EVOLUTION OF A FANDOM

EVOLUTION OF A FANDOM

Sung Min Kim/ For The Diamondback

Published on February 21, 2016

It is Feb. 13 and there is another mob at the University of Maryland.

It is massive and frantic. It is raucous and loud. It is far bigger than its predecessors, but this seething group is not on Route 1. They are in Xfinity Center, and they are not rioting; they’re dancing.

University of Maryland basketball fans have a long, notorious affinity for large-scale revelry. In the past 16 years, there have been at least eight post-basketball gatherings (often Duke-related) on Route 1. During one, a massive fire cost then-Comcast cable company upward of $500,000. After another, a Metro bus driver underwent three hours of surgery on his eye, which was hit in the melee.

Ranging from benign and joyous to downright chaotic, the riots, bundled with some mean-spirited in-house cheers and one particularly famous water bottle incident, earned Terps fans a debatably well-deserved black eye. In 2011, GQ ranked Maryland basketball fans as the fifth-worst fan base in American sports, both collegiate and professional. Other lists have reproduced this ranking ad nauseam.

Then, in 2014, things got quiet — at least in the streets.

The last “riot” occurred Feb. 16, 2013, when the Terps defeated Duke for the last time at home as a conference foe before bowing out of the ACC and taking the hotter but relatively less historied Big Ten spotlight. A crowd of a few hundred gathered on the intersection of Knox Road and Route 1 to celebrate. They pulled down a light post. They cheered and threw bottles on the ground. For the most part, though, they stayed tame.

Police called it “real positive” and “peaceful,” according to a Diamondback article from the time.

Since then, something has shifted. No American with a television tuned to BTN would claim the Terps’ ACC exit stymied the infamous Maryland passion. Xfinity practically bursts with red-and-yellow-swathed pride. Students line up for hours, in subzero temperatures at times.

But something is different.

As with anything, one experience, one riot, one game does not define Maryland basketball fans. The current fans, the ones seething and screaming and stomping the Terps to their probable second NCAA tournament appearance of coach Mark Turgeon’s tenure, are products of Cole Field House and Xfinity alike, of Lefty Driesell and Gary Williams and Mark Turgeon, of flash mobs and real mobs.

The current fans are a dynamic, ever-evolving and increasingly creative creature, backed by more than 100 years of history, with their collective eye on something that seems closer than it has in years.

(Courtesy of UMD Archives)

EARLY YEARS

Before “The Wall” and the Duke rivalry and the University of Maryland itself, there was the Maryland Agricultural College and its team of scrawny, part-time athletes. The Aggies, as they were called, played two games in the 1904-05 season. They lost both and hold the team’s worst record to date.

For the few sporadic games the team would play between then and 1924, contests occurred in a tiny two-story house that doubled as the school library, located about where Tydings Hall stands now, university archivist Anne Turkos said. The ground-floor gym barely held the competing teams, much less fans.

Basketball couldn’t quite find a foothold until the 1920s, when the team shared coach H. Burton Shipley with both the baseball and football teams. The team moved from its cramped quarters to the Ritchie Gymnasium, a stalwart building where Annapolis Hall is now. One archive describes the gym as a popular winter haunt; during one game, students “packed to the doors and rafters,” presumably to escape the elements.

Packed as it may have been, the old gym lacked space.

“When [the team was] in that building, the out-of-bounds line was very close to the wall, so they would have to stand with their foot on a radiator to throw the ball in,” Turkos said.

“Real” fans wouldn’t emerge until much later. Support was still in tenuous condition when the team moved to Ritchie Coliseum (the same one that guards Fraternity Row today) in the early 1930s. Things got a little more serious, Turkos said, but basketball played second string to a much more prevalent pastime: boxing.

“Basketball was not a very popular sport at that time; boxing was much more popular,” Turkos said. “So they would play the basketball game first in a doubleheader and take a break and set up the ring for boxing. There would be a huge crowd — like a sellout crowd — for the boxing matches.”

A Washington Post article in 1935 tallied 3,000 fans at the Terps’ 39-22 rout of Virginia Military Institute, but most of the real crowds came at the away courts of the Naval Academy and Seton Hall, where basketball had already found a comfortable place in campus culture. The rowdy home crowds wouldn’t arrive until years later, when an arena named Cole and a man called Lefty specialized in spectacle

LEFTY DAYS

ABOVE: Students wait for tickets outside Cole Field House in 1995. (Courtesy of UMD Archives)

The place rocked,” said Debbie Russell, the athletic department’s human resources director. “It was hot and sweaty and you couldn’t help but be totally involved.”

