Maryland’s move to the Big Ten has been a mostly abstract endeavor. Oh, it’s real alright, but manifested only in lengthy behind-the-scenes narratives, revenue projections, and scripted addresses from old men at podiums. We’ve talked endlessly about What The Move Means For Maryland without really feeling What The Move Means For Maryland.
But as Maryland basketball stops-and-starts through its second-to-last season in the ACC, the decision’s becoming far more tangible.
The Terps played an ACC contest in Cameron Indoor Stadium for potentially the last time Saturday, hanging tough for a half but ultimately succumbing to Duke’s inevitable 3-point barrage, 84-64. That result isn’t new – Maryland hasn’t won in Durham since 2007, and hasn’t even come particularly close. But it’s now quite possible they never will again.
That the Maryland-Duke “rivalry” – which, for local kids my age, was highlight-on-your-schedule, no-way-I’m-missing-this Ravens-Steelers before Ravens-Steelers really started getting good – has lost nearly all its significance was a major reason I favored the move. Saturday’s game had virtually no connection to the battles of yore; the only direct remnants of the Gary Williams era were the two worst players to see the court for Maryland, Pe’Shon Howard and James Padgett.
Around here, “the Duke game” really means the Duke game in College Park. It’s obviously more fun to throw bottles at Carlos Boozer’s mom or profanely taunt J.J. Redick than to watch a college basketball game on TV, and most of the rivalry’s seminal regular-season moments – 10 points in 54 seconds, Steve Blake’s steal, the ACC regular-season championship – occurred at Cole or Comcast.
As exhilarating as protecting your house is, though, it can’t match the simple satisfaction of storming someone else’s, particularly when that someone else’s is Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Opposing teams (or, for that matter, the journalists who cover the opposing team) never look as alone as they do in Cameron. Cameron personifies college basketball’s few redeeming, almost European soccer-like qualities — a rabid, intimate supporters’ section in an antiquated, historic environment. Of course, the program then goes out of its way to make all that as repulsive as possible.
“What sets us apart from the pros? What sets us apart from the rest of the world? Intercollegiate sports is really something that only the United States has. No other country has that. And our thing is based on all the right values: loyalty, honesty, tradition. The branding that you have gotten from doing that has elevated the academic institutions that those athletic programs represent. And doing things the way we’re doing it now, based on money, I think it takes away from the academic missions and the innocence that an academic institution has.”
Yeah, fuck Duke.
We’ll beat any number of teams in College Park every year, but the Terps only have one opportunity a season to win there, at the “stadium” that housed Steve Wojciechowski and Mike Dunleavy and Redick and yes I really should include a black player on this list, on the court named after that guy who talks about the “honesty” of intercollegiate athletics.
Still, since the 1996-97 season, when Duke returned from a two-year lull and by which point Williams had firmly established his brand in College Park, the Terps have won only four games in Cameron, the entire history of which can be covered in three paragraphs.
Maryland won back-to-back contests in 2000 and 2001 — a sophomore from Baltimore named Juan Dixon scored 31 points on 14-of-19 shooting, and the Terps responded to 10 points in 54 seconds by spoiling Duke’s senior night, both times scoring more than 90 points and generally being awesomely frenetic. (I have repeatedly queried Shane Battier about this loss during his impromptu Twitter ask-me-anything sessions; he has yet to respond.)
The Terps’ 2002 title team actually lost in Cameron by 21 despite holding a halftime edge, but the ’05 squad — Maryland’s first non-NCAA tournament team since 1993 — managed a 75-66 win in Durham thanks to one of those random excellent Nik Caner-Medley games (25 points on 8-of-13 shooting). Oh, and there was tricking the Cameron Crazies, which for Maryland fans that season counted as a very important moral victory.
Maryland also swept Duke in 2006-07, probably the only season since Joe Smith’s sophomore year in which the Terps were clearly the better team. The careers of many up-and-down Terps rounded into shape that year; Mike Jones put up 25 in Cameron, and Greivis Vasquez, as a freshman, came up a rebound short of a triple-double.
Vasquez, more than for his all-around, four-year brilliance, will forever be cherished in College Park for these moments, for calling Cameron “my house“. Beyond the Dixon-Baxter national championship contender squads, the Gary Williams era wasn’t really about his own great teams, but the very real possibility for a victory any time the Terps played a great team. The Blue Devils were only a .500 conference team in 2007, but there’s probably some connection between nearly registering a triple-double in that environment and Vasquez’s teams beating five top-5 teams in his career – including three wins in the ’08 and ’09 seasons, when the Terps weren’t even very good.
That’s all Maryland-Duke is really about. The Terps didn’t compete on an annual basis with the ACC’s blue bloods. Maybe, one day, they’ll consolidate the talent-rich D.C. area and compete with Indiana and Ohio State and Michigan State for Big Ten titles. But Maryland basketball’s always had visions of itself that exceed reality, dating back to Lefty Driesell’s “UCLA of the East” proclamation. It didn’t matter that we went to Duke and rarely won; it mattered that we went to Duke and thought we could. Vasquez, after all, our last great conquering general, went 1-3 in Cameron, but it’s the one that counts.
By this year, it felt like just another game. The links can’t hold strong forever. Duke is still Duke; I’m sure I could gin up some good old-fashioned hatred for Mason Plumlee if I really needed to. But the Maryland-Duke rivalry isn’t inherent – and when the rivalry isn’t inherent, it relies on shit actually happening. Yes, shit certainly happened March 3, 2010, but at this point, it’s pretty clear: 2010 was one, last glorious ride, the last time a self-made, Gary-molded team would storm the gates of the ACC’s gilded class. You can only try to recreate the past so many times.
The Big Ten move and the athletic department’s larger rebranding are pushing Maryland toward a new basketball identity. It’s rare for a school so steeped in college basketball lore to willingly reinvent itself, although Syracuse, whenever Jim Boeheim leaves, will essentially do the same in the ACC. The Terps will enter the Big Ten soon, and they will be naked. There won’t be a “Duke game” anymore; Maryland, at least until it wins something again, will have the cache of a bottom-rung program in the conference.
But at least we won’t be trying to fit a new image across an old canvas. Once we’re in the Big Ten, I think I’ll stop kvetching. Storming the court against Minnesota would be just as foolhardy as against N.C. State, but far less revolting. If Black Ops jerseys are “in” now, at least they’ll no longer defile the memory of red-clad Maryland squads that actually won big games.
The Terps have never played the Purdue Boilermakers; I couldn’t care less what we wear against them.