- The Washington Times - Friday, January 4, 2002

One of the best things about jumping on a fast-moving bandwagon is that those who have been there from the beginning, when the bandwagon was parked in the garage, are generally so giddy about the good fortunes of their team that they barely notice the increasingly cramped quarters caused by their fair-weather comrades. Yeah. We'll gladly admit it: We jumped on the University of Maryland football team's bandwagon driven by first-year head coach Ralph Friedgen (Maryland class of 1968) in early October, after the Terps propelled themselves into the Top 25 by thumping Virginia 41-21 to become 5-0. Five days later, when Maryland upset 15th-ranked Georgia Tech 20-17 in overtime on prime-time national television, it suddenly seemed that we had been on the bandwagon all along.

By the time Friedgen led his Terps to Miami to play in the prestigious Orange Bowl, Maryland had sold more than 22,000 tickets for Wednesday night's showdown with the Florida Gators. For a team that, not long ago, could sell no more than 13,000 season tickets to fans traveling to College Park, that's quite a bandwagon effect all the more so, given the 1,000-plus miles separating the Orange Bowl from the Terps' home turf.

There's no secret why Maryland football suddenly became so popular. Until this season, the team hadn't won an Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) football title in more than 15 years. And Maryland hadn't been to a bowl game since the 1990 Independence Bowl. This year's Orange Bowl appearance was the school's first New Year's bowl in a quarter-century. And Maryland hadn't even won a bowl game since 1985. In fact, that was the last year the Terps won more than six games, a time whennot so coincidentallyFriedgen had been offensive coordinator. Led by linebacker E.J. Henderson, the ACC defensive player of the year, and tailback Bruce Perry, the ACC offensive player of the year, Maryland took a 10-1 record into this year's Orange Bowl and a No. 6 national ranking.

Throughout the latter half of the season, as the team relentlessly moved up in the national polls, it had been one great ride on the Maryland bandwagon. But the high-flying, festive bandwagon hit a brick wall against the Florida Gators, a decade-long national power whose resounding 56-23 victory over the Terps marked the ninth time in 11 seasons that the Gators have won 10 games.

Clearly, on the field, the Florida football program operates at a level above the Terps a fact not very evident off the field, given that Maryland's partisans in Miami far outnumbered their Florida counterparts. Equally clearly, however, Friedgen, named coach of the year in a slew of national polls, and the young men on the Maryland football team, who have played their hearts out for their new coach and their school, have nothing to regret from their hugely successful 2001 football season.


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