Cole Field House opened in 1955. Claustrophobic and raucous, the Cole of yore smelled — both literally and metaphorically — like passion.

“Cole was a great college arena,” said Patrick Stevens, an alumnus and former sports editor at The Diamondback. “[Xfinity] is a pro arena on a college campus.”

Cole and its 14,000-plus seats rivaled every arena on the East Coast, barring one Madison Square Garden. The Terrapins played their first game in Cole under coach Bud Millikan against soon-to-be-rivals University of Virginia.

Millikan and his high-caliber squad put Maryland’s team in the national spotlight, but Lefty Driesell and his penchant for showmanship generated the ancestral fans whose cheers and traditions echo in the very throats of Xfinity’s “Wall.”

“Prior to Lefty, very few fans attended the games,” said Stan Goldstein, who attended this university from 1964 to 1967. “During the ’50s and the ’60s, the biggest crowds in Cole were for the NCAA tournaments.”

In the 1966 NCAA Final Four weekend, the Texas Western Miners played for packed Cole crowds, though some students purchased blocks of seats and pawned them off to eager out-of-towners, according to The Washington Post.

“Even though it didn’t involve the Terps, it was a game of national importance,” Turkos said of the Texas Western triumph. “Really high-profile games like that also worked to help build up the fan base.”

Before that, a packed Cole hosted “the greatest game ever played” in 1965. DeMatha Catholic High School, under the legendary direction of former coach Morgan Wootten, overthrew young Lew Alcindor (better known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and Power Memorial Academy while thousands of fans looked on.

When Driesell arrived in 1969, things became a little more rowdy.

“He came in with a lot of braggadocio,” Turkos said. “He really wanted to pump up the crowd. He carried himself in such a way coming onto the court that got everybody excited and of course, then he was able to begin recruiting really top players.”

Originally, there were no floor seats in Cole — no way to get close to the action. Driesell convinced the athletic department to move seats and bring fans closer.

Alumni speak of that time with an energized reverence. Though passion is not in short supply, the fans of Xfinity know nothing of hazy, smoke-filled arenas, blasting heat in the middle of winter and huddles of tents pitched on cold concrete ground outside Cole’s pillared facade. They know nothing of the bright-blazered man who screamed his team to prominence.

“It was quite an experience to be in Cole,” said Turkos, who did not go here but has worked for this university for more than 30 years.

“There was no air conditioning,” she said. “It would be hot as you-know-what in the middle of the winter. It would be snowing and be 85 degrees inside. How they played in there I will never know; they had to be tough characters.”

The fans had to be as loud as the players were tough. There was no speaker-booming music during timeouts. There were no Jumbotrons or video montages. There were fans and their voices.

“We had to be a cohesive group and vocal,” said Russell, who attended this university from 1973 to 1976. “All those years, when we knew we had iced the game, everybody sang ‘Amen.’ That, I think, has pretty much been lost at this point. Everything now is more visual.”

In the ’70s, fans were on the cusp of creative, Russell said, but there was no reason to shake newspapers or dangle keys. There was no television and no rival fan bases to one-up.

There were tents, though. Lots and lots of tents.

“I camped out for tickets,” Russell said. “To be able to do that online now … we had to physically stand on line.”

Online request periods and the lottery have completely obliterated traditional ticket buying. We’ve traded experience for comfort, and in some ways, that’s a good thing. Sleeping outside isn’t all it’s chalked up to be, said Troy Wainwright, alumnus and senior associate athletics director.

Still, there’s something to be said for the ambiance of it all.

“Those are experiences I can remember to this day,” Wainwright said. “Sleeping out in that tent waiting for tickets, the anticipation, meeting other students — that was cool. I wouldn’t do it today for a million dollars but at the time, that’s what it was all about.”

GARY WILLIAMS’ COURT

ABOVE: A Diamondback headline blared the news of the riots after the defeat of Duke.(Diamondback Archives)

Former Terrapins mens basketball coach Gary Williams inherited a team embroiled in grief and scandal, and a fan-base embittered by failure. Len Bias’s death and Driesell’s resulting resignation left fans shattered. Bob Wade, who coached three seasons between 1986 to 1989, exited with dirty laundry in tow.

Still, spectator support buoyed the team through it all, said former-Terps All-American Walt Williams, one of the era’s few standout-stars.

