I cannot recall ever having more difficulty writing a column about the Terps. A natural pessimist, I am feeling particularly pessimistic. These last two defeats have left me snake bitten.
However, our Terps are not in unchartered territory. Over the years, we have seen Maryland succeed against amazing odds. We have also seen them fall apart at the seams. This season has provided examples of both. Yet, with three games to go, here we are. The UNC win and subsequent wins are a distant memory. The Terps cannot afford to lose another regular season game.
The Terps entered desperation mode after the final buzzer sounded on Saturday. The loss to Miami has placed Maryland’s season in peril. As Terp fans, this terrain is all too familiar. In times like this, frustration builds to almost intolerable levels. After reading through some of the comments on this site, I can tell these recent losses and the Terps’ overall regression can call one’s loyalty and fanhood in to question.
It begs the question, why do we root so hard? Why does every loss feel so devastating and every win, so exhilarating? I guess the short answer is that there is no answer. Fans live and die by the Terps for different reasons.
If you are an Alumnus or Maryland native, being a Terp fan is a birthright. The Baltimore/DC area does not lack for sports teams. We have the Ravens, Redskins, Orioles, Nationals, Wizards and Caps, but the Terps have the power to unite the region like no other team. EVERYONE in Maryland cheers for the Terps.
There aren’t many schools on the college landscape that have such a captive audience. Kentucky has Louisville. Wisconsin has Marquette. In fact, the only schools with any college hoops relevance that have equal sway over their entire state are UConn, Arkansas, and LSU. Maryland is a bigger state than all three of them, so it is safe to say that the Terps indeed have a unique relationship with the Free State.
For me it goes a little deeper. Maryland has an ethos that I connect with on a deep level. Our Terps have been cast as permanent underdogs. Over the last 35 years no team in the country has gone toe-to-toe with two of the most elite programs in the country (Duke and UNC) and had as much success.
Maryland has been battling the two biggest and baddest bullies on the block and more or less held is own. Yet, no one nationally seems to notice. Haven’t we all felt undervalued and under appreciated at some point in our lives?
To further the point, it has been well established that the ACC has historically been the best conference in the nation. Duke and UNC have collected a combined six NCAA titles since 1982. Put another way, either Duke or UNC won the National title every four years. No other conference has two schools with such undeniable success.
Yet Maryland trudges along AND manages to win. Look at all this program has survived in the last 25 years. Len Bias’ tragic death nearly destroyed the athletic program ,and just as the program was starting to go beyond his death; the NCAA put the school on probation and handed them a ridiculous two-year post season and television ban. Can you imagine a school getting a similar penalty today for giving a recruit a ride to class?
Through it all Maryland has remained competitive. Dogged for years as a perpetual bridesmaid (all those sweet sixteens and top 10 finishes) without ever getting its moment in the sun. Finally redemption came and it felt like no other. No sports moment will ever compare to the way I felt as the seconds ticked down in Atlanta in 2002.
Under appreciated and unjustly treated (I haven’t even touched on the officiating), our Terps have been cast as permanent underdogs when we look upon the giants of the ACC. Some say that America loves an underdog, but I don’t get that feeling about the Terps. I’ve lived in California and Illinois and can count on one hand the number of times I have seen Terp gear in stores. I feel like Maryland basketball is our little secret.
Not being a household name may hurt us in recruiting, but I wouldn’t want it any other way. Maryland is “our thing” (note: in Italian, “our thing” means something entirely different). It would feel tainted if I saw some random kid from the North Chicago suburbs rooting for Maryland.
I hope my little pep talk has helped. Terp Nation needs a big hug right now. Let’s hope that Gary Williams, who embodies this underdog ethos, can summon some of the old magic and find the answers to the problems that the last two losses have exposed.