WASHINGTON | Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen felt it necessary to appeal to fans to buy tickets to a bowl game in their own backyard.
East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill didn't have to say a word. The Pirates faithful always show up in big numbers, even when they've had a 6-6 season. They've already sold about 6,000 tickets and have fully booked the official team hotel.
Imagine the embarrassment when, as seems likely, the traveling Conference USA team outdraws the local Atlantic Coast Conference team when the teams meet in the Military Bowl at RFK Stadium on Dec. 29.
The bowl is a letdown for Maryland (8-4), which tied for third in the ACC but was sent to the bowl that has the No. 8 selection from the conference. One factor, to be sure: The crowds at College Park have been disappointing this season, so the higher-tier bowls in distant locales were no doubt concerned whether Terrapins fans would travel in decent numbers.
"This year, attendance wasn't what it's been," Friedgen said. "The dilemma we're in right now is our fans need to come out and support us. I think we've got a chance to send a message to these people that turned us down. This is right in our back yard, and East Carolina's going to show up. And if we really care about our football program, our fans need to show up."
For East Carolina, any bowl game is a bonus in a season in which the team gave up points in bunches. Also, the Pirates relish any chance to knock off an ACC team. A good turnout and a win could help the school's position the next time the major conferences on the East Coast are looking to add teams, but McNeill shied away from such a big picture.
"I'm not looking at it as an audition or anything like that," he said.