Fans rejoice by throwing bottles, lighting fires

Police struggle to keep lid on violence

at least one person is arrested

Final Four

April 02, 2002|By Laura Vozzella and Laura Barnhardt | Laura Vozzella and Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

As the Maryland Terps clinched their first NCAA basketball championship last night, College Park erupted into boisterous celebration and violence, overwhelming a police force outfitted with armored vehicles, helicopters, horses and riot gear.

Thousands of fans poured out of bars and into the streets after the win, lighting bonfires, setting off fireworks and throwing bottles over the crowd and at police.

Revelers pulled up metal barriers meant to shut down U.S. 1 near Knox Road and held them over their heads like trophies. Some used the barriers as battering rams to charge dozens of police in formation.

Other students who stood by seemed both repulsed and entertained by the melee.

"Shoot 'em. Shoot 'em," fans on the sidelines chanted to police.

"Tomorrow when they wake up and they're sober, they'll realize they destroyed their city and their campus," said Evan Parker, 18, freshman, from Los Angeles.

Police fired pepper pellets into the crowd, apparently hitting at least one person in the head. Officers rushed the bleeding man into a nearby restaurant.

Dozens of other fans wrapped T-shirts around their mouths, coughing and sneezing as they tried to flee.

Along U.S. 1, students climbed trees, broke branches and threw them into bonfires already fueled with T-shirts. Young men took turns jumping through the fires. Others ripped down police tape and wrapped it around themselves like scarves.

One student blamed the melee on the heavy police presence.

"Nobody would be doing anything if the cops weren't here," said Matt Morehead, 20, a junior from Severna Park.

By 1:30, the crowds had dispersed and the fires were out. A police official knew of only one arrest in connection with the rioting. An emergency room official at Prince George's Hospital Center said no one had been brought in for treatment.

The night began with police bracing for violence and fans determined to savor every moment as the Terps took on the Indiana Hoosiers in Atlanta. 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 had 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, 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.

On Saturday, a mob had thrown bottles at police, vandalized patrol cars and smashed store windows. After Maryland's semifinal loss to Duke a year ago, students caused an estimated $500,000 damage by setting bonfires around town, one of which shut down cable TV service when it burned through a cable.

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 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," would come 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.

In Annapolis, the game gave lobbyists another opportunity to woo state legislators. About two dozen delegates and senators, many wearing red Terps jerseys, watched the game on an 8-by-6- foot projection screen as they nibbled on Swedish meatballs and cheese cubes at a party thrown by Rifkin, Livingtston, Levitan & Silver LLC, a Baltimore law firm that specializes in government relations.

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