- The Washington Times - Monday, December 29, 2008

There were probably two stages the Maryland football team immediately progressed through this month when it learned it would play in Tuesday’s Humanitarian Bowl in Boise, Idaho.

The first was the acceptance that, no matter Boise’s solid reputation, the Terrapins (7-5) would wrap up a once-promising season two time zones away in a colder environment than College Park. The second was the realization that they would meet Nevada (7-5) on Bronco Stadium’s famous blue field.

“I’m kind of excited about actually playing on a blue field,” cornerback Jamari McCollough said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance.”

For some, the unusually colored field spurs some amusement. Curiosity is common, though disinterest springs up as well. But while Maryland prepares to play in a game it didn’t envision itself landing in with just two weeks remaining in the season, the turf’s hue will add a don’t-adjust-your-television element to the proceedings.

Of course, the blue field is nothing new to college football aficionados who watch Boise State games from time to time. And it has been around in some form or another (old-school Astroturf to modern FieldTurf) since 1986, when the Broncos were a run-of-the-mill Division I-AA team, not a regular in the major-college national rankings.

It was a controversial decision at the time. Kevin McDonald, the Humanitarian Bowl’s executive director, lettered in football at Boise State from 1978 to 1980, remained in town after graduating and still recalls the debate over the color.

“When it first came out, you can imagine the Boise State fans’ reactions were pretty mixed,” McDonald said. “One group thought the school was going to be the laughingstock of college football. But over time, you don’t even think about it. You go to a game, and it doesn’t even bother you.”

That makes sense for a local. But for a team traveling more than 2,000 miles to make its Boise debut, the novelty factor remains. It’s especially true of casual fans who might follow only the day-to-day happenings of the Terps and ignore the rest of the sport. To them, the actual existence of faux blue sod is a surprise.

“You tell them you’re playing on a blue field, and they ask, ‘You’re playing on the blue field?’” linebacker Dave Philistin said. “Because it really gets to people. It’s a really Smurfy blue, but I’m cool with it. Postseason play is postseason play. I don’t mind being there.”

With the blue turf comes one of the sport’s great urban legends. Rumor long held that birds, believing it was a lake, would dive-bomb the field, leaving Boise State to clean up mess after mess. It makes for an unintentionally funny story, enough so for Maryland quarterback Chris Turner to ask, “They could tackle Da’Rel [Scott]?” But it isn’t true.

“I travel back east and tell people I’m from Boise, and they will always ask about the field,” McDonald said. “‘Do ducks really crash into the field?’ No, they don’t. That kind of stuff.”

It’s also the second straight unusual bowl venue for Maryland, and naturally coach Ralph Friedgen ferreted out a scouting report. Last year, the Terps and Oregon State shared a sideline at the Emerald Bowl in San Francisco’s AT&T; Park. The field’s tint won’t cause those sorts of logistical problems, but it might present a different sort of conundrum.

“I was talking to a guy who has played on it. He said, ‘You have to watch yourself because you’ll just keep staring into it. It mesmerizes you,’” Friedgen said. “That got me a little worried.”

Players have their own concerns. While Nevada doesn’t wear the same shade of blue as Boise State, the Wolf Pack might be more difficult to find with the field serving as an unusual background.

“When Boise plays on it, I’m like, ‘Where is everybody? They only have nine men on the field. Oh, two of them are over there, camouflaged,’” nose tackle Bemi Otulaja said. “It’s like army camo for them. I don’t even know how coaches in the booth can see people’s formation. Everybody is blending into the field.”

Alas, not everyone is either excited or fretting about the experience. Turner shrugged at the mention of the turf and admitted he didn’t have an opinion of it. He wasn’t alone among Maryland’s offensive stars in his relative apathy.

“I’ve seen it on TV,” wideout Darrius Heyward-Bey said. “I’m probably the only person who’s not hyped up about it. It’s football. It’s turf. Same thing as the stuff we got at practice.”

Still, it is singular at college football’s highest level, and it certainly helps separate the Humanitarian Bowl from other second- and third-tier postseason games. It also has lent Boise State - and, for that matter, Boise itself - an identity during the past two decades.

“It’s so unique,” McDonald said. “I remember at the time there were companies who had sold this idea to BSU and were talking about a lot of schools doing it. That didn’t quite go over, but Boise State has continued to do it. Just look at the Boise State program. In the mid-‘80s, it was struggling - and all of a sudden the team turned around.

“A good football team and a blue field is a good thing. A bad team and a blue field is not a good thing.”

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