UCLA on that impossibly cold night at RFK, but the very idea that the Temple was even in the game legitimately meant something. Whether students, fans and alums stayed at home to survey the game from indoors, or, as was a popular option for those in attendance, slugged pull after pull of whiskey in the hopes of keeping warm for even a few fleeting moments within the stadium's confines, there is a very good chance that those who watched remember exactly where and how they did so when Temple played in its first bowl game since 1979.

Saturday's meeting with the Wyoming Cowboys carries with it that same kind of gravity. Winning the Gildan New Mexico may not sound like much, but it doesn't really need to either. A Temple win ensures that 2011 will be remembered as the year the Owls ended their drought. Sure, long-term concerns will later set in regarding the future of certain players and the overall direction of the program, but whether or not they won the MAC title will prove wholly irrelevant in comparison to the sheer relief of that moment when Temple finally "did it."

That said, with that kind of emotion of the line, Saturday also carries with it the potential for yet another let down at the hands of the Temple Owls. This is a subject we've covered on this site in the past and one that could end the 2011 season on a profoundly sour note. A Wyoming upset would send Temple back to North Broad with neither a MAC title nor a bowl victory, but rather a familiar slap in the face, a reminder of what happens when Owls fans regretfully anticipate that which never comes.

Getting to the bowl game is still a welcome change, but its also part of the very reasonable expectations the team set for itself at the outset of this year's campaign. While 2009 was a celebration of simply "being there," 2011 needs to be a celebration of both being there and leaving there with a win. Just as it's no longer satisfying being "competitive," merely earning a bid isn't enough. It's once again time for the Owls to take their next step as an up-and-coming program, a step they've had trouble negotiating in any number of opportunities the past three seasons.

With all that in mind, if this to be a totally honest account of the significance of this single game, it's largely inarguable that all the following facts are, well, factual. 8-4 is a fine record for any football team in any conference. The Temple Owls are not the program they once were. One loss in a practically insignificant bowl game means as little as a win on that same stage. The majority of these games, after all, are indeed a sham, a fabrication of an important event which exists solely to make money absent any sense of true achievement. Lost in grand scheme of more important happenings across the landscape of college football, games like the Gildan New Mexico Bowl mean absolutely nothing.

That is, unless you're Temple. For Temple, this game has the power to literally make or break your entire season. For Temple, this game is of the utmost significance in your long-time search for respect and credibility. For Temple, a program for decades lost in the grand scheme of more important happenings across the landscape of college football, games like the Gildan New Mexico Bowl mean everything.

In long-awaited NBA debut, Joel Embiid treats Sixers fans to a show

In long-awaited NBA debut, Joel Embiid treats Sixers fans to a show

The crowd erupted as Joel Embiid stepped to the free throw line. They chanted a phrase Embiid has been repeating for the past two years, a fitting welcome to his NBA debut.

“That was great,” Embiid said after the Sixers' 103-97 loss to the Thunder on Wednesday (see Instant Replay). “That’s my motto, 'Trust the process.'”

After two years of rehabbing foot injuries, Embiid has his first regular season game behind him. Embiid scored a team-high 20 points, shooting 6 for 16 from the field, 1 for 3 from long range and 7 for 8 from the line. He also recorded seven rebounds, two blocks, four turnovers and four fouls in over 22 minutes. 

“The beginning I was nervous, but once you make that first shot it just goes away,” he said. “The fans were so into the game that it was fun. I love having fun.”

Brett Brown enjoyed watching Embiid on the court as much as he liked being on it. Brown has seen the 7-foot-2 center grow and develop during his rehab. Finally, he was able to utilize his versatile skills in a real game setting.

“I can't say this loud enough,” Brown said. “For the city to be rewarded with a player that we all understand has unique gifts, special gifts, for him to go through all the things he has been through and play like he did on opening night, the city deserves it. Most importantly, he deserves it.”

Now that Embiid has been cleared to play, he would like to do so for longer periods of time. He began the preseason at 12 and was increased to 20 in segmented spurts for opening night. Even though he exceeded that limit by over two minutes, Embiid is itching to be cleared to play more extensively. 

“It sucks,” Embiid said. “I feel like I could have played more but you know you’ve got to trust the process, got to trust those guys. If I have my minute restriction at 20 minutes, I guess I’m going to go with that. But obviously I want to play more and more and I think it can help the team better. But they have a plan for me and I’ve got to follow it.”

Embiid has maintained he wants to be a clutch player. Brown looked to him toward the end of the game as the Thunder pulled ahead late in the final quarter. He drained a fade away jumper to tie the game at 97 apiece with 50.7 to go. 

Later trailing by four with 10 seconds left, the Sixers went to Embiid. While he was whistled for an offensive foul, Brown was glad to have a go-to unlike in years past. 

“You have a target,” Brown said. “We tried to get the ball to him a lot. … By and large, to have somebody like Joel, where the mystery is solved like, 'What do you do?' You get him the ball as much as you can.”

The more the Sixers found Embiid, the more the Thunder had to try to defend him. Thunder head coach Billy Donovan knew what his team was going up against. He watched Embiid as a high schooler and coached against him during his tenure at Florida. 

“He’s gifted and skilled,” Donovan said. “It was probably our guy’s first time seeing him … I knew the talent, the gifts. The one thing with him is, he’s got great footwork. He’s hard to guard because he’s herky-jerky. He moves. He’s got a lot of (Hakeem) Olajuawon to him.”

Opening night had been two years in the making. Even though the Sixers didn't win, the significance of the evening didn't disappoint. 

"I thought this moment was going to be special," Embiid said, "and it was just great."

Best of NBA: Davis' 50 points not enough in Pelicans' loss to Nuggets

Best of NBA: Davis' 50 points not enough in Pelicans' loss to Nuggets

NEW ORLEANS -- Jusuf Nurkic scored 23 points, Will Barton added 22, and the Denver Nuggets survived a dominant performance by Anthony Davis to defeat the New Orleans Pelicans 107-102 in both teams' regular season opener Wednesday night.

Davis had 50 points, 16 rebounds, seven steals, five assists and four blocks. His production helped New Orleans trim a deficit as large as 14 late in the second quarter down to two points in the waning minutes. He simply didn't have enough help.

The rest of the Pelicans combined to shoot 21 of 58. Tim Frazier scored 15 for the Pelicans. E'Twaun Moore added 10 points, but missed a 3-point attempt that could have tied it with 24 seconds left.

Danilo Gallinari scored 15 for Denver and Wilson Chandler added 12 points (see full recap).

Celtics top Nets in Horford's home debut
BOSTON -- Isaiah Thomas had 25 points and nine assists, Jae Crowder added 21 points and Al Horford pitched in 11 in his Boston debut on Wednesday night as the Celtics survived a late scare to beat the Brooklyn Nets 122-117 in their season opener.

Bojan Bogdanovic scored 21 for Brooklyn, including a 3-pointer to make it 120-117 with 47 seconds left after the Nets erased most of a 23-point deficit against the Boston bench. But he missed one with a chance to tie it after Joe Harris intercepted Thomas' cross-court pass, and the Celtics were able to hold on.

Justin Hamilton came off the bench to score 19 points and grab 10 rebounds for the Nets in coach Kenny Atkinson's debut (see full recap).

Turner's opening act leads Pacers past Mavs in OT
INDIANAPOLIS -- Myles Turner scored 30 points, tied his career high with 16 rebounds and made a 3-pointer with 1:18 left in overtime to start an 8-0 run that allowed the Indiana Pacers to close out a 130-121 victory Wednesday night over the Dallas Mavericks.

Three-time All-Star Paul George added 25 points, including another 3 with 55 seconds left to seal Indiana's fifth season-opening win in six years.

Deron Williams scored 25 points, while J.J. Barea and Dirk Nowitzki each added 22 as the Mavs lost their fifth straight in the series. They still haven't won in Indianapolis since February 2014.

Dallas didn't tie the score or take a lead until the fourth quarter, yet still forced overtime when Harrison Barnes' open 3-pointer made it 115-all with 2.3 seconds left.

Turner could have won it with a long buzzer-beating 3, but it bounced off the back of the rim (see full recap).