- The Washington Times - Monday, March 4, 2002

At game's finish, nobody left his seat except perhaps to stand. Maryland's second-ranked juggernaut had crushed Virginia 112-92 the perfect end to a perfect final season at Cole Field House and now it was time to turn seamlessly from present to past.
Out of the tunnel onto the court they came, many of the players who had helped make Cole a mecca of college basketball for nearly half a century. Bob Kessler, a superstar in the 1950s (although the word hadn't been invented). … Bozo O'Brien, who sank the shot that sank top-ranked South Carolina 31-30 in 1970. … Jay and Tom McMillen. … Will Hetzel. … Len Elmore. …. Mo Howard. … Steve Sheppard. … Albert King. … Buck Williams. … Adrian Branch. … Keith Booth. … Longtime coach Bud Millikan. … And finally, from the current Terrapins, Juan Dixon and Lonny Baxter.
The fans yelled and cheered and yelled and cheered some more. When the ceremonies were over, many lingered. They didn't want to leave Cole for the last time, or ever.
Everyone who jammed and crammed into the joint last night had his own favorite memory of days and nights at this hoops shrine. Mine involved a hand-lettered sign that hung from an elevated TV booth one day in 1977.
Put Heller in the cellar he's the pits.
It seemed I had described Lefty Driesell, the eminent savior of Terrapin hoops, somewhat less than glowingly in the newspaper for which I worked, and in those days that was high heresy in College Park.
Actually, the sign was a big thrill. Imagine being hated simultaneously by 14,500 fans, some of whom had extremely extensive vocabularies. For a while there, I thought I was Bob Short or Tom Landry.
Last night's gala closing ceremonies at Cole were much more memorable, though. In late afternoon, Maryland athletic director Debbie Yow whose fertile brain was at least partially responsible for bringing Comcast Center to impending fruition was spotted pacing up and down the nearly deserted press room.
"Whew," Yow exclaimed. "It's four hours to game time, and I'm already fired up. I better go somewhere and calm down."
You'd have to say Debbie was entitled. The last college basketball game at venerable, venerated Cole after 47 years was the sort of occasion that makes strong men weep, especially those who have been Terps fans longer than they care to (or can) remember.
Of course, one very important person was missing perhaps even the most important person. Where was the irascible Lefthander who kicked, stomped and yowled Maryland to basketball prominence from 1969 to 1986?
Well, you know. Driesell's Georgia State team had lost in the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament finals the previous evening, and he had to settle for being interviewed on the Fox Sports Channel telecast. Too bad, because his presence would have made Cole's finale even more memorable. Just to get even, when he was acknowledged to the crowd, the scoreboard misspelled his name as "Driesel."
Not all the notable things at Cole have taken place on the basketball court. After I had huffed and puffed up the 26 steps from ground level, a walk around the concourse hours before the game proved worthwhile.
Hard by Gary Williams' basketball office was a trophy case that held three significant basketballs. One was from the 1973 NCAA East Regional, when the Terps beat Syracuse and Providence to gain the Elite Eight. Another commemorated the 1976 game in which John Lucas became Maryland's all-time scoring leader. And on another shelf, in solitary grandeur, rested a black ball from the Southern Conference tournament of 1931, Burt Shipley's Terps won it by nailing three straight victories, one a 19-17 thriller against North Carolina.
About the same time, Maryland point guard Steve Blake stood in the tunnel, speaking quietly with an usher before ducking into the press area to catch a few minutes of hoops on a large-screen TV. As Blake talked, his words nearly echoed back at him from the nearly barren court and stands.
A few hours later, Blake and his teammates, ran out of the tunnel to bedlam from the assembled multitiude a scene they have experienced and enjoyed many times before. But this was the last time and therefore very special.
For much of the first half, Maryland and Virginia played so erratically that it was suggested that the state high school tournament on the premises had started four days early. The Terps finally took control with a dandy 25-5 run before halftime, but the game didn't really matter. The scene was the thing, and all night long, the arena's hangar-like roof seemed in danger of detaching.
Now come the ACC and NCAA tournaments and possibly unprecedented future glory, but it will be tough to top this farewell. Yes, sir, Cole Field House rocked and rocked and rocked some more.
For one final time.
Rest in peace.


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