Ehrlich declines toss as football rivalry resumes

Governor won't join Miller, Busch before Maryland-Navy contest

September 02, 2005|By Jennifer Skalka | Jennifer Skalka,SUN STAFF

If ever there was an appropriate setting for the state's three most powerful officials to make peace, the first football match in four decades between the University of Maryland and Navy should be it.

But while the two schools rekindle their rivalry with tomorrow's historic game, the politicians won't follow suit. Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has turned down an offer to join House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller in a ceremonial pre-game coin toss, a university official said.

"I do know the governor declined the opportunity to participate in the coin toss and opted to participate at halftime," said Michael Lipitz, senior associate athletic director for the University of Maryland, College Park.

An invitation went out to the three officials a few weeks ago, Lipitz said. Democrats Busch and Miller promptly accepted.

"It was nice to be a part of this renewal," said Busch, who played football at Temple University and coached high school teams.

Lipitz said he did not know why Ehrlich refused to participate, and the governor's office is providing few details. But the rejection appears to exacerbate a feud between the governor and the speaker.

The two were friends when they were in the Assembly together, but Ehrlich blames Busch for blocking his slot-machine gambling initiative and has vowed to try to turn him out of office next year.

Miller and Ehrlich, a Republican, share similar views on slots but have clashed on personnel appointments, medical malpractice and other issues.

The Senate president said he hopes the governor changes his mind about the coin toss.

"The speaker, the governor and myself, we should forget any animosity and link hands," he said. "I'm not sure why he wouldn't want to participate."

Busch said Ehrlich asked university officials to include former governors Marvin Mandel and William Donald Schaefer in the coin toss instead of the speaker and senate president. Because Busch and Miller had already accepted, school administrators weren't willing to change their plans, Busch said.

Paul E. Schurick, the governor's communications director, said yesterday he wasn't sure if the governor would take part.

"I don't know the final plan," he said.

But Schurick said that when he held a similar job in Schaefer's administration some 15 years ago, he allowed Schaefer to join the legislature's presiding officers - which included Miller - for a joint appearance at an Orioles game. They were booed.

"I regret that decision," Schurick said.

Tomorrow, Ehrlich - who was a Princeton University linebacker - will introduce members of the 1965 University of Maryland football team during halftime festivities, Lipitz said. Those players were the last to battle Navy before the school stopped scheduling games with Maryland. The two schools parted ways after a Maryland football player flipped something far more controversial than a coin - the bird, in fact - at Navy fans.

Busch and Miller will be joined during the coin toss by school President C.D. "Dan" Mote Jr. and U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer of Southern Maryland, a graduate of the school. The Midshipmen will be represented by Vice Adm. Rodney P. Rempt, the superintendent of the Naval Academy; the secretary of the Navy; and the chief of naval operations.

Miller said it would be appropriate for the governor to put politics aside for the day, especially because so many people worked hard to get the two schools to finally face off at M&T Bank Stadium.

"He's a former athlete," Miller said. "He knows what good sportsmanship is all about."

Busch concurred.

"It's unfortunate because this is something that should be a great event to highlight two great institutions, Maryland and Navy," Busch said. "I just think it's unfortunate that the chief executive of the state is somehow going to decline to participate."

As captain of his college squad, Ehrlich took part in many a coin toss. But perhaps none more complicated than this one. Even a shared love of football can't bring these three political competitors together for one late summer evening and a quick flip of a coin.

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