Before Penn State’s season opener against Temple, The Daily Collegian sat down with Penn State football historian and author Lou Prato to talk football history between the Nittany Lions and the Owls. Prato, the former director of the Penn State All-Sport Museum, has just finished his most recent book, “100 Things Penn State Fans Need to Know & Do Before They Die.” Ahead of Saturday’s matchup, Prato gave us a list of the greatest and most interesting matchups between the two teams. Below are selected games with information and insight provided by Prato and his Penn State Football Encyclopedia. These games highlight the series between the Lions and the Owls and also carry historical significance.
1931 — Temple 12, Penn State 0
This was the first meeting between the two teams. In Prato’s words, the Lions had entered a “purity period,” in which they did not offer scholarships and did not scout players. For that reason, the Lions looked for new opponents.
“In downgrading the schedule, they picked up Temple,” Prato said.
Prato also called it the worst season in Penn State history because of that purity period, and it showed again in 1932 when the Lions lost to the Owls 13-12.
The series was then resumed in 1940, when Penn State had found a way around the purity period. Prato said by giving players jobs and putting them in fraternities, Penn State managed to provide some financial aid to the athletes. The Lions won the 1941 matchup 18-0, then lost to the Owls 14-0 in 1941, the last Penn State loss in the series so far. That leads to the next meeting in 1943.
1943 — Penn State 13, Temple 0
Prato said he picked this game as his favorite. Not because of the score, but because of the circumstances the game was played under. The 1942 game had been cancelled because WWII was in full swing. The military had too many men, so they were sending them to colleges before they were shipped out. That meant that players were sometimes playing college football for one team one week, then three weeks later returning to that school as an opposing player.
The game itself was in Prato’s words, “the most unusual.”
Half an hour before game time, the referees from Pittsburgh had not shown up, so Ike Gilbert, one of the men in charge of the Penn State Athletic Department, went on a search for other refs.
Prato said Gilbert tried to locate Doggie Alexander — then the owner of the Rathskeller Tavern — to be the field judge. Gilbert also recruited Stan Baumgartner of the Philadelphia Inquirer and local high school football coach Ted Kemmerer as part of the officiating crew.
With Alexander nowhere to be found, the game started with the makeshift crew. Then, right before the end of the first period, the real refs showed up. On that topic, a story printed in The Daily Collegian read: “While enroute to the game from Pittsburgh, [the refs] overturned their automobile three times near Cresson, and were forced to rent a private car to speed them to their job.”
Penn State eventually won the game, and Prato said Alexander was nowhere to be seen that day.
1947 — Penn State 7, Temple 0
Prato said the Lions were favored by five touchdowns and squeaked by, 7-0. The squad was full of WWII veterans, and, in Prato’s words, was one of the best teams in Penn State’s history. The team went 9-0-1, but finished No. 4 in the polls, only because the three teams ahead of it — Notre Dame, Michigan and SMU — were undefeated.
1950 — Penn State 7, Temple 7
This was the last time the Lions did not defeat the Owls. Penn State had exited the “purity period” in 1949, meaning players had scholarships and financial aid. Prato said the team was also playing with the new Wing-T offense under Rip Engle, who had taken over as head coach that year.
1975 — Penn State 26, Temple 25
Prato called the 1975 and ’76 games two of the closest in the series. He said the game was moved up a week at Franklin Field to accommodate Philadelphia’s plans for its Bicentennial celebrations. Other than the close score, Prato pointed out some significant plays. With the Lions down 10-3, Rich Mauti — father of former Penn State linebacker Michael Mauti — took a kickoff return 100 yards for a touchdown. Then, late in the game, with the Lions trailing 23-18, a 66-yard punt return from Woody Petchel put the Lions on the Temple 3-yard line. After, a quick rushing touchdown gave the Lions a late win.
1976 — Penn State 31, Temple 30
In a second straight neutral-site game, this time at Veterans Stadium, the game came down to a last-second effort from Temple. The Owls drove down field with two minutes left and looked stuck on the goal line with almost no time left and the clock running. Then, the officials called a timeout after a spectator ran on the field. Temple then scored a touchdown on the next play and went for the two-point conversion and the win. The pass went awry, and Penn State lived to fight another day.
1986 — Penn State 45, Temple 15
On their way to a national championship, Penn State celebrated 100 years of football with “A Century of Excellence” and the first ever night game at Beaver Stadium by drubbing the Owls.
“Temple…Never going to be a rivalry,” Prato said.
The historian said the Owls simply don’t play the same brand of football as the Lions do. That being said, Prato did note that the Owls are getting better, and that the team most likely feels as if they can play in the same class with the Lions.
At this point, Prato said Penn State’s time in Philly is numbered, because of the expanding conference slate. In a few years, Prato said the Lions may only have three non-conference games.
Trips to places like Philadelphia will become harder, as Penn State fulfills series contracts. But for now, the Lions and Owls will continue to meet, and even though there’s no proclaimed rivalry, there are factors on the line for both teams.
The Lions come to honor their alumni and get exposure, while Prato says there’s pride on the line for Temple, which will keep it interesting.
“I think the Temple players say ‘Hey, we were turned down by Penn State,’ ” Prato said. “[Temple coach] Matt Rhule knows Penn State, he wants to beat the coaches. Temple’s going to well in the MAC. But [Penn State] is the ‘Big Kahuna.’ You’d like to knock ‘em off.”