“I don’t remember any time that they turned on us and we were going through tough times in my period,” Williams said. “If you look at my highlights from when I played I would play to the crowd. You could say the crowd was sort of part of my game.”

Coach Williams did his part to engage the fans. He visited the dining halls, fraternities and sororities. He ordered Cole’s seats to be painted red. When he pumped his fist to a band-played flourish, the crowds went wild.

“The rivalry with Duke and UNC also intensified,” Goldstein said. “That’s when the cheers and the activities got a little more aggressive.”

There was something a little more sinister brewing in the hearts and throats of fans. As rivalries with Duke and North Carolina State mounted, four letter expletives spewed. Though nowhere near exclusive to Terps fans, derision became a part of college basketball and Maryland embraced the trend.

In some ways, it was warranted.

“I consider myself lucky to have been able to have sit on the bench and be a fan because those [Duke games] were just wars,” said Wainwright, who was a team manager between 1986 and 1990. “I think that we took a bad rap for some of the things that went on. The hatred for Duke is pretty nationwide.”

(Evan Berkowitz/The Diamondback)

It’s true. J.J. Redick, who played for Duke from 2002-2006, received near-consistent vitriol on the road (though it was Terps fans that forced the sharp-shooter to change his cell phone number). ESPN dedicated an entire 30-for-30 episode to the equally-hated Christian Laettner. Duke students initiated the “Rock N’ Roll Part II” adaptation (which involves “Hey, you suck!” chants), said Goldstein.

Hassling enemy teams became its own sort of sport.

“It was very much, ‘We feel this way’ about Duke and UNC and even universities like Virginia,” said Jon Wolper, who attended this university from 2008-2012 during the end of Williams’ tenure. “They all had a certain thing about them that we latched on to and that was the tradition.”

Wolper was an out-of-state student from New York. He knew nothing of Maryland sports or fan reputations. He had no connections to the Terps, but it took no more than three months to get sucked in.

“Everything was very ingrained prior to the Big Ten move,” he said. “It was kind of intense, but I grew to love it very quickly.”

Maybe it’s that mob mentality that lead to what happened next.

As Williams turned the Terps from dismal to decent to dynamic, the fans followed an opposite trajectory.

“The fans were hungry,” said Elijah Osterloh, director of athletic bands who attended this university from 1994 to 1999. “When the team started doing really well, there was a little bit of an overreaction … A lot of people didn’t really know how to react to that.

The first riot was in 2000.

The men’s basketball team defeated Duke 98-87, snapping the team’s 46-game home winning streak. Bedlam ensued. A crowd of about 1,000 students and fans swarmed Route 1. A particularly precocious group uprooted one of the goalposts from then-Byrd Stadium and carried it to Fraternity Row to be burned. Police arrested a few fans for breaking into Cole and trying to steal seats.

That was nowhere near the extent of the madness.

In March 2001, hundreds of students rioted after a loss to none other than Duke in the NCAA Semifinals. They smashed diner windows and threw bottles. One group broke into a Dominos delivery car and stole pizzas. Over 60 fires lit the campus dumpsters, trashcans, kiosks and quads. One singularly spectacular blaze on Knox Road grew so large, it melted overhead wires and cut cable access for some 30,000 Comcast customers in the area. The total monetary damages? Somewhere between $500,000 and $550,000.

That same year, after an 98-96 overtime loss, students pelted parents of Duke players with bottles, cups and ice according to Diamondback and Baltimore Sun accounts. One bottle hit former Duke center Carlos Boozer’s mother in the head, prompting outrage that lives to this day.

And then, there’s 2002.

“The place just erupted,” Stevens said.

When the men’s team won the national title against the Indiana Hoosiers, nearly 10,000 fans mobbed the campus and College Park, setting fire to and breaking nearly everything in sight.

Students from neighboring universities — James Madison University, Towson University and North Carolina State University among others — visited for the spectacle, said Stevens.

They got what they were looking for.

Cars and police cruisers fell victim to vandalization. A few students tried to uproot a tree. A few more fans broke into a Route 1 bike store and stole bikes (though they later returned them), injuring the storeowner in the process. Police used nearly everything — riot gear, rubber bullets, pepper spray, tear gas — to staunch the chaos. By the 2:30 a.m., 20 people suffered injuries, and police arrested at least 17 people, including six students.

“I can still remember watching someone chuck a TV into a fire,” Stevens said.

In July of that year, the university approved a policy change in reaction to the violence. Any student charged with a riot-related misdemeanor could face expulsion.

It didn’t do much.

