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You can feel the electricity in the air!" cried the commercial running nonstop on every radio station within shouting distance of Greater Washington, D.C. last week. " Maryland vs Alabama! See the greatest football spectacle ever staged in this area!"
"Listen to that crowd!" screamed another announcer calling himself Howard Bosell and doing a simulated play-by-play with all the appropriate sound effects. "Fifty thousand fans! The largest crowd to ever attend a college game in the state of Maryland! The Alabama quarterback drops back to pass! Randy White nails him for a 13-yard loss! Listen to that crowd!"
"All-America Randy White, are you badder than old King Kong?" asked a cheerleader on a TV spot showing the massive tackle sitting in the stadium while the rock-'n'-roll ditty Bad, Bad Leroy Brown thumped loudly in the background. "No," said Randy, trying to hide a blush, "but I'm meaner than a junkyard dog."
"We've only just beeegun to wiiinnn," sang an off-key chorus of Terrapin players in yet another video pitch.
There was in fact no escaping the hard-sell bombarding the airwaves, the newspapers and the billboards (SEE THE TERPS PULL THE PLUG ON THE CRIMSON TIDE). Russ Potts, the U of M hustler responsible for the "Return to Glory Campaign" as well as a program that is so jam-packed with ads that it rivals the Washington telephone directory for sheer heft, offers an explanation that must qualify as the understatement of the month: "We're not at all shy about commercialism."
The aggressive enthusiasm of Potts and the 9,500 new season ticket-holders who have bought his line can be forgiven, for the Terrapins actually have a quality football team to peddle. Indeed, not since the glory days of the mid '50s when Jim Tatum's boys were national champions one year and 10-1 another, has there been such an epidemic of pigskin fever in College Park, Md. and environs. The reason for all the raucous behavior is the performance of Coach Jerry Claiborne, the soft-spoken perfectionist who came to Maryland's rescue two seasons ago after he was fired by Virginia Tech for allegedly committing the high crime of "dull football" and sentenced to one year of hard labor as an assistant at Colorado.
Unlike some fickle Virginia Tech fans, Maryland Athletic Director Jim Kehoe remembered that Claiborne won more games (61) than any coach in Tech history and had six straight winning seasons before slipping below the break-even mark in his last two years with the Gobblers. Kehoe hired Claiborne to replace Roy Lester, whose remark at one preseason press conference—"We have a lot of experience, players experienced in losing football games, that is"—might have been funny if it were not so painfully true.
In Claiborne's first season at College Park, the Terrapins, who had spent the previous five years losing 42 of 51 games, finished 5-5-1. Last season they were 8-4 and earned their first invitation to a postseason bash (a 17-16 loss to Georgia in the Peach Bowl) in nearly two decades.
Bear Bryant had no idea that Maryland was going to get so tough so fast when he called Kehoe in 1970 and said, "How'd y'all like to play a game of football?" The Tide had not taken on the Terrapins since a 21-0 drubbing it suffered way back in 1953, and Bryant, obviously taking note of Maryland's plight in the years since, was looking for a nice pleasant warmup game to kick off his 1974 season. The Bear likes to open with a breather; it was at Maryland in 1945 in fact that he began his head-coaching career with a game against Guilford College that, he recalled recently, "scared me to death" and "I just knew we were going to lose." What he didn't mention was that his Maryland team buried poor Guilford 60-6.
So coming to College Park to play a team that is ranked in the Top Twenty was as much a surprise for Bryant as the fact that he was going to have to match wits with Claiborne, a former defensive back who played and coached under Bryant at Kentucky and was on his staff at Texas A&M and Alabama as well. "We scheduled this game a few years ago as a sightseeing trip," Bryant admitted last week, "but now we are going up there to play a football game." Claiborne himself best summed up the meaning of the drama when he said, "It will be a real challenge to our team. We will see just how far our program has progressed in two years."