- The Washington Times - Friday, September 2, 2005

Somewhere between the appetizer and dessert, four decades of differences between the Maryland and Navy football programs were resolved.

Terrapins coach Ralph Friedgen and Midshipmen coach Paul Johnson ended a football feud that wasn’t theirs during an impromptu dinner at an Annapolis barbecue restaurant two years ago.

Maryland plays Navy tomorrow for the first time since 1965 because two coaches with connections from earlier days in Georgia decided they were hungry enough to sit down together and stubborn enough to remain until they got what they both wanted: a local rivalry.

It’s not Army-Navy. It’s not Maryland-Virginia. But nearly 70,000 are expected to attend the “Crab Bowl Classic” at Baltimore’s M&T; Bank Stadium for the renewal of a series that once inspired student raids on opposing campuses, heckling that would have made Chris Rock blush and a vulgar gesture by a Terrapins player toward the Brigade that caused four decades of ill will between the schools.

The off-and-on series began in 1905 and will be played before its largest crowd ever tomorrow, with divided loyalties in the stands and with two coaches wondering if the adage “be careful what you wish for” might be true after all.

“It’s something we need. Navy needs it, too,” Friedgen said. “It’s one thing [for them] to play Army — it’s a big game, no doubt about it. It’s one of the classics in the country. But they also play Notre Dame. This is as big as Notre Dame. Look at all the excitement. We haven’t even played yet. Navy is getting as much out of it as anybody.”

The $1.2million payday makes this an attractive game for both teams. A rematch would pay more if held at FedEx Field, where 91,000 could watch.

But Navy is a national school, and it already is scheduled to play games in California and Hawaii in coming years in addition to meetings with traditional rivals Army, Air Force and Notre Dame.

The NCAA permanently will expand the season to 12 games in 2006, so there will be schedule openings. However, Johnson isn’t keen on spending them on a local game.

“We already have rivalries — Army, Air Force, Notre Dame — that have been played forever,” he said. “That’s three games right there, so I don’t know if it makes sense to lock ourselves into another game. I think it will be great to play occasionally.”

Maryland long has looked for a rival. Its ACC opponents all have in-state rivals, and Virginia politely refused to play for a trophy between the schools.

Navy is the only other Division I program in Maryland, and the Terrapins would like to rekindle the rivalry that ended one year after Terps linebacker Jerry Fishman flashed his middle finger toward the Brigade in a game in 1964. That gesture caused such ill will the schools haven’t met since playing an already scheduled game in 1965.

Friedgen played in the freshman game at Navy on the eve of the teams’ last varsity meeting. He remembers eating among 4,000 midshipmen carrying football players around the dining hall. The game seemed awful personal to him.

“Signs broke out — ‘Remember the bird,’” Friedgen said. “Obviously, it was a big thing. They used it as a motivational thing. We didn’t think it was a big deal.”

Friedgen has retold rivalry tales for weeks during team meetings. He knows the stories of Maryland students stealing the Navy mascot the night before games or Mids fans giving Terps players a group raspberry after plays.

“I am concerned about our players knowing that it’s a rivalry,” Friedgen said. “I know Navy’s coach has indoctrinated [his team] with it.”

Whether the crowd will be equally divided is uncertain. Many Marylanders have adopted both teams since one is a state school and the other a military academy.

“There’s a lot of people I’ve met who are Navy fans but also root for us,” Friedgen said. “Who knows — if we don’t play well we may get booed.”

Said Johnson: “You can be a fan of both. I’m sure there are. There’s nothing wrong with it. I’m reasonably sure the Brigade will be vocal. We’ll have our fans if we can give them anything to cheer about.”

Some Terps fans claim Navy has ducked Maryland for many years. The 1960s heyday of the Mids, when Joe Bellino and Roger Staubach won the Heisman Trophy, has given way to perennial mediocrity because of military academy height-weight requirements, plus a five-year military commitment upon graduation. Pro prospects no longer look to Annapolis, leaving the Mids undersized against many Division I teams like Maryland.

Oddly, Maryland is an 111/2-point favorite despite coming off a 5-6 season. Navy recorded a school-record 10 wins and a bowl triumph.

“I can remember we agreed to play this game when we won two games and they were in the Orange Bowl,” Johnson said of that dinner deal. “In ‘96, we wanted to play Maryland, and they wanted no part of it. They have short memories.

“The pressure is more on them than us. They’re supposed to win.”

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