Pass, punt and fumble Md. football resides in Bermuda Triangle when it comes to wins

October 25, 1998|By Paul McMullen

Be prepared for a splash of sporting nostalgia over the next two months.

Banquets and reunions will commemorate the 40th anniversary of the "Greatest Game Ever Played," the 1958 overtime classic in which the Baltimore Colts beat the mighty New York Giants to claim the city's first National Football League championship.

It will be a chance to reminisce about how a town embraced a team, and a reminder of how frustrating it has become to find good football here, not just in Baltimore, but all of Maryland.

Where have you gone, John Unitas I and Roger Staubach (Navy), Willie Lanier (Morgan State) and Randy White (University of Maryland)?

Good football is played in the state. There are communities in which the high school team is placed on a pedestal. Western Maryland College expects to return to the NCAA Division III playoffs.

But at the higher levels of intercollegiate competition and in the professional ranks, the state is a mess.

Division II Bowie State could enjoy its first winning season in the 1990s, but every state team above it on the football ladder went into this weekend with a losing record. In the higher ranks, the state resembles football's Bermuda Triangle: a place where victories disappear.

The state's six most prominent teams entered this weekend with a combined record of 9-30, and the bigger the budget, the bleaker the prospects.

USA Today uses a computer program to rate the nation's 234 colleges which are classified Division I in football. They range from sprawling state universities with rich traditions to small private institutions with start-up programs. Last week "we" were No. 105 (Maryland), No. 118 (Navy), No. 209 (Towson University) and No. 210 (Morgan State).

Towson, with three of those nine wins, has spent much of its football history searching for a comfortable niche. It found a good home last year in the academically oriented Patriot League, but it has to get better, since the Tigers' two-season record there is 1-10.

One of Towson's wins this season came over Morgan State. While the Tigers are celebrating their 30th year of intercollegiate football, this will be the 19th straight season in which the Bears will have a losing record. In its glory days, Morgan State developed three NFL Hall of Famers in Lanier, Leroy Kelly and Roosevelt Brown. Last month, Coach Stump Mitchell threatened walk off the job.

The Bears played a team even weaker than they are on paper yesterday, when they met Delaware State in the first non-NFL event at the Ravens stadium to be named later. Both came in with 0-6 records, and no, it was not advertised as the Game of the Weak.

If you missed Morgan State's homecoming yesterday, the new stadium will get the old college try again next Saturday, when Maryland plays its first game in Baltimore since 1991.

The opponent will be Georgia Tech, and it will probably be another chance for the Terps to end their losing streak against nationally ranked teams, which encompasses 28 games and three coaches.

In 1974, Maryland had one of the best defensive linemen ever to play in White, who helped the Terps to two of the six Atlantic Coast Conference championships they won from 1974 to 1985. Since then, Maryland has been to one bowl, and it hasn't won more than six games.

Navy overachieved its way to Hawaii and the Aloha Bowl in 1996, when the Midshipmen ended a stretch of 13 consecutive losing seasons in Annapolis. Coach Charlie Weatherbie perked up Navy to the point where it won 16 games over the past two years, but the Mids were back in familiar territory in 1998 with a 2-4 start.

The Army-Navy game remains one of the nation's great sporting spectacles. Unfortunately, Navy's other longest continuous series is one of the most lop-sided rivalries in college football history. Navy has lost 34 straight games to Notre Dame. The Mids last beat the Fighting Irish in 1963, when Staubach won the Heisman Trophy.

As members of Division I-A, Maryland and Navy are classified as "major-college" teams. Both padded their win totals this fall against Division I-AA teams, and Navy needed a huge comeback to beat Colgate, which plays in the same league as Towson.

In the 1990s, not all of the news surrounding the state's college teams came on the field.

The administration at Towson wanted to drop the sport in 1990. Morgan State was rocked by a player walkout in 1992, when a female administrator sued the head coach over allegations of sexual harassment. A cheating scandal at Navy the same year included members of the football team. In 1995, Maryland's two best players were suspended because they violated NCAA rules against gambling.

The major events for Baltimore's pro football fans haven't changed the standings, either.

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