COLLEGE PARK - Far from mild Miami, University of Maryland alumni and students who were left back in the cold crowded into local bars last night looking for warmth in their hopes of an Orange Bowl upset.
But the night ended on a chilly note, with the University of Florida shelling the Maryland Terrapins.
"I'm not happy, I'm not happy at all. I'm really disappointed," said Jerry Mayhew, a 1990 Maryland graduate who'd staked out the best seat at Santa Fe Cafi at 4 p.m. and led the cheers there for much of the game. "It's kind of a shame, actually."
FOR THE RECORD - In an article yesterday about fans in College Park watching the Orange Bowl, the name of a bar, the Santa Fe Cafe, was misspelled. The Sun regrets the error.
While deflated, fans holding down the team's home base said they remained grateful for an otherwise successful season that caught everyone by surprise and put Maryland football back on the map.
"It's overwhelming. People still can't really believe we were [at the Orange Bowl] or how we got here," said Stephen Baccan, a senior from New Jersey. "This was a magical team."
Joe Orji of Laurel tracked the Terps' stunning 10-2 season from the start: While attending summer school at College Park, he took to watching the football team practice and noticed something special was happening under new coach Ralph Friedgen. He continued to follow the team after returning to Tufts University in Boston, where he is a junior.
"I saw some good stuff, but I couldn't have predicted this," he said.
About 23,000 Maryland fans made it to Pro Player Stadium for the game - including the owners of several local bars where fans congregated last night, Bentley's Filling Station in College Park and Sean Bolan's in Baltimore's Federal Hill.
But many more fans found themselves rooting from Maryland, some clearly wishing they had the money or time to make the trip. Even though College Park's dorms and fraternities are closed for winter break, many students with off-campus apartments or homes in the area gravitated to the town's packed bars.
They included students such as Baccan, who had to stay for January session classes to make up missing credits, and J.B. Bentz, a senior who said he couldn't afford the trip.
"We got to pay for spring break, dude. That's a whole other thing," said Bentz as he and his friends dropped their empty beer bottles in the poinsettia pots at Santa Fe Cafi and left for a party.
College Park's watering holes did their best to make those left behind feel part of the Orange Bowl experience - red bows left over from Christmas doubled as decorations for Terrapin red at Bentley's, and the Sun Belt decor of Santa Fe Cafi conjured up South Florida - if you could ignore the cacti.
Expectations ran high at the outset, with students and alumni saying they were even more excited than during Maryland's Final Four basketball appearance last spring. After all, they said, Maryland basketball had a history of success, whereas the football team had languished since the 1980s.
"You never used to be able to say anything about Maryland football," said Dave Wong, a 1999 graduate who drove from Silver Spring to watch at Santa Fe Cafi. "Now, you can look at both teams."
The fans roared when Randall Jones intercepted Florida quarterback Brock Berlin in the first quarter, then groaned even louder when Maryland quarterback Shaun Hill threw an interception on the next play. Their hopes rose highest after Hill's 64-yard touchdown pass to Jafar Williams but crumbled again when Maryland failed to convert an interception return inside the 10-yard line into a touchdown.
As Florida began to pull away, fans started trickling out of the bars, and tempers started to sour - especially when a lone Florida fan started whooping it up at Santa Fe.
"We're going to beat the hell out of that guy," shouted Steve Bagshaw, a 1994 graduate from Baltimore. "Why is he still here?"
But by early today, the disappointment had not resulted in the widespread unruliness experienced after Maryland's loss to Duke in the Final Four and its Nov. 17 defeat of North Carolina State for the Atlantic Coast Conference football championship.
Maryland campus police said they were not expecting much bonfire-burning or other trouble out in the cold because most students were in Florida or home on break.
"Without the 8,000 students living on campus, you're dealing with a whole different animal than what we're used to, and that's a good thing," said Capt. Paul Dillon. "It's very good timing."