We moved to College Park eight years ago in large part because of a fish pond at the back of a house that was on the market. That the fish pond (and the house) was near a huge public university in the ACC was also a big plus.
Then we moved here, took a short walk around the east side of US1 and worried that we had made a terrible mistake. We saw (and heard) then what David Morton later described in a blistering 2006 article in the City Paper.
We've constantly chosen to live near college campuses and had never previously experienced anything like it; the rampant culture of nihilistic stupidity made no sense at what was, by all accounts, an elite public university.
In response, for our first few years here we steered clear of the school. Occasional trips to the Comcast Center and Byrd Stadium confirmed our negative first impressions; as did my sister's reports of her experiences as a graduate student.
Over time, our distaste softened with increased interactions with the school and alums. Maryland Day, held each year on the last Saturday of April, provides a great introduction to the incredible academic resources of the school to anyone who wants to see them. The women's basketball team fundamentally changed our view of the Comcast Center. Maryland's soccer program -- both the men's and women's teams -- helped to further augment my love for the game. Once we started going to athletic events on campus regularly, we began to appreciate the amazing breadth of excellence in the school's athletic program: men's and women's lacrosse; women's field hockey; women's gymnastics; track & field -- heck, at my daughter's request, we've spent an afternoon taking in a softball game on campus.
We have still, with few exceptions, steered clear of football and men's basketball games. I thoroughly enjoyed the last time I was at Comcast for a men's game (in 2007), but it was for all the wrong reasons as American University upset Maryland for the first time since 1926-27 and Terps fans streamed out of the stadium in droves with three minutes left on the clock. No similar good memories of my last time at Byrd -- hosting Cal back in September of 2008, we ran gauntlets of drunk teenage morons with a three month old. We bailed early with my wife swearing that she would never go back again.
I'll test that resolve this year.
The sea change started with the hiring of Gary Crowton as offensive coordinator. I love Crowton. The Bears were absolutely awful in the two seasons (1999-2000) he was the OC, but his offenses were fun to watch. The lasting testament to Crowton's tenure is the receiving record held by Marcus Robinson. Robinson caught 84 passes for 1,400 yards (and Bobby Engram pitched in 88 receptions for 947 yards) in 1999 with Shane Matthews and Cade McNown getting the majority of the snaps at quarterback. Very few Bears fans (and even fewer NFL fans) would guess that the Bears all-time leading receiving yards record was set with McNown and Matthews behind center. But that's what Crowton can do. And now he has Danny O'Brien? That's entertainment.
The conversion continued with the school's masterful promotion of the Red - White spring game, scheduled to correspond with Maryland Day and Ag Day on campus.
The fact that the team's spring prospectus emphasized the academic accomplishments of Coach Edsall's UConn football teams helped even further.
But what sealed the deal was going to the spring game. The people at the university responsible for organizing the event are to be heralded. My daughter (and I) had a blast. Virtually every player we interacted with at the autograph session was fantastic and made the most of interacting with fans. In a short amount of time, we got to know enough about a few players to significantly ratchet up our interest in rooting for them.
Based on my daughter's experience and watching kids around us, every Terps football fan with children should make a point of attending.
I can't say enough about how grateful we are to the school for setting up the event and making it available to the general public.
Actions speak louder than words anyway, so I bought our season tickets earlier today.