- The Washington Times - Friday, December 14, 2001

Any Orange Bowl officials worried about the Maryland Terrapins' ability to bring enough fans to their postseason game against the Florida Gators on Jan. 2 can start figuring out where they're going to put them all.

About 21,000 Terrapins supporters are headed to Miami to cheer on the No. 6 college football team and coach Ralph Friedgen, whom the Associated Press yesterday named college Coach of the Year. Mr. Friedgen, 54, won in his first season with the Terps, who this year captured their first Atlantic Coast Conference championship since 1985.

Terps fans are feverishly anticipating the team's showdown with No. 5 Florida (9-2), and nothing demonstrates "Maryland Mania" more than the feeding frenzy for Orange Bowl tickets, which had been available only to Terrapin Club members, season-ticket holders, alumni and university students. Maryland supporters gobbled up the original allotment of 15,000 tickets, forcing the university's ticket office to request 7,000 additional tickets from the Orange Bowl.

The ticket sales to the public were delayed until today to allow students and supporters extra time to order. Dave Haglund, media director for Maryland's athletic department, said that about 1,000 tickets will be available to the general public at $80 each and a limit of four per customer.

"People are excited," said Mr. Haglund. "The ticket sales are a testament to the enthusiasm that the football team has sparked. It's great for the program. It's great for the entire state. It's a major statement being made."

Maryland Athletic Director Debbie Yow gushed praise over the outpouring of support. "Our fans and students have risen to the occasion in a compelling way," she said in a prepared statement. "If this were a national championship game, and our fans and students were our team, we'd be winning by a large margin."

Comparatively, Orange Bowl Committee CEO Keith Tribble said the University of Florida had sold about 15,000 tickets and another 6,000 or so tickets, bought directly through the Orange Bowl, were probably all purchased by Florida fans.

Mr. Tribble said Miami's Pro Player Stadium, which holds 75,192, may be awash in Gator orange, but Maryland fans have made their mark. "It makes a very strong statement that Maryland football is back and that they anticipate being around for a while," he said.

His statement was a loud rebuttal to skeptics who said Maryland would not travel well to a bowl game. "That was the question," said Mr. Tribble. "Will their people travel to any bowl? Is there enough enthusiasm?"

Mr. Tribble said that question was answered for him after attending Maryland's 37-20 win over Clemson on Nov. 10 at Byrd Stadium on the College Park campus. "There was no question in my mind that their fans were solidly excited and behind them," he said.

It has been a long time coming for Maryland football fans, now enjoying the team's 10-1 regular season. After the 1986 season, head coach Bobby Ross left for the San Diego Chargers, taking Mr. Friedgen, then an assistant, with him.

Since then, the football program suffered through a 54-98-2 overall record up to this year, and had never finished higher than fourth in the ACC. The last time Maryland went to any bowl was in 1990, when they tied Louisiana Tech, 34-34, in the Independence Bowl.

Those were difficult years for fans like John Llewellyn, 51, president-elect of the Terrapin Club.

"Every year I would think, 'We'll do better,' but we seemed to have a tough time winning ball games," said Mr. Llewellyn, a Terp fan since childhood. "It was very difficult watching us lose consistently and not having a winning program."

Mr. Friedgen and his staff's immediate effect on the program surprised not only Maryland fans, but the rest of the country.

"It's just something no one expected," said Jay Parsons, a sophomore journalism major who is driving down to the game two days early with 15 friends. "So that's probably part of the reason everyone's so gung-ho about it."

Said Mr. Llewellyn: "I don't know any Maryland fans who are not going. Everyone I know is going."

The meteoric rise of the football program, coming on the heels of the basketball team's Final Four appearance in March, has given a huge boost to the university. Merchandise sales in the University Bookstore are up 25 percent, according to the general manager, and 536 new members have joined the Terrapin Club since the Clemson game.

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