Riots occurred again in 2004, 2005, 2010 and 2013 after wins over Duke and in 2006 after the women’s basketball team won their first national title against, yes, the same Blue Devils. Though police reported no arrests and businesses reported no damages, students did try to tip over a shuttle bus caught in the swarm and one student suffered two broken legs after a hit-and-run.

“I think everybody was just horrified,” Turkos said. “It really did damage to our reputation as an institution. People to a certain extent felt kind of helpless.”

Still, there was a reason to be proud.

“I remember the emotions around that, though I didn’t go out and riot,” said Wolper. “It was later that I found out not everyone likes Maryland fans, and I could see it, but at that point after buying in, I had already built up that sort of pride.

“I wasn’t going be like, ‘Wait a second guys, we’re all being really terrible right now. We should cool it.’ I was like ‘No, this is how we are. This is how we are.’”

 

(Sung Min Kim/For The Diamondback)

THE MOB

Megan Piluk stands with 4,000 people at her command.

As she bounces from one group to another, they follow what she does. If she waves her hands, they wave theirs. If she jumps, they jump. If she nae-naes, they nae-nae.

“It’s amazing to see the students have so much energy, but it’s … what do we do with it,” said Piluk, who has choreographed all of the Maryland flash mobs.

The flash mob is now an annual event four years in the making, and one students generally embrace. Temperatures plummeted toward zero as the sky turned a bleak gray on the day of the event, but still, Terps basketball fans stood firmly against the chill in a line winding from Xfinity’s student entrance past the end of Terrapin Trail Garage.

“I’m so excited for it,” said Janette Yacynych, a freshman bioengineering major who endured four hours in line prior to the game against the University of Wisconsin.

“I would rather be close,” echoed Ashley Doyle, a senior kinesiology major who also spent most of her day in the bitter cold.

“Being closer to the court and stuff, the atmosphere is much better,” she said. “You get more of the energy and the environment and the feel of Xfinity.”

In the aftermath of the post-Duke riots and unruliness, the university and the athletic department took action. They barred students from seats behind the opposing team’s bench. They hosted on-campus events to try to draw students away from Route 1 and the city. They, with the band, put a moratorium on “Rock and Roll Part II,” though students still hum the tune prior to tip-off.

External efforts aside, the team gave spectators a few lackluster seasons to sober up.

“There was a lull of maybe five to six years where the maturation of our fan base took place,” Wainwright said. “[The fans are] worlds away from what they used to be.”

Some of that might also relate to elevated academic standards, said Turkos, who believes the “party school” reputation has diminished.

“I think the kind of student we have here has changed,” she said. “Certainly students are much more serious. They’re focusing on studies and looking toward a career and that’s been a big change over the years.”

(Evan Berkowitz/The Diamondback)

But students are still going to games, perhaps more now than ever. A long way from the “scan and leave” practices plaguing the arena in post-tournament years, Xfinity has had 13 sellouts through the Wisconsin game. That’s up from three last season and the most in the Turgeon era. The coach, in public and private, credits the fans for some of the Terps’ success.

Besides embracing internal traditions, Terps fans are creating their own. Clowns, cows, hot sauce bottles, kangaroos and more dot the student sections.

“You can still be funny and stupid and ridiculous without killing or hurting anyone,” said Nicholas Riddlesberger, an information management graduate student who suits up with the Turgeonites for every game.

“Fans at Cole used to throw batteries,” he said. “That obviously is way over the line. But you do want your university to be regarded as a crazy place.”

Terps fans aren’t perfect. For every flash mob, there’s an uncouth chant about Jarrod Uthoff’s looks. For every wild cheer after Rasheed Sulaimon sinks a 3-pointer, there’s a jeer at Nigel Hayes’ game ball preference.

As for the riots, only time will tell if history repeats itself. The university and city’s emergency personnel are prepared if anything goes awry as the men’s team enters the postseason, College Park Mayor Patrick Wojahn said.

But win or lose, if students do spill out onto the streets, if they do jump and chant and march their joy or frustrations out, why shouldn’t they?

“I think they should go crazy,” said university President Wallace Loh. “They should celebrate and they should dance in the streets. I have confidence that our students will celebrate in ways that will not breach the peace.”

They’re Terps fans. That’s what Terps fans do.

Senior staff writer Darcy Costello contributed to this report.

Danielle Ohl is a Diversions editor for The Diamondback. She can be reached at diversionsdbk@gmail.com and at @DTOhl on Twitter.

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