Terps fans retain spirit, lose vulgarity

Comcast crowd raucous, but taunts clean -- mostly

Maryland 99, Duke 92

February 13, 2005|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK --- The Maryland student section was a lot of things last night in the Terps' 99-92 overtime win over Duke, including: loud, clever, energetic, excited and effective.

The crowd was not, however, vulgar and offensive.

Not for the most part, anyway. There were a few chants that might have flirted with the boundaries of good taste, but in the end, it was just a typical raucous college basketball crowd. No worse and no better than any other Atlantic Coast Conference school. Fans poured onto the floor after the game, but it was controlled chaos, similar to what happened when the Terps football team beat Florida State this past fall.

"It was unbelievable. Our fans were great," said Terps forward Nik Caner-Medley. "The atmosphere was really good. It was the liveliest crowd I've ever seen here. We expect them to have class and act like this program has class."

That's all Maryland's been hoping for ever since the university was scrutinized -- both locally and nationally -- after last year's basketball game against Duke, when fans chanted obscenities at Blue Devils guard J.J. Redick in the closing minutes.

Maryland's athletic department took steps to avoid a repeat performance this year, including having Terps coach Gary Williams speak to the students earlier in the day about sportsmanship, as well as having a voluntary T-shirt exchange program at the entrance to Comcast Center, encouraging kids to trade in shirts with obscene words or obscene references to Duke for cleaner, more positive T-shirts.

"I think the dirty stuff was really toned down this year," said Tyler Butler, who wore a red wig and was covered with body paint from the waist up. "Coach Williams asked us to be respectful, and show that we have the best fans in the nation. We crossed the line last year. I think the energy was still there this year, but it was more positive."

It was a different story outside after the game, however, as police fired nonlethal force weapons at rowdy revelers, according to several students. Officers on horseback struggled to clear crowds of thousands gathered along U.S. 1. Pepper spray clouds filled the air at several intersections.

Police and emergency workers worked to extinguish a fire started about midnight in a Dumpster behind businesses on Route 1.

Celebrants ignited shirts, at least one couch and other items. They also tore down street signs. Officers detained several people and helicopters hovered above the crowds.

The crowd inside the Comcast Center certainly didn't suffer a lack of emotion. When Ikene Ebekwe tapped in a Travis Garrison miss with 39.5 seconds to play, giving Maryland an 87-86 lead, it was so loud in Comcast Center, if felt like a jet airplane had landed at center court.

"I think last year, we came into the game with a chip on our shoulder, and we kind of embraced that thug mentality a little bit," said ESPN SportsCenter anchor Scott Van Pelt, a Maryland graduate who publicly criticized the students last year after the incident in the Duke game. "What upset me last year was, we lost the game, but then we lost our dignity. ... I think there was considerably less venom this year. It was kind of the difference between having a shot glass of venom instead of a keg."

Both Williams and Van Pelt said they've been frustrated by what they see as a double standard for the Terps.

"I thought our fans were great tonight, but please understand this," Williams said. "Every place we go, we hear things as bad as what we heard last year."

"When we went down to Virginia a few years ago, those fans chanted `crack-head parents' at Juan Dixon," said VanPelt. "No one said anything about it. Now what's worse, saying something like that about a person's family, or chanting obscenities at J.J. Redick?"

Sun staff writer Michael Hoffman and Justin Fenton contributed to this article.

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