- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 3, 2002

MIAMI Without warning, a blue and orange dust storm swept through the bar at Shula's Hotel and Golf Resort in Hialeah yesterday afternoon.
The usual midafternoon buzz of music and conversation was suddenly interrupted by an impromptu Florida pep rally staged by none other than the Gators cheerleaders and mascots.
At a nearby table, a small group of red-clad Maryland fans groaned and shook their heads. Attempts at shouting down the cheers and fight song blaring over the P.A. system failed.
Welcome to life as a Maryland football fan. In the Washington area, you're likely to work with raucous Virginia fans or worse, Virginia Tech fans. Move to Florida and it's nonstop Gators, Seminoles or Hurricanes talk.
Which is why Maryland fans were so looking forward to last night's Orange Bowl showdown with the mighty Gators and why they've spent the last few weeks puffing out their chests just a bit.
Claudia Simpson of Largo, Fla., knows all about life as a perpetual sports underdog. She graduated from Maryland in 1976, but she spends her days surrounded by Gators fans who consider each season that ends without a date in the national championship game a failure.
"I just had to get tickets when I found out they were coming here and playing Florida," she said with a smile. "Gator fans they're the worst. It was sad seeing Maryland lose to Florida State, but it was great seeing them win the ACC after that. I think this game is going to be very important to Maryland, and I hope they do well."
That seemed to be the sentiment yesterday as Terrapins fans ticked down the final hours until last night's showdown. While the local papers were filled with talk about how unimportant and lowly the Gators seemed to treat the Orange Bowl after losing a chance at the national championship only a few weeks ago, Maryland fans took an opposite approach. Seven hours before kickoff yesterday, they were already flooding the Pro Player Stadium parking lot, setting up their tailgate parties and drooling over the impending kickoff.
"I think it's been a great experience for Maryland, and it's been a long time coming," said Marty Marteja, a 1995 Maryland graduate who works as a computer network administrator in Northern Virginia, which brings him into contact with plenty of Virginia Tech and Virginia fans.
"There's a lot of pride in Terp fans these days," he said. "I get razzed all the time by everybody I work with. I used to be scared every time everyone at work would start talking about football. But I'm glad we're here, and I'm really excited about the game."
R.J. Culleli of Vienna, a 1974 Maryland graduate, was equally excited about coming to a big bowl. Like most Terps fans, he read all the Florida papers he could once he arrived and couldn't believe the talk even if just rumors that the Gators and their fans weren't drooling over their Orange Bowl engagement.
"All the talk is about how their backup quarterback is going to eat Maryland alive," Culleli said with a look of disbelief on his face. "Nobody is giving Maryland a chance to win. It would be a huge upset. But I think that's what Maryland needs. I think they can pull it off. They've got to play a perfect game to do it, but I think they can."
Brian Reilly of Crofton, part of the Maryland contingent that had to suffer through yesterday's Florida pep rally at the Shula Hotel, said he hopes last night's game, win or loss, can be the start of another run of gridiron glory for Maryland, one the Terps haven't seen since their days on the national stage back in the 1950s.
"It's exciting to be part of a winning program again, and I think this could be the start of something big," he said. "Once we knew they were going somewhere for a bowl game, it really got exciting, and then when we found out they were going to the Orange Bowl, it was even better. It's going to be great."


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