On the afternoon of Oct. 31, 2015, I saw an event I never expected to see. Then, a few hours later, I saw a second event that I actually thought impossible.
What are the odds of seeing events as rare as a solar eclipse over the United States twice on the same day? Not Powerball-long, but long.
That Saturday, I was at wonderful Keeneland Race Course to cover the final race of the horse that had ended that seemingly endless 37-year Triple Crown drought. There was nothing surprising about American Pharoah's dominating victory in the Breeders' Cup Classic, but, when 2015 began, I hardly imagined seeing a horse sweep the Triple Crown and the Classic, racing's newly named Grand Slam, a feat that had never been attempted, much less accomplished.
As darkness fell over Lexington, Ky. and I made my way to my rental car, I knew I had witnessed greatness, confirmed by a speed figure attained only by horse racing superstars. It was the perfect ending to an unforgettable racing year that took me from Churchill Downs, to Pimlico, Belmont Park, Monmouth Park, Saratoga Race Course, and finally to Keeneland to see American Pharoah overwhelm the accepted wisdom that what was done could not be done.
I was off to a nearby restaurant to meet some friends. When I walked through the bar, I saw a football game on television. It was the Temple Owls at the Linc on national television on a Saturday night. They were playing Notre Dame in a sold-out stadium. They were 7-0, with November just hours away. Who saw this coming after they went 15 years without a winning season before Al Golden's hiring in 2006?
I kept getting up from dinner to check out the score. Then, the Owls were driving late for what would become the go-ahead score. Matt Rhule was coaching fearlessly, and his team was playing the exact same way. Temple was a few minutes away from beating Notre Dame and getting to 8-0.
As Notre Dame got the ball back, the thought flashed in my mind that Temple should walk off the field, declare victory, and immediately drop football. It could never get better than this moment.
Alas, they kept playing. The Irish scored late and won, 24-20. Still, it was an incredible scene, even from Kentucky.
When the Owls finished that season by losing their last two games and started last season by losing to Army and looking bad doing it, I was thinking I was right — they really should have given up the sport.
Then, something almost as amazing happened. The Owls, after a 3-3 start in 2016, won seven straight. Incredibly, they covered the spread over 11 straight games. Down the stretch, they allowed just 33 points, including two shutouts, over five games and went to Navy, perhaps the hottest team in the country, and crushed the Midshipmen in the American Athletic Association championship game. This was not just Temple winning football games; this was Temple dominating football games. And there was nothing accidental about it. These players were just that good, and they were coached just that well.
The Owls were fun to watch. They were smooth in their execution, precise in their play-calling, and dominating on defense. It was some formula.
Rhule then left for Baylor and the Owls played poorly in their bowl-game loss to Wake Forest. Still, consecutive 10-4 seasons at Temple are much more impressive than say, consecutive, 14-0 seasons at Alabama.
It is sustainable? We are about to find out.
Enter new coach Geoff Collins. And his first game just happens to be Saturday — at Notre Dame.
The Irish, 4-8 last year, are a more than two-touchdown favorite. I am in no position to say if the oddsmakers have the right number, but remember that they are not dissing Temple. They are trying to predict what the public will do and the number has been heading north, a testament to the popularity of Notre Dame and the uncertainty about the identity or talent of the Temple quarterback.