Maryland-Navy matchup will renew old rivalry

Separated by just 26 miles, Terps and Mids have met just 20 times

September 04, 2010|By Jeff Barker, The Baltimore Sun

COLLEGE PARK — — It's been 46 years, but Ralph Friedgen remembers the gasp from the Byrd Stadium crowd when Maryland returner Kenny Ambrusko opted to run a kickoff out of the end zone with the Terps trailing Navy by one point and 2:58 left.

It was 1964. Friedgen, now Maryland's head coach, was 17 years old and attending the game as a recruit. Lyndon Johnson was U.S. president. The Smothers Brothers — described by the student newspaper as a "two-man singing-comedy team" — were playing on campus at nine-year-old Cole Field House.

It was a game that helped cement the Maryland-Navy rivalry — while simultaneously almost destroying the series forever. It is best remembered — particularly by Navy — for the behavior of Maryland's Jerry Fishman, a rugged linebacker who twice extended a middle finger in the Navy partisans' direction. But it was Ambrusko's 101-yard, game-winning touchdown — one of the most memorable plays in Maryland history — that Friedgen, now 63, prefers to discuss today.

Friedgen is a proponent of renewing the series between the state's only Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A) teams, and he considers Fishman's displays an unfortunate footnote.

"We need a rivalry in our situation," Friedgen said. Maryland has border rivals in Virginia, West Virginia and Virginia Tech, but many fans say they would enjoy having Navy as a new adversary, particularly since the Naval Academy is so close — about 26 miles — to College Park.

Maryland and Navy have met just 20 times — just twice since the 1964 contest — with the Midshipmen holding a 14-6 edge over the Terps. Both schools say they expect talks to occur on continuing to play beyond Monday afternoon's season opener at M&T Bank Stadium.

This summer, Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk reached out to Maryland to discuss future games, according to two Maryland officials. While Maryland is interested, the discussions have informally been pushed back until Maryland secures a new athletic director to replace Debbie Yow. Yow left in June and is now athletic director at North Carolina State.

On Saturday, Maryland officials announced they hired chosen Army AD Kevin Anderson to replace Yow. Anderson will be introduced Tuesday.

"We're probably close enough in the selection process that we may wait until a new AD gets on board" to discuss the Maryland-Navy series, said interim Maryland athletic director Randy Eaton.

Navy athletics spokesman Scott Strasemeier said in an e-mail: "Once they get an athletic director I'm sure the two sides will talk."

Even without Fishman's antics, Maryland-Navy contains all the elements of a stirring rivalry — geographic proximity, stellar participants such as Navy's Roger Staubach and Maryland's John Scarbath and memorable meetings such as in 1950, when Byrd Stadium debuted and was hailed as "a modern and comfortable amphitheater" by The Sun.

Maryland archivists were thrilled to recently discover that they had color footage of the 1950 Navy game, in which the stadium was dedicated before a 35-21 Maryland victory. The footage was discovered when the video came back from a film preservationist. The reel was thought to contain only the 1951 game, but it was discovered to also have overhead shots and game action from 1950. "It's very exciting," said university archivist Anne Turkos, who said the university is raising tens of thousands of dollars to digitize old football film.

Maryland and Navy are close enough that there is interaction among players. "I work in Annapolis [in security at bars] so I see all those guys from time to time, so it's a little bit of competition," said backup Maryland linebacker Nick Peterson, who attended Broadneck High and transferred from Navy to Maryland two years ago. "This [Navy] senior class is the one I played with when I was there."

Friedgen said he remembers Ambrusko fielding the kickoff and heading out of the end zone. "Everybody's going 'You idiot,' and then he took it back all the way and scored a touchdown to win the game," the coach said.

The next season, Friedgen played on Maryland's freshman team in a game at Navy. He said Fishman's gestures were still fresh in Navy participants' minds. "We ate dinner over there and they had the whole corps there. And all of a sudden after dinner they come out with these signs: 'Remember the Bird,'" Friedgen said.

After playing a contractually obligated 1965 game, Navy and Maryland did not play again until 2005.

The Touchdown Club of Annapolis said it will present a "Crab Bowl" trophy to the winner of any Maryland-Navy game, including this season's.

Friedgen said he loves the intensity and pageantry of a Maryland-Navy game. He promoted Monday's game last month at Ravens training camp with Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo.

""We need to play more," Niumatalolo said. "You have two great institutions so close together. There's a history involved."

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