Bill Cosby, comedian, actor and former Temple football player, can sum up in one word what he remembers about his days as an Owls running back.
“Fumbling,” Cosby said.
That may have been the case for his two-year career at Temple. But Cosby is not dropping the ball for Temple these days. In fact, he has been carrying it.
Cosby has given the Owls a clear advantage over UCLA in the area of former-player-turned-Hollywood-personality with the EagleBank Bowl looming Dec. 29 in Washington.
Attempts to reach Cosby’s closest UCLA counterpart, Mark Harmon, actor and former Bruins quarterback, were unsuccessful.
That leaves Cosby free to run the public relations field. He was a Temple running back in 1961 and 1962 and remained a high-profile supporter of the university’s athletics. And he has been reveling in the Owls’ newfound success in football, making the rounds with the media this week, even mapping out some travel itinerary items for the Bruins.
Cosby said he has watched Big Ten teams lose in the Rose Bowl, noting “those poor kids from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, come to Southern California, and they load them up on steak. Then they take them to Hollywood and Vine and show them the stars. Then they take them to Disneyland to meet Mickey Mouse, Snow White, Dopey and Goofy, and then they lose.”
Cosby said the snowshoe is on the other foot.
“UCLA hasn’t come this far east of the Mississippi River in 30 years,” he said. “We got them now.”
As for the week’s activities, Cosby said, “We are going to reenact George Washington crossing the Delaware by putting the whole UCLA team in open boats. That will take the place of the Disneyland visit. By the time that’s done, they will have just enough time to get to the stadium and we will win.”
Cosby has performed this shtick the past few days, taking his Temple allegiance to a new level in a conference call with reporters Thursday. Harmon, meanwhile, comes to a few games, and Bruins Coach Rick Neuheisel said, “I have talked to him occasionally.”
The two celebrities are arguably near-equals. Cosby has had television success (“The Cosby Show”) and movie duds (“Ghost Dad”). Harmon has had television success (“NCIS”) and movie duds (“Beyond the Poseidon Adventure”).
Harmon was a starting quarterback at UCLA for two seasons, finishing with 976 yards rushing and 791 passing in his career. Temple sports information department officials were unable to unearth any stats for Cosby -- he did catch a touchdown pass -- and when Owls Coach Al Golden was asked if there was any game film of Cosby in the archives he said, “I don’t know. It may be silent movies.”
But Cosby has been leading the Owls’ media charge, while the last comment about UCLA football from a celebrity came from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Speaking at his daughter’s USC commencement ceremonies last year, Schwarzenegger mentioned his daughter talked about the Victory Bell.
He said: “She sat me down and she told me it weighs 295 pounds and how the winner of the annual football game between USC and UCLA takes this bell and gets to paint it in the school colors. And I stopped her in the middle of talking, I said, ‘Wait a minute, Katherine, back up a little bit. UCLA has a football team?’ ”
In the face of Cosby’s onslaught, UCLA’s counterpunch was left up to linebacker Reggie Carter, who, when told of Cosby’s intended boat ride, said, “He can call us and tell us about it. All I want to do is play football and maybe have a few cold Gatorades with Obama.”
But Carter did say, “It’s a pleasure and an honor to be on Bill Cosby’s mind.”
Temple players responded the same, only in different context. Cosby admitted there was a time he wanted Temple to drop to the Division I-AA level in football. The reason was obvious, even to the Owls.
“When I first got here, locals were throwing rocks at us,” senior tight end Steve Maneri said. “We were the laughingstock of college football.”
Temple, with a 9-3 record heading into the bowl game, has its first winning season since 1990. The Owls were 40-163 in the 18 years in between. That has changed under Golden, though this is only the Owls’ third bowl game in the program’s 112-year history.
“I thought we should drop down and play schools like Colgate,” Cosby said. “Then comes this wonderful man,” he said, referring to Golden. “I’ve seen a change in the Temple fan. At games, we’d need two yards for a touchdown and it would be, ‘Oh, boy, we’re going to fumble right now.’ And [Murphy’s Law] would be out there dancing and, sure enough, Murphy would fumble. Murphy left us two years ago, I hope for good.”
“He has talked with us a couple times and it’s very motivational, very supportive,” defensive back Dominique Harris said.
And the support Cosby can offer UCLA?
“We’re bringing reality to the California people coming to our East Coast, where they can sit in the stand at 26 degrees at RFK” Stadium, Cosby said. “The little avocado people can go to Ben’s Chili Bowl to warm up.”