- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 3, 2002

I'll be at Cole Field House tonight for Maryland's last basketball game there, but I don't really want to be.
No, that's not quite right. I wouldn't want to miss the Terrapins' hoops farewell, but I don't want to say goodbye to this grand old building.
Sure it will be exciting next November when the Terps open Comcast Center especially if they come in as national champions. Yet I hate to have Cole itself become a memory after 47 years of giving us so many memories.
I guess I've seen a couple hundred games there over 30 years. And although I've nearly always attended as a working reporter, it's hard not to get swept up in the passion provided on the premises by 14,500 red-clad Maryland fans.
Who even wants to try?
Coaches always talk about getting proper support from students and other fans. This was and is a big deal with Maryland football coach Ralph Friedgen, who wants to see Byrd Stadium overflowing for every game. With another super season or two like last year's, the Fridge probably will get his wish but that's not something Gary Williams usually has had to worry about.
Cole is always wild and woolly for ACC games essential in a conference where so many other arenas exist under similar conditions. Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium is perhaps the best example of a road hazard, but most other locales aren't far behind.
I remember the first time I ever went on the road with Maryland for an ACC game. This was in December 1973 at Wake Forest, not usually one of the conference's premier hoops outposts. The stands were full an hour before the game, and I can still hear the bass drum and chant that never seemed to end: BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM … BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM … BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM … GO DEACS!
It's that way all over the ACC, and Cole often was the loudest spot of them all. Good thing, too, if you were a Terps fan.
Nothing nothing tops ACC basketball for sheer excitement. And when you put 14,500 screaming meemies in one building like Cole, any visitors would feel intimidated.
Mike Krzyzewski's superb Duke teams usually are impervious to such factors in fact, I suspect Coach K uses negative crowd energy to motivate his players. Even so, when the top-ranked Blue Devils came calling in mid-February, they appeared unnerved by the atmosphere. Maryland took control of the game early and never really surrendered it in one of the Terps' biggest regular-season victories ever.
Jack Zane, who has been around Maryland athletics practically since the creation, told me that was the first time he had ever seen every seat filled before the national anthem. Heck, when Williams came out to do his pregame radio show with Johnny Holliday more than an hour before tipoff, the student sections went nuts: GA-RY … GA-RY … GARY!
Bud Millikan, the Maryland coach when Cole opened in 1955, was a restrained man who did not attempt to incite the masses. It all changed after Lefty Driesell, a superb showman, took over in 1969. When the Lefthander strode out of the tunnel before the tipoff, both hands thrust aloft in the "V" signal while the pep band played "Hail to the Chief," the paying customers like to go wild.
I never thought anybody could match that, but Williams just as intense and focused as Lefty used to be does. The only difference is that Gary waves a clenched fist in the air.
Both coaches had to struggle along with only fair teams their first couple of seasons, but both finally cracked the North Carolina power elite in ACC circles. Pending the results of possible meetings with Duke in the finals of the ACC and NCAA tournaments, Maryland can stake a claim to being the best team in what year in and year out is the nation's best basketball conference.
It's a wonderful valedictory.
I guess I'm afraid that the Memorial Stadium/Camden Yards syndrome might be repeated in College Park. When the Orioles played at Memorial, the stands weren't always full, but the fans were just that real fans who loved baseball. After Camden Yards opened in 1992, capacity crowds were routine, but a lot of the spectators wore three-piece-suits, sipped wine instead of guzzling Natty Boh and left in the eighth inning of tie games.
Comcast Center will hold 17,000, and I hope all the seats continue to be filled by folks who go bonkers over Maryland basketball. The architect and university planners wisely opted for that many seats rather than perhaps 20,000 so that fans will be close to the action a delightful feature of Cole.
Gosh, you mean money, for once, wasn't the determining factor in college athletics?
But one breath of roundball life still remains for the old building, and a lot of tears are sure to be shed before, during and after tonight's game against Virginia. When you spend some of the most emotional days and nights of your life in a place, you hate to see it go because it takes a part of you with it.
So long, Cole Field House it's been good to know ya.

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