A convention of surveyors from several foreign countries who were meeting in the nation's capital ordered 500 tickets to the game. But when they were informed that the U.S. version of football is not soccer, as they had presumed, they returned most of their tickets. Maryland, which tacked 15,000 extra seats on to Byrd Stadium to accommodate the record crowd of 54,412, had little trouble filling the vacancies. It was a pity, though, that the surveyors did not show up for they would have seen a sterling exhibition of what the strange pastime called college football is all about.
When on the eve of the game the M.C. at a Washington Touchdown Club luncheon said that Maryland needed all the extra tickets it could get to seat "the 5,673 players Bryant is bringing up here," Claiborne replied that "we don't have 70 players to put into a game. So we'll play 40 or so and hope for the best. I think the fourth quarter will be very significant." Later, when told that Alabama's fresh hordes were so proficient at sustaining their attack that in the final quarter last season they outscored their opponents by the margin of 147-26, Claiborne leaped from his record book to show that his 1973 team had enough staying power to better its rivals by a 114-26 margin.
Soon after the game began it looked as if it might be over well before the fourth quarter. After winning the toss, Alabama rolled 73 yards in 11 plays to score on a seven-yard blast by Calvin Culliver, a fleet fullback who sped past the Terrapins like the proverbial hare. In one series of plays in the second quarter he cracked over left guard four times in a row, his final effort resulting in a 73-yard dash that put Alabama ahead 14-0. Maryland gamely tried to rally but the Alabama defense, headed by End Mike Dubose and Tackle Charles Hannah, who is taking over where his All-America brother John left off before joining the New England Patriots, was having none of it. Sputtering out when it counted most, the Terrapins had to settle for two long field goals by Steve Mike-Mayer, a Hungarian whose kicking style would have been recognizable to the surveyors and whose older brother Nick does the same thing for the Atlanta Falcons.
With Culliver piling up 154 yards in the first half, the Tide looked all but unstoppable. Any prospect of Maryland breaking the Alabama tradition of strong finishes was quickly dismissed by one Southern journalist. "It's like tryin' to eat turnip greens with a spoon," he drawled. "There ain't no way to do it."
But there was. Claiborne's remedy of crisscrossing his tackles and ends on the defensive rush, for example, cut off Culliver so effectively that he gained but a scant 15 yards in the second half. Randy White and Linebacker Harry Walters were also harassing 'Bama Quarterback Richard Todd to the point that he turned erratic, most glaringly when he tried for a coffin-corner kick and the ball traveled only seven yards.
Bryant has come to expect the unusual from Todd. When he first saw him play, he said, "If he gets the little things down, he will be the greatest quarterback ever at Alabama. And he's going to get them down or I'll choke him to death." The Bear was ready to do exactly that when Todd, who inherited the starting slot after the No. 1 quarterback, Gary Rutledge, suffered a shoulder separation in a scrimmage two weeks ago, faked a punt and ran on fourth and five deep in his own territory. But Todd picked up a crucial first down. "I wouldn't have done it," Bryant said later. "But that's why he's our quarterback and I'm just stupid."
After Mike-Mayer added a third field goal to make it 14-9, Todd recovered his cool long enough to engineer another touchdown, but the gritty Terp defense kept snatching the ball back. On the second play of the fourth quarter Louis Carter rammed into the end zone, again narrowing the margin to five points. The key play in the drive came when Terp Quarterback Ben Kinard faked a beautifully deceptive handoff and ran for 23 yards to the Tide seven. Carter's touchdown made it 21-16 and so it remained as Alabama let the clock run out on a long and difficult afternoon.
For Maryland, a two-touchdown underdog to one of the nation's highest ranked teams, the answer to Claiborne's question about how far his team has progressed was very far indeed. For Alabama the reaction of Assistant Coach Bud Moore was typical. When someone remarked that the Tide met a pretty good football team, Moore said that considering the rough working over Alabama got, "I hope they're a great team."
Claiborne was in no mood for consolation talk. Shaking his head in the locker room, he said, "Ed rather play bad and win. I'm not the kind of coach who wants to play a close game."
Looking ahead to a schedule that includes Florida, Penn State and North Carolina State, Claiborne is hardly the sort to be unrealistic. "It's very possible that we'll have a better team this year but a worse record," he said.