- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 2, 2002

No one, in his most far-fetched dreams, could have imagined it before the season, but the Maryland football team's unforgettable 2001 season will culminate tonight when it plays Florida in the 68th Orange Bowl in Miami.

The Terrapins have weathered through mediocrity for most of their last 15 seasons, but under first-year coach and alumnus Ralph Friedgen, Maryland won 10 of its 11 games and won the Atlantic Coast Conference championship for the first time since 1985. This is Maryland's first bowl appearance in 11 seasons and the most prestigious in 25 years. The Terps had finished with a winning record just once in the last 10 seasons before their remarkable 2001 campaign.

"I've always seen tremendous potential at Maryland," Friedgen said. "I think this is just the start of something that's going to flourish for years to come."

Maryland stands as a 15-point underdog the widest point spread of any bowl game this winter to the Gators of the Southeastern Conference. Most prognosticators believe Florida's high-scoring offense will prove too much for the Terps. But should the Terps win, they would become the second 11-win team in program history.

Regardless of the outcome, players, students and fans of the university have made the most of the experience.

Maryland sold all the tickets it was allotted by the Orange Bowl more than 22,000 but athletic director Deborah Yow said that, including fans who purchased tickets through other outlets, Maryland's contingent at Pro Player Stadium, the site of the game, will range between 26,000 and 27,000. The game is sold out.

"When this came up, I said, 'I've got to go,'" said Greg Zurmuhler, a 1983 Maryland graduate. "[The fan turnout] shows you the willpower of the fans, the alumni. It's just been so long. I just wanted to get behind the cause."

"[The excitement] started with basketball and picked up momentum," said Chris Brown, a 1979 graduate. "The Final Four and the Orange Bowl what else can you say? It's been a joy as a Maryland fan. I hope it gets to be a habit."

Maryland players have enjoyed the sunny and breezy shores of South Florida for eight days, but Friedgen has reeled in the reins in recent days.

In the days leading up to the game, players strode on the sand and rode wave runners near their hotel on Miami Beach.

The Orange Bowl culminates a successful athletic year for the school. The Maryland men's basketball team reached its first NCAA tournament Final Four, and the women's lacrosse team won its seventh straight NCAA championship.

Both the Maryland football and men's basketball teams, at No. 6 and No. 8, respectively, are ranked in the Associated Press' top 10; coincidentally, Florida is one of only two other major schools currently to hold that distinction.

"This has really brought a tremendous sense of pride to the campus community more than anything else," Yow said. "We thought it was extraordinary that we took over 4,000 [fans] to the Final Four. To take six or seven times as many people for football is extraordinary."

The Terps and Gators will have the national stage to themselves, as the Orange Bowl is the only college football game played today.

Maryland has won one national championship, in 1953.

"There's only been one other team at Maryland to win 11 games," Friedgen said. "From where we've come, to have that opportunity [to match it] is a tremendous accomplishment for our players. And it would be a real good ending to a real storybook story."


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