It’s the first time, ever that the University of Maryland has their basketball team in the Final Four. Not “since whenever” or “post-whatever” but ever, as in forever.
The Maryland basketball team is big news in Baltimore and Washington. The head coach is a star and the players celebrities. The football team is a sidelight (regrettably). The basketball team gets the headlines.
I wouldn’t call Maryland graduates “long suffering” because we’ve had plenty of highlights over the years. We just never have gotten to the Final Four. (By the way, I’m waiving the “we” rule as a journalist for this column only, unless of course, “we” win the National Championship. I suppose the only time you can refer to a team as “we” when you’re writing about it, is if you are a graduate of that school and you don’t live in the region, and your team is in the Final Four or playing for the football National Championship, or both. Gator alums can use “we” but only if they move out of the South.)
It’s an approach-avoidance thing to be a Maryland basketball fan. Anytime we ever got too pumped up, we were heartbroken. So, outside of Cole Field House, we kept our loyalty at arms length. We’d moan to each other about how terrible we could be, how stupid the coach was, including Lefty, (ever see Carolina use the four corners and drop into a zone so effectively against anybody else?) and when would we ever win a big game and go to the Final Four?
To outsiders, we were an enigma. Fans of a team that never got to the mountaintop. Heck, we were always stuck at base camp.
“Hey, the Terps are on Channel 20 tonight against N.C. State, want to watch?”
“No, I’ve seen that game. We lead by 15, Norm Sloan drops back into a zone and we lose. Happens every time.”
No zone busting shooter ever wore the red and black (and gold and white, all colors of the Maryland state flag.)
It was a ritual at the fraternity house (Pi Kappa Alpha) when I was a student at the University of Maryland. The basketball team was good, perhaps one of the top five teams in the country, and everybody wanted a ticket to Cole. The brothers would gather in the chapter room and hand in their student ID to the Sergeant-at-Arms. The “basketball committee” would then plan the strategy for getting tickets to the Terps game the next night. About five of the brothers would take turns going through the line and getting the free tickets handed out to the students. When the allotment was secured, they’d come back to the house, usually very late and very loud and decide who got to go to the game and if they were allowed to take a date.
It was serious business.
These were Lefty’s Terps, the “UCLA of the East.” The ACC had Dean Smith and Sloan as coaches and star players, many of them playing for Maryland.
Tom McMillan, Len Elmore, Brad Davis, and John Lucas were all on the same Maryland team. A team that didn’t even get a chance to go to the NCAA tournament. Only sixteen teams were in the tournament then, and only the conference tournament champions were eligible. Tickets to the ACC tournament were impossible to get because that’s where the basketball was best. Maryland lost to the Wolfpack in triple overtime, in what some call the best college basketball game ever. N.C. State went to the NCAA tournament, the Terps came home. We even turned down an NIT bid one year.
Now it’s a trip to the Final Four, and of course, Maryland’s first round opponent is the hated Duke. Three times this season the Terps had Duke on the ropes, but only once, on the road in Durham, did Maryland prevail.
I’ll probably scream at the television a few times Saturday night, threaten to revoke all of their scholarships and hopefully be happy at the end.
Getting to the Final Four is nice, but it’s not enough.
You see, just like any fan, I want to win it all.
For the first time, ever.