Terps push away city that embraced them

Phil Jackman XB

November 08, 1991|By Phil Jackman

Perhaps it is best that Maryland will ride off down the parkway n'er to return to Memorial Stadium after playing Penn State tomorrow.

After all, here's a city that turned out in impressive number, took the team to its bosom and cheered enthusiastically while providing a bowl-like atmosphere . . . only to be handed a Dear John letter.

Here's a city that threw down the red carpet, increased its interest in the College Park institution dramatically and enriched its coffers handsomely . . . only to get a door slammed in its face.

The reasons/excuses offered for ending the seven-game relationship are specious at best.

Athletic director Andy Geiger explaining the withdrawal with the statement "We don't know the future of Memorial Stadium" is laughable. Earlier, Geiger admitted to having reservations about the upkeep of the stadium now that the Orioles are moving downtown. That's weak.

Just as amusing is associate athletic director Sue Tyler's claim that the only reason the Terps played in Baltimore in the first place was "to appease the alumni in Baltimore who thought the university had become too associated with Washington."

Right. The fact that for three games against Clemson, one against Miami and now three against Penn State more than 400,000 will have shown up to watch had nothing to do with it. (That's an average of nearly 58,000; this season's homecoming did 35,000 on campus.) Get serious.

Since that first game against Clemson in 1984, Baltimore and environs has been only too happy to contribute to the well-being of Terps athletics while providing the added feature of being a place where the team performed extraordinarily well.

Many of the current players hailing from the metropolitan area will tell you the game at the stadium was an important consideration when time came for them to make their final decision on what school to attend.

For the last several days, Terps players have indicated that playing a biggie like the Nittany Lions in the atmosphere of a sellout crowd going berserk in the famed "world's largest outdoor insane asylum" would have a consoling effect on a disappointing season, no matter what the outcome.

Maybe Maryland's action isn't a textbook example of ingratitude. But, in any case, it seems to be making the breakup a little easier to take.

The Terps, no doubt, will be honked high. You have Joe Paterno's word on that. "It's a tradition thing," says the Penn State coach.

"They have always played us tough. They have a lot of Pennsylvania and New Jersey kids we talked to [recruited] at one time or another and they're always out to prove something."

The Lions are considerable favorites (four touchdowns plus extra points), but they were in their last two trips here, too, and ended up tied and a winner by just five points.

"Because we had last week off," continued Paterno, "we were able to spend more time looking at Maryland than is usual. My impressions are that it's a team of tough kids who hit hard.

"They don't dominate you, but they do things well defensively. They have a knack for taking the ball away and making it tough on you. Even though they've been having some problems offensively and it has been a struggle for the quarterback, they hit you with a bunch of multiple sets making it tough to line up against them."

That said and in a roundabout way, Paterno was asked what chance the home team (2-6) might have against his 7-2 team.

"There's always one thing I can assure you of when we play: Those kids [Terps] will play as hard as they know how to play against us; they always have," he said.

Which begs the question, even if Maryland is supernaturally inspired, does it have the talent, inspiration and necessary strategic approaches to succeed? Off its results to date and particularly in games lately, the oddsmakers say there's virtually no chance of it happening.

The Terps, it seems, go into every fray with a plan: simple, single and solitary. If it works, fine. If the situation calls for adjustments and a switch in strategy, uh-oh.

All one need do is look at how the team has performed in the second half of games (outscored 86-43) to conclude that about the only adjustment the Terps make at halftime is to change ends of the field for the third quarter.

Paterno allows that in addition to Maryland consistently coming up with big efforts against his team, the series standing, which sees Penn State holding an awesome 32-1-1 advantage, is deceiving: ". . . because we got most of the good bounces and won some games that we shouldn't have."

At the same time, he said recently that his ninth-ranked team "was about to become a pretty good team," and that was before it pummeled West Virginia, 51-6. This week, he whispered something about "getting closer and closer to being an outstanding team."

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