Sunday, November 6, 2011

Grave Expectations

With the Washington Post's drums of doom beating with greater urgency and foreboding, our little of family of four set out for a morning constitutional to Byrd -- including a short pit stop at the recently opened local branch of Bobby's Burger Palace -- to catch the last home game of the football season.

There were seven home games on the schedule this year, but yesterday was the first fixture the whole family was able to attend.

All kinds of negative things will be written about this season (although the Post's assault is likely to subside as each of its columnists takes turns expressing their deep moral outrage at Penn State's Athletics Department, presumably highlighting the terrible human failings resulting from a singular focus on the results of a football program to the detriment of its character, before once again pummeling Coach Edsall for failing to claim victories in ball games this year) and much of this will detract from what, with the notable exceptions of the Temple and Boston College debacles, was a very entertaining slate of football games played at Byrd.

The second half of the game against Virginia sucked for Maryland partisans. Effort from certain Terps, most obviously at the edges of the defense, dissipated, and the Cavaliers rolled. But the weather was perfect, the scenery from high atop the stadium stunning on a fall day, and the first half gave another tantalizing preview of what Maryland football might look like next season.

At four months, my youngest doesn't form opinions about such things, but my three-year old has perspective to spare and we had, in another venue for another athletic event, a thoroughly pleasant afternoon on Maryland's campus.

All kinds of people in the neighborhood and within the Terrapin community are supremely disappointed. I have not had success in convincing friends and neighbors otherwise, but outside of the Temple game, there has been a lot of entertaining football played at Byrd.

Start with the Monday-nighter against Miami: I've been equivocal about expressing support for the full Terrapins athletic program (largely, to be sure, because of the culture of Friedgen's and Williams' respective squads). Sitting in the upper deck, that all washed away as the rain poured down and Maryland attacked a weakened Hurricane squad. That night, I walked back home from the stadium in a downpour soaked to the bone but exhilarated by the event.

Two weeks later, I returned to watch the Terps get battered by the Mountaineers completely encased within drunken WVU students who periodically broke into "We're going to the SEC!!!" chants as West Virginia piled up points. As the alcohol wore off, Maryland made an insane run that fell one drive short. A single Danny O'Brien misread overshadowed a furious three touchdown onslaught that had the Mountaineers on their heels and their fans finally exhaling with a minute fifteen left in regulation.

We were out of town for the Temple game the next week and, as such, were spared the spectacle of a comprehensive drubbing in miserable weather. By coincidence, we were staying at the same hotel north of Philadelphia as Maryland's women tennis team -- when guests attempted to harangue the players about the upset, they shrugged it off. So did we.

The victory against Towson the week thereafter wasn't exactly comforting -- Maryland looked awful. Another comeback that fell short -- this time engineered by C.J. Brown -- against a far better team in Atlanta against Georgia Tech instilled a bit of hope.

Georgia Tech bled into a colossal home return against Clemson. And for every Terrapin booster complaining about the program, I'd like to hear how he felt after Matt Furstenburg crossed into the end zone. Actually, considering Nick Ferrara's kick to Sammy Watkins on the next play, perhaps it is tough to remember any elation from that game.

So, now, with bad losses to Florida State and Boston College, let's all remember that Maryland went 8 and 4 during the regular season last year -- and won a luxurious trip to RFK for the Military Bowl. Never mind the 2-10 season in 2009. And never mind these numbers: 51,263; 47,954; 44,452; and 39,168. That would be the average home attendance figures for Maryland football from 2007 through 2010.

This year? 42,355.

I had high hopes for Coach Edsall and the rest of the staff, but truth be told, the performances haven't been encouraging. Maryland's special teams play, in particular, has been horrific and has not appreciably improved as the season has progressed. But we'll be getting season tickets again next year and root for the Terps with a clear conscience.

Friedgen's three-year run from 2001 through 2003 was incredible. But his early success masked deficiencies that would become all too apparent as mediocre season followed mediocre season. Coach Edsall will not be afforded the same margin for error that allowed Friedgen to post a 41 and 41 record from 2004 through 2010.

The process is more important than the results and while it will make things more difficult in the near term, I want the college football program I support to be under close scrutiny. We went to our first Maryland football game in 2002. Even to a passive observer of the program, things have not been right. I'm more confident now about its relative integrity; maybe that's wrong and maybe I'll be disappointed, but I'm way more interested in watching Terps football now then I've been over the last decade.

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