Wednesday, November 21, 2001

Since just about everything else has gone right in Maryland’s dream football season, how about a dream denouement: The Terrapins play Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl or Tennessee in the Sugar.
Either is possible, if not likely. And either certainly would tickle the memory banks of older fans.
The Terps have waited nigh onto half a century to get even with the Sooners on postseason fronts. Jim Tatum’s powerhouse teams ran afoul of Bud Wilkinson’s Oklahoma machines twice at the Orange Bowl, losing 7-0 in 1954 and 20-6 in ‘56. The latter so annoyed Tatum that he promptly skedaddled off to his North Carolina alma mater, but that’s another story.
Maryland also has lost two bowl dates to Tennessee, 7-3 in the 1974 Liberty and 30-23 in the ‘83 Citrus, but the Terps sort of got even by whipping the Volunteers 28-27 in the ‘84 Sun. What would make a rematch especially meaningful this January is that it will be the 50th anniversary of Maryland’s most glorious gridiron victory ever, a 28-13 Sugar Bowl spanking of Gen. Bob Neyland’s top-ranked 1951 Vols, who at the time were considered by some the best college team ever.
That goes way, way back but so do a lot of Maryland people with silver in their hair. And so did their frustration over 15 years of football follies at a school with just about every imaginable asset in terms of size, location and alumni support. Now they’re reveling in Ralph Friedgen’s 10-1 season and perhaps wondering why it took so long to find the right man.
It’s not like the Fridge was hidden under a rock. For one thing, he’s too big. For another, he’s a Maryland man, for heaven’s sakes. And although athletic director Debbie Yow deserves credit for hiring Friedgen, we should remember that she didn’t give him a tumble when he applied five years ago. (Maybe Ron Vanderlinden, who got the job and then blew it, hypnotized Yow during his interview.)
“It’s important that Ralph is a Maryland guy,” Jim Kehoe was saying this week after recovering from Saturday night’s stunning, ACC title-clinching win at N.C. State. “That adds a special dimension to how he feels about the school, and I think he imparts that to his players. We’ve had a lot of people here who used Maryland as a steppingstone.”
Kehoe, comfortably retired at 83, knows a little bit about coaches and coaching. For 25 years, man and boy, he coached Maryland’s track teams so well that he’s in that sport’s Hall of Fame. After becoming AD in 1969, his early hires included Lefty Driesell and Jerry Claiborne, who restored the Terps to respectability, and then some, in basketball and football.
What’s more, Kehoe is a Maryland man to the core and has been for more than 60 years right from the tip of his brush cut, through his horse-blanket sports jackets down to his toes. If you can find a person more dedicated to athletics in Terptown, I’d like to meet him because I don’t believe it’s possible.
“When it comes to coaching, there’s an undefinable, indescribable quality that some people have and some don’t,” Kehoe said. “Joe Gibbs had it, Vince Lombardi had it and Friedgen has it the special ability to turn people on. Take the other night in Raleigh. When our team came out for the second half, you could see that they were really fired up totally unlike the first half. I don’t know exactly what Ralph did, but it worked.”
One thing Friedgen did was to describe his feelings about the Terps’ first-half play they trailed 9-3 in words not normally associated with organized religion. Then there were the chairs. “I threw one, and it didn’t get much attention,” he told The Washington Post. “So I threw another one, and that did.”
Ya do what ya gotta do, right?
Kehoe is one of very few left from a group of coaches and administration folks who worked at Maryland for many years people like one-time football coach and university president Curly Byrd, Bill Cobey, Sully Krouse, Al Heagy, Jack Faber, Dean Eppley, Bill Campbell, Jack Jackson, Doyle Royal, Col. Tom Fields and Jack Zane. And, of course, there was Joe Blair, Tatum’s sports information director, who returned to the university SID office in the ‘80s after years with the Redskins and suffered an ultimately fatal stroke on a team flight to Louisville in 1995. In one sense, Kehoe is enjoying the school’s unprecedented success in football and men’s basketball for all of them, too.
“I never had any doubt that we’d get football turned around,” insisted Kehoe, an incurable optimist. “It’s just that it has happened so dramatically this season. Look, Gary [Williams] did the same thing in basketball, but it was slowly and surely. Jerry Claiborne did it in football in the early ‘70s, but he was 5-5-1 his first year, not 10-1. This season is almost like dying and going to heaven. The way this team has played is almost bizarre, like a team of destiny or something.”
Now we have to wait a bit to learn where and against whom it ends. I’m rooting for Miami on Jan. 2 against Oklahoma, and I’m betting I’ve got lots of company.

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