Terps' slogan a shell shocker

NCAA: You've got ole Sparty and the other Final Four mascots. But the almighty turtle -- now that should raise some goose bumps.

March 28, 2001|By Kevin Cowherd | Kevin Cowherd,SUN STAFF

The TV anchors are using it in their banter, it's all over sports-talk radio, and University of Maryland fans are shouting it across crowded sports bars as they clink their bottles of Bud Ice and watch their team's improbable run to the Final Four of the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

We're talking here about the unofficial slogan of Terrapin fans - "Fear the turtle!" surely the hippest, funniest, most ironic in big-time college hoops today.

Question: What do you do when your school has the gentle, plodding, smallish terrapin as its mascot, while seemingly every other team in the land has a larger, swifter, fiercer-looking one?

Answer: Have some fun with it.

So while the other three teams in the Final Four in Minneapolis have the requisite tough, no-nonsense nicknames sports fans have come to expect - the Duke Blue Devils, Arizona Wildcats, Michigan State Spartans - Maryland fans are reveling in their catchy "Fear the turtle!" mantra as the team's story-book season (25-10) nears its climax.

Fear the turtle?

Oh, that's beautiful.

The absurdity of it all brings tears to your eyes.

If you're not already busting a gut laughing.

What could be more ludicrous? "Quake before the lamb?" "Doomed are those who gaze at the squirrel?"

Fans at Cole Field House have been holding up "Fear the turtle!" signs for at least several years, yet information about its origin is hard to come by.

No one seems to know exactly who started it - although whoever he or she was, the term "genius" is certainly applicable - or when.

Maryland's sports information department offered no help, and the school's sports marketing department was not returning calls.

Patrick Stevens, sports editor of the campus newspaper, the Diamondback, said he thought a local T-shirt distributor coined the term some years back, although he couldn't be sure.

In between making calls, we logged onto the National Aquarium's Web site and discovered that the diamondback terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin) is not without its admirable - and fear-inducing - qualities, to wit:

The beast is nothing if not resilient, having come back strong after being hunted to the point of extinction. (Terrapin meat is considered a delicacy to many.)

The terrapin is a reptile, like a snake or a crocodile, with a horny beak and sharp claws that could do some damage if provoked.(OK, fine, it rarely is provoked. We're trying to make a point here.)

Spring is when the terrapin emerges from its winter hibernation looking for action.

No, not that kind of action - mating season is not until June or July. (You should really get your mind out of the gutter.)

Lower temperatures - yes, such as the ones in Minneapolis this time of year - are better for the male terrapin's development.

No, don't ask why. This isn't a science publication. Call the aquarium if you're so fired up to know. Those people have all day to answer your questions.

We're too busy waiting for Maryland sports marketing to call back.

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