Monday, August 29, 2005

Jerry Fishman wasn’t sorry then, and he’s not sorry now.

The Maryland Terrapins linebacker stepped away from fallen Navy quarterback Roger Staubach during a game in 1964 and made an obscene gesture to the Midshipmen in the stands.

It was a gesture that would bring the football rivalry between the schools to a halt for four decades — a rivalry that finally will be renewed when the Terps and Midshipmen meet again Saturday at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.

But if given the chance, Fishman said he would do it all over again.

“Some say the Navy has forgiven Japan for World War II, but they won’t forgive me,” said Fishman, a retired lawyer who lives in Boca Raton, Fla. “I did things that were shocking all my life. I didn’t feel bad about it. I never really apologized. … If somebody wants to fly me up there, my son could pass on the legend” and do it again.

Indeed, the passionate rivalry — the series was plagued by ejections, rough play, stolen mascots and vandalized statues and buildings from its 1905 inception — remains heated for those who participated in that fateful game in 1964, a 27-22 Terps victory.

Staubach went on to greatness with the Dallas Cowboys of the National Football League, winning two Super Bowls and earning a place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But he still speaks of Fishman with disdain. So does Navy receiver Skip Orr, who left that game with a knee injury after a questionable hit by Fishman along the sideline.

The Terrapins claimed their own reasons for ill will, ranging from cheap hits by the Navy players to Midshipmen coming onto their campus to date Maryland coeds.

Still, they all say they’re glad the series will resume. The “Crab Bowl Classic” will draw nearly 70,000 fans to M&T Bank Stadium, with tickets split evenly between the schools. Maryland’s 1965 team will be honored at halftime. Staubach bought 30 seats for former teammates.

Whether the century-old series will return to handshakes or clenched fists is uncertain. The old grudges have been tempered by time, but not forgotten.

“I’d like to think everybody comes out and shakes hands,” said former Maryland linebacker Chip Myrtle, who played from 1964 to 1966, of current players. “I’d like to see two fighters in a real slugfest.”

It was a brutal, one-sided series in the early years. Navy won the first eight meetings by a combined score of 256-7. Headlines spoke of “young Admirals” beating the “Farmers” and “Aggies” of the Maryland Agricultural College.

“Navy ran up an old-time score,” reported the Baltimore American in 1908 of the Midshipmen’s 57-0 victory. Nine years later, Navy won 62-0.

The series was stopped after 1934, when Maryland said Navy scored on an illegal play to take a 16-13 victory. However, Georgetown backed out of a game against Navy in 1950, creating an unexpected opening in the schedule. The Terrapins filled in, and 43,836 paid 50 cents each to see Maryland beat Navy 35-21 in the first game at Byrd Stadium in College Park.

Both sides worried that there would be post-game trouble. The Brigade movement order declared: “Midshipmen are under orders to behave like gentlemen and go straight home after the Maryland-Navy football game in College Park tomorrow. No midshipmen will enter the goal post activity or other altercation following the game.”

Still, there were incidents in ensuing years. A group of 17 Midshipmen were spotted before the 1951 game painting the letter “N” on several buildings on the Maryland campus and emblazoning the Navy symbol into the grass. Maryland students retaliated in 1959 by painting the statue of Tecumseh that stands in front of the Academy’s Bancroft Hall with “Maryland 59, Navy 0” — a prediction far off the mark. Navy won, 22-14.

The 1964 game proved to be the breaking point in a series that, after seven meetings in 15 years, was getting personal. Both sides said Navy’s 42-7 victory in 1963 was a roughly played game.

Terrapins players said they wanted to repay the Midshipmen for roughing up in that game Darryl Hill, a former plebe who left Navy for Maryland in 1962 to become the first black player in Atlantic Coast Conference history. Each side blamed hecklers for fighting in the stands.

“It was not a friendly game,” Staubach said. “Jerry did not have friendliness in his eyes. He had an extra mean streak that day.”

Fishman’s questionable hit of Orr infuriated the Midshipmen and drew a penalty. Tired of hecklers, Fishman walked over to the Navy section of the stands and made an obscene gesture. Only the Midshipmen seemed to notice.

Fishman was called for a second penalty for a late hit on Staubach, then repeated the obscene gesture to the Midshipmen from the 35-yard line.

“He told the fans he thought Maryland was No.1 and got his fingers wrong,” said Staubach, joking.

This time, everyone noticed.

“I greeted Jerry at the sideline,” teammate Myrtle said. “He was so intense and mad that he swung at me. He was swinging at anything that moved.”

The gesture angered Navy brass, and several Academy officials confirmed that Fishman’s act provided the impetus to stop the series after contractual obligations were fulfilled with a final game the next season.

“You’re talking 1964 when there was still some level of sportsmanship in athletes,” said Bud Thalman, who was Navy’s sports information director at the time. “It was so out of character it was stunning. There was no inclination from Navy to seek out a renewal. That untoward act of sportsmanship created a bad taste among people.”

Said then-Navy athletic director Bill Busik: “There had been a lot of instances over the years. It was wise to sever relations for a while.”

Navy coach Wayne Hardin was outraged, saying Fishman would never have played again if he were a midshipman. Maryland coach Tom Nugent didn’t see the act, but benched Fishman briefly to calm both the player and crowd.

“They were booing him thoroughly,” said Nugent, 92. “It got so bad after a play he made he gave them the finger. That caused a riot. Jerry was a real competitor. He couldn’t take the booing. I put him in later and they booed.”

Said Fishman: “I was taunting the fans. The more I got booed, the better I played. It was incentive for me.”

It wasn’t the last encounter between Fishman and the Midshipmen. He later owned a house so close to the Academy that he could see the grounds from his balcony. There were days the gesture was repeated to onlookers.

“If I could say anything to Naval Academy, what would I say?” Fishman said. “Maybe it would destroy the relationship for [another] 40 years. Stay tuned.”

Actually, Fishman won’t get the chance at the “Crab Bowl Classic.” Maryland officials have disavowed Fishman’s act and won’t invite him to the game.

Staubach won’t be there, either. He will watch the game on Saturday from a wedding reception.

Still, he wanted the last word: “Jerry’s not the guy that beat us,” Staubach said. “Tell him that.”

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