Although the college football world is fascinated by the matchup of No. 1 Oklahoma at No. 5 Florida State on Saturday, that is not the major story of the weekend. For those who have been paying even casual attention, there is little doubt that what America truly wants to see is . . .
What will the University of Maryland football team be wearing?
Records of this type aren’t available, but the last time I remember uniforms causing this sort of stir is when the Grateful Dead sponsored the Lithuanian national basketball team at the 1992 and 1996 Olympics. But even those tie-dyed uniforms were embraced by many media grumblers, who perhaps were nostalgic for the love & peace days of the ’60s and ’70s.
Those days are gone and media types are older. When Maryland opened the season with a home game against Miami in uniforms that the average Haight-Ashbury veteran would consider tame, the outcry was loud and anguished – with a qualifier. From reading blazing commentary on Facebook and Twitter, it seemed the majority of criticism came from males who were much closer to retirement than they were to dating Maryland co-eds. I’m not sure who invented the term “angry old farts,” but it did seem to apply.
Perhaps the most hilarious complaints came from self-styled college “purists,” who were offended by the assault on “tradition.” Well, yes indeed. Let’s investigate that Maryland tradition.
Since the BCS was formed in 1999, the Terrapins have been to exactly one major bowl – the Orange Bowl. That appearance in 2002 ended with Maryland losing to Florida by a mere 33 points (56-23), so well, not much tradition there.
How bereft are the Terps of football tradition? Uniform critics should consider this: What school is Maryland’s football rival? When is the last time anyone looked forward to that Maryland-???? matchup?
Since 1986, the Maryland football team has finished in the top 25 in the country exactly four times, including one stretch of 15 consecutive non