COLLEGE PARK -- Perched on a marble pedestal on the rim of Clemson's Memorial Stadium is a rock that, according to legend, was imported from Death Valley, Calif.
It was presented many years ago by a Clemson alumnus to Frank Howard, then the football coach. When the Tigers players run down the hill to the field for a game, they slap the rock for good luck. And may death come to the enemy.
Clemson's very own Death Valley is now in its 50th year. In all that time, only two visiting teams who have played at least three games there have winning records against Clemson -- Auburn (4-2) and Maryland (10-9).
The Terps' last triumph there was in 1985, and for them to maintain the edge would require an upset of monumental proportions. The Terps will take a 2-7 record into Death Valley for their game against No. 15 Clemson (6-1-1) tomorrow.
With the anticipated victory, Clemson can clinch its 13th Atlantic Coast Conference championship. Maryland is a distant second to the Tigers with eight titles.
Maryland's players and coaches have different words to describe what it's like to play before a throng of 80,000 in Death Valley -- awesome, unique, intimidating, exciting.
"There's a lot of fans, a lot of noise, a lot of orange," Terps coach Joe Krivak said. "The roar is constant."
Maryland linebacker Mike Jarmolowich's only previous experience in Death Valley was two years ago. He watched the Clemson players run down the hill and touch the rock, prompting the stadium to erupt.
"It got me going, too," Jarmolowich said. "You can take it as intimidation or as an advantage. I take it as an advantage, getting myself pumped up."
Senior kicker Dan DeArmas has been recreating the Death Valley scene in his mind all week. He remembers the Tiger paws on highways and outside stores. He pictures himself on Maryland's bus after it crosses the bridge and goes around a bend in the road.
"You look to your left over the trees and you can see one side of the stadium with the word 'TIGERS' in huge letters," DeArmas said. "The closer you get, the bigger the letters get.
"When we got on the field, I had to bend my head back to see the top of the stadium. The people looked like dots."
Many fans were already in the stadium when Maryland warmed up. If DeArmas missed a practice kick, they cheered. If he made one, they sighed. After a dozen kicks, that got to DeArmas, so he stopped, figuring he was loose enough.
The Tigers have the most ornery special teams DeArmas has faced in four years. On fourth down, when DeArmas was back to punt, the crowd roared as Clemson put 10 men up front to rush. The Tigers blocked two of his punts in 1989.
"Once I had to punt from the end zone," DeArmas said. "I couldn't hear a thing because of the noise and it felt like the fans were a foot behind me. Somehow, I got that punt off.
"You know, when I punt during the summer, I pump myself up by pretending I'm facing Clemson. Their special teams are so tough. We were at Tennessee once before 98,000 people and it wasn't like it is at Clemson."
George Foussekis, Maryland's assistant head coach, has a tale about a game in Death Valley that he has carried with him since 1973. Maryland had a defensive guard named Dave Visaggio that year who at one particular point showed astonishing guts.
"When you play in front of a vocal crowd like that, you have to use hand signals," Foussekis said. "Dave was on one knee, signaling to me he was hurt, but I couldn't get a sub in there in time.
"Visaggio had to stay in and darned if he didn't make the tackle on the next play. That motivated us and we went on to win."
After team physician Dr. Stan Lavine operated on Visaggio, he said it was the worst knee injury he had ever seen.