Here’s The Kicker: Relax

Don Bitterlich, who now plays the best rendition of  Fight Temple Fight, never missed a FG inside the  40 in his 3 years as Temple's kicker.

Don Bitterlich, who now plays the best rendition of Fight Temple Fight I’ve ever heard, never missed a FG inside the 40 in his 3 years as Temple’s kicker.

Cap Poklemba after winning indoor football league title for Harrisburg pro team this season (with his rugrat).

Cap Poklemba after winning indoor football league title for Harrisburg pro team this season (with his rugrat).

One of the great things about HDTV is that you can see the expression on guys’ faces during the game.
One of the worst things about HDTV is that you can see the expression on guys’ faces during the game.
When I saw Jim Cooper Jr.’s face before he lined up for the  first kick of his collegiate career against Notre Dame, I said to the person sitting next to me: “Geez, the poor kid looks scared to death.”
Wouldn’t you?
Wouldn’t anyone?
Well, not really.
Cap Poklemba, in my mind, would have embraced the moment. So would have Brandon McManus. So would have Don Bitterlich.
In a way, so would have Jim Cooper Sr.
Jim Cooper Jr.’s dad missed a big kick early in a game against West Virginia. A few minutes later, he kicked the game-winner.
Maybe Jim should talk to his dad about it. Maybe they already have.
Or maybe he should talk Cap or Don. There’s something about kickers. Both Cap and Don have remained loyal to the school after all these years and will be in Lot K on Saturday.  I’m sure Brandon will, too. For years, another kicker, Wes Sornisky, ran the tailgate in the Jethro Lot. Ron Fiorvante, who kicked the game-winning field goal in a 34-31 win at Hawaii in 1979, will be there Saturday, as will former kicker and punter Jake Brownell, who made the trip with the team to the Eagle Bank Bowl in 1979.

There have been no more loyal group of ex-Temple players than the kickers and punters.

Click on the photo of Don Bitterlich kicking to read my story on him that appeared in a suburban newspaper.

Click on the photo of Don Bitterlich kicking to read my story on him that appeared in a suburban newspaper.

I was at Rutgers’ Stadium the night Poklemba was being heckled by Rutgers’  fans. He turned around and said to them, “You better hope this doesn’t come down to a kick because I’M WINNING THIS GAME!” It came down to a kick and Poklemba nailed it and led the Owls over to the Big East Logo and they danced on the logo and sung T for Temple U in a pouring rain. That was a few months after Temple was kicked out of the Big East for being “non-competitive.” It was also the Owls’ fourth-straight win over “competitive” Rutgers. That was the loudest I’ve ever heard the team sing T for Temple U. They carried five Rutgers’ players off the field that night on stretchers. It was Temple’s version of the body bag game. Thank God the “targeting” penalty wasn’t in effect that night.


Before the game, I wrote the key number
for Temple was getting double-digit sacks.
I know that’s a lot to ask for,
but really that’s what needed to happen.
It didn’t. Temple got 1/10th the number
of sacks it needed to tilt the playing field.
Temple needed to buzz around Tommy Rees
like a bunch of crazed hornets.
When the Owls never got close to Rees,
I knew this gig was up

Someday, Jim Cooper Jr. will have that kind of attitude.
The good news for Jim Cooper Jr. is one day he will laugh about his first game and that he did not miss the kick that would have cost Temple, say, a 29-28 win.
Before the game, I wrote the key number for Temple was getting double-digit sacks.  I know that’s a lot to ask for, but really that’s what needed to happen. It didn’t. Temple got 1/10th the number of sacks it needed to get to tilt the playing field. Temple needed to buzz around Tommy Rees like a bunch of crazed hornets. When the Owls never got close to Rees, I knew this gig was up. The lack of pass rush was the No. 1 reason why Temple lost. The placekicking game was about eighth on the list.
The interesting thing about Bitterlich was that he kicked for three years at Temple and NEVER missed a field goal within 40 yards DESPITE never having kicked a field goal UNTIL he got to Temple.

Click over logo for an excellent story in the New York Times on the game by an AP reporter. Note Kelly's "dink and dunk" comment near the end.

Click over logo for an excellent story in the New York Times on the game by an AP reporter. Note Kelly’s “dink and dunk” comment near the middle.

Don, who plays a mean accordion and the best rendition of Fight Temple Fight (which is kind of like T for Temple U, just a better beat and you can dance to it), will be hosting a tailgate party of his own in Lot K. It’s a private party, but I’m sure you can walk over and say hello.
Bitterlich not only kicked a 56-yarder for Temple, but he held the school’s single-season point-scoring record until 2009 (when Bernard Pierce and Brandon McManus scored 95 points).
At least Cooper The Younger won’t have to chase Bitterlich’s record for perfect games.
Even McManus missed key field goals (Bowling Green, 2011). He shook it off well.
I’m sure Jim will, too, and learn to embrace the moment with the strange mixture of determination and relaxation. I think the kids call it “being in a zone.”
He’ll just have to develop a meaner game face.

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