- The Washington Times - Monday, March 19, 2001

LOS ANGELES Coach Craig Esherick clearly remembers the explosive local impact produced by the last NCAA tournament game between Maryland and Georgetown.

"That's why we're not going home," said Esherick, who took his Hoyas immediately to the West Regional site in Anaheim, Calif., after their second-round victory over Hampton in Boise, Idaho.

Esherick was a graduate assistant to John Thompson when the Hoyas beat the Terps 74-68 in the East Region semifinals of the 1980 NCAA tournament, so the last thing he wanted to do was expose his players to the hype in the District.

"Every day there were eight or nine articles in the newspapers about Maryland versus Georgetown," Esherick said. "I'm sure it will be the same this week… . And Washington, D.C. will not be the same between now and Thursday."

Few locals would argue that any college matchup over the last two decades has had this game's ability to completely polarize the area. The NCAA tournament always takes over sports sections in March. But this week this matchup in this city is likely to utterly overwhelm even "W" and Wall Street's woes.

After all, this game has enough juice to give Dick Vitale a coronary. It's the Beltway Brawl, baby. It's Hoyas vs. Terps. 25-7 vs. 23-10. Private vs. Public. Big East vs. ACC. Catholic vs. Parochial. Hoya Paranoia vs. Final Fouraphobia. City vs. Suburb. Craig vs. Gary. Force vs. Finesse. Braswell vs. Dixon… . And it's all for a shot at a spot in the Final Four.

So, why have we had to wait more than seven years since the last installment between the area's most successful programs? How come the area's two most notable universities, schools located less than 20 miles apart, have played just once in the last 20 years? And what would it take to make this game an annual occurrence?

"Oh, boy, I don't know what it would take," said Esherick, who has fielded the question from fans and boosters since he took over from Thompson midway through the 1999 season. "The first thing it would take is somebody asking [Terps coach] Gary [Williams] does he want to play, and then someone asking me do I want to play. And if both of us say, 'Yes,' then is the game going to be at the MCI Center or Cole Field House? There are all sorts of other things that go on with that line of questioning."

Esherick paused as he considered explaining some of the other things that have short-circuited potential games between the teams in the past, and then decided not to elaborate.

"All that's going to do is get me in trouble and get [Williams] in trouble, and then [Williams] and I are going to get mad at each other, so I'm not going to say any more," Esherick said.

Make no mistake, there have been numerous attempts over the last decade to get the teams together. But neither coach cares to talk about those matchmaking efforts. Still, over time dozens of confirmed snippets have formed a pretty complete picture of the proceedings.

Back in 1993, when Georgetown was the undisputed king of local hoops, Williams talked Thompson into playing the Terps. Maryland won 84-83 in overtime, and many fans just assumed the Hoyas backed out of the planned series because Thompson didn't want to risk further losses. The real reason the teams did not play the next season as scheduled was, of course, money.

When the teams met in 1993 at Capital Centre, both administrations had agreed to an equal split of the tickets and the proceeds. But Georgetown did not sell out its allotment of tickets. Maryland not only sold out its seats but needed more. That prompted Maryland officials to ask Georgetown for a 60-40 split in tickets and profits for the following season's game at Cole. The request galled Thompson and the Georgetown administration to the extent that the game was canceled.

Next came several different attempts to pull Georgetown into the field for the BB&T; Classic. Three years ago, Georgetown was on the verge of signing a contract for the following season, when BB&T; organizer John Feinstein, who also does color commentary for the games, criticized the Georgetown program at length on the air. His comments were damaging enough to dissolve the tenuous relationship between Georgetown and the BB&T.;

The animosity between Georgetown and Feinstein started when he covered the team in the early 1980s, as the Duke graduate disagreed vehemently with Thompson's decision to provide the media with extremely limited access to his acclaimed team. And the Feinstein friction is serious enough that the Georgetown athletic department likely will never join the BB&T; field as long as Feinstein plays a major role in the tournament's function.

The most recent attempt to stage a game between the teams came just last spring, when a pair of wealthy local alums, one from each school, approached both administrations independently about bank-rolling the game.

"They came to us first, and it was so much money that after [athletic director] Joe Lang and I talked we felt like we had to do it," Esherick said last year. "But things didn't work out on [Maryland's] end."

Apparently, Williams told the alums he couldn't find a slot in his schedule for the game. But there were probably other factors at play. Fact is, the two programs just don't like each other. It's quite likely that they will never agree on enough of the details to make the game an annual event, which is exactly why Thursday's game is that much more special. Only the NCAA tournament could bring these local giants together.

"We're playing on Thursday. I scheduled it," Esherick said with a smirk. "We won our game. Gary won his game. The two of us got together and decided to play. We'll both be there on Thursday. I can guarantee you that."


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