Maryland fans held their breath last night as the Terps fought for their first NCAA basketball championship, and police in armored vehicles, helicopters and riot gear braced for a violent reaction to the game.
College Park streets and off-campus bars overflowed with cheering students as the Terps took on the Indiana Hoosiers in Atlanta. Students and other fans stood for hours to get into bars, with lines snaking out the doors and down the streets for blocks.
"I came out for the game, for the drinking - but that's not going to happen - and to watch the crazy people," said Nathan Lewis, 23, of Kent Island, who spent three hours in line outside one bar and was still on the sidewalk after tipoff.
There was plenty to see outside.
On alert for the mob violence that marred Saturday's semifinal victory, state, county and campus police were posted on every street corner for a mile down U.S. 1. More than 300 police officers, firefighters and emergency medical workers stood by at a command center at Ritchie Coliseum.
"Welcome to Parris Island," a campus officer quipped as troopers marched into the coliseum in riot gear. State police brought several armored vehicles. A police helicopter hovered overhead.
With a game plan as elaborate as anything coach Gary Williams could dream up, officers talked strategy, tactics and teamwork.
They set up cameras to monitor the action on fraternity row. They took down street signs, removed benches, emptied trash bins and mounted horses.
At halftime, police began shutting down parts of U.S. 1 through the town and set up a barricade at Knox Road with a half-dozen officers behind it clad in riot gear.
On Saturday, a mob threw bottles at police, vandalized patrol cars and smashed store windows. After Maryland's semifinal loss to Duke a year ago, students caused more than $250,000 in damage by setting bonfires around town.
Terps fever ran cooler elsewhere in the state, where the championship game had to compete with Opening Day at Oriole Park - not to mention a sports scene dominated year-round by the Ravens.
Even so, interest in the basketball championship game was strong enough to inspire a proclamation from the governor, a run on Terps shirts at an Annapolis sporting goods store and an oddball hallway chant at a Catholic girls' school in Towson.
"Indiana has been living on borrowed time for quite a while, and I hope it's all over for them tonight," said Don Clasen, 38, a 1988 Maryland graduate who bought three "Fear the Turtle" shirts at Modell's Sporting Goods in Annapolis. "The Terps are on a roll."
Gov. Parris N. Glendening flew to Atlanta yesterday after proclaiming April 1 "Road to the Championship" day.
If that formal gesture didn't scream excitement, a goofy ritual born in the hallways of Notre Dame Prep in Towson sure did.
As one girl passed another in the academy's halls yesterday, she'd begin, "Fear the ... "
"Turtle," came the reply.
A white sheet flapping in the spring breeze at the busy intersection of North Charles Street and Northern Parkway was spray-painted with the same slogan.
At Oriole Park, Terps shirts were as common as Orioles caps. The biggest cheer came not for the O's but for Terps head coach Gary Williams' videotaped Opening Day message and the "Fear the Turtles" banner on the Jumbotron.
Waves of cheers greeted two fans who carried a large white Terps banner while walking through the park.
Fans of basketball and baseball struggled to give both sports their due.
Baltimore County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, Class of '67, sported a Terps sweat shirt last week and ordered the courthouse to be lighted in red.
But he was decked out in Oriole orange yesterday morning, according to his spokeswoman, Elise Armacost.
"But I'm sure he'll be shedding that for red as soon as the game's over," she said.
At Kmart in Catonsville, $16.99 Terps shirts were selling - but not as hotcake-quick as Ravens shirts did throughout football season, said Renay Snowden, men's clothing manager.
"I guess a lot of people aren't really into basketball like they're into football," she said. "I like basketball too, but I love football."
She said she identifies with the football team because it plays close by. "It's Baltimore Ravens," she said. "They got the stadium."
At a West Baltimore street corner where he sells bedding from a truck, Anthony Jackson worried about getting stuck with $300 worth of Terps flags. Late last week, after Maryland made the Final Four, Jackson added flags to the mix of sheets and comforters he usually peddles at Swann Avenue and Route 40.
As of yesterday afternoon, he hadn't sold a single flag. He'd already dropped the price, from $15 to $10.
"It's probably a professional thing," said Jackson, 21. "People are into the professional league instead of the college league. They like bigger names."
UM merchandise was moving faster outside a Shell station a few miles west on Route 40.
"People are real excited," said salesman Larry Wynn. "The whole area's pumped up."