Sometimes, things just turn out better than you might expect them to, even better than you could've dreamed.
Last February, when the St. Joseph's Hawks came to the Liacouras Center, the Temple student section planned a grand reception for them. Unfortunately, that reception was a funeral. Playing off of the Hawks' signature rallying cry "The Hawk Will Never Die," and a then eight-game winning streak over the Big 5 rivals, the Cherry Crusade organized a funeral for the Hawk.
The student section was adorned in black "R.I.P. The Hawk" t-shirts, and those in attendance were handed funeral programs stating "In Loving Celebration of the Saint Joseph's Hawk, 1956-2011." In addition, the students made rollout banners bearing the five stages of grief (personal favorite: "BARGAINING: PHIL MARTELLI'S SEVERANCE PACKAGE"), cardboard headstones with the scores of Temple's previous victories, and a casket with a Hawks jersey on it that students threw flowers at as it was carried down the aisle. Finally, at the end of the game (a ninth straight Temple victory), they added a twist on their traditional "I Believe" chant, modifying it to "I BELIEVE THE HAWK IS DEAD!"
Admittedly, the game was one of my proudest days as a Temple student. That game is also why Saturday's game was terrifying. When you do something as inherently insulting as throwing a funeral for your rival's mascot, the fear of retribution is always there. Not from their student section, mind you, but from their basketball team. "Bulletin board material" is always parroted as a motivator for athletes, and while some instances of such a thing are largely media-driven, kicking the Hawks in a down year could easily be seen as a shot across the bow worthy of having a little extra gas in the tank and any other cliche one can think of for wanting to beat the crap out of Temple.
Plus, on the court this year, the disparity isn't as great. The two teams entered Saturday separated by a game in the conference standings, and St Joe's was fresh off a 14-point win over conference leader Dayton, a team that had ended Temple's 25-game home winning streak just two weeks prior.
The beauty of college basketball is that on game day, fear is replaced by excitement. A rivalry game that is truly up in the air is an unparalleled atmosphere. On Saturday, the Liacouras Center delivered.
The second-largest crowd in the building's history gathered for the two rivals' first of two meetings this season. The Owls ran out to an early double-digit lead, fueled by 15 first half points by each of Temple's senior guards, Juan Fernandez and Ramone Moore, and never looked back. The second half saw Temple lead by as much as 28 points, as Temple's big men Michael Eric and Anthony Lee got into the act, as well as the Owls big-range shooter Khalif Wyatt.
At the end of the game, the students wanted to add the cherry on top to another convincing Temple victory, the Owls tenth straight in the rivalry. Amidst chants of "I believe the Hawk is dead" and "I believe that we have won" came another chant.
The Parliament, while also being the collective noun for a group of owls, is the name given to the end of the Temple bench. The group has become popular through their blog, and just generally being a likable group of guys who don't get to play that often that everybody just wants to root for. This year, the Parliament consists of returning members redshirt freshman Jimmy McDonnell and senior guard Jake Godino, as well as the new addition, true freshman Nick Pendergast. (The only graduated member is Dutch Gaitley, now a graduate assistant with the team.)
With a shade under two minutes left in the game, with the outcome well in hand, coach Fran Dunphy sent the entire Parliament into the game, much to the delight of the crowd. It was McDonnell's 6th appearance of the year and only the third for Godino and Pendergast. It was also the latter two's first appearance of the season in the Liacouras Center.
For two minutes, the three, along with freshman guard Will Cummings and sophomore Aaron Brown, just went out and had fun. They made the most of their opportunity to play, while the crowd had fun with them.
First, Godino hit a fade away 18-footer to put the Owls over 75 points, known affectionately at Temple as the taco barrier, because if there's one thing that will make a college student go nuts, it's free tacos. Then, seconds later, a streaking Cummings found an open Pendergast for a baseline dunk that blew the roof off of the building.
The greatness of this moment wasn't in the reaction of the crowd, though. It was the reaction of the Temple bench.
For every made Temple basket, you can safely expect to look at the Temple bench and see the Parliament standing up and supporting the team. In this case, on Pendergast's dunk, the entire bench, consisting of the starting lineup and key reserves, exploded. Every player was on their feet, jumping up and down in excitement, like little kids over what they had just seen.
Sometimes, in sports, people forget that the game is just as special to those playing it as those watching it. Tactics are criticized, shot selection is second-guessed, desire is analyzed, fun is forgotten, or worse, ignored. It's the little moments, moments like these, that remind us of how special the game can be for everyone involved.
Before all of this happened, when people first started chanting for the Parliament, I turned to my friend and said "Coach won't put them in. We have to play St. Joe's again this year." Once again, that fear existed, that we'd give St. Joe's the dreaded bulletin board material for our second matchup in three weeks on their home court, Hagan Arena.
Then, I stopped myself. "Aw, screw it." I followed up. We'll worry about that later. Things just have a way of working out for the best.
at TEMPLE 78, SAINT JOSEPH'S 60 01/28/2012
SAINT JOSEPH'S 13-9 (3-4) -- J. Naburgs 4-8 5-5 14; L. Galloway 3-9 0-0 7; R. Roberts 7-13 3-6 17; C. Aiken 4-9 0-0 8; H. Kanacevic 4-8 0-0 8; C. Jones 1-5 2-3 5; D. Quarles 1-2 1-3 3; C. Wilson 0-6 0-0 0; E. Maschmeyer 1-1 3-4 6; P. Ndao 1-2 0-0 2; T. Trevisan 0-0 2-2 2; R. Hess 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 23-56 11-18 60. TEMPLE 15-5 (4-2) -- R. Moore 8-13 2-3 21; K. Wyatt 1-5 7-7 10; R. Hollis-Jefferson 1-4 0-0 2; J. Fernandez 7-9 0-0 17; A. Lee 4-5 0-2 8; T. DiLeo 2-3 0-0 5; M. Eric 5-7 1-2 11; A. Brown 0-1 0-0 0; W. Cummings 0-0 0-0 0; J. Godino 1-2 0-2 2; J. McDonnell 0-0 0-0 0; N. Pendergast 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 30-50 10-16 78.
Three-point goals: SJU 3-14 (C. Jones 1-2; H. Kanacevic 0-1; C. Aiken 0-2; L. Galloway 1-6; E. Maschmeyer 1-1; P. Ndao 0-1; C. Wilson 0-1), TU 8-15 (R. Moore 3-5; T. DiLeo 1-2; J. Fernandez 3-3; K. Wyatt 1-3; J. Godino 0-1; A. Brown 0-1); Rebounds: SJU 30 (R. Roberts 10), TU 26 (R. Jefferson 7); Assists: SJU 10 (C. Jones 4), TU 18 (K. Wyatt 8); Total Fouls -- SJU 15, TU 21; Fouled Out: SJU-None; TU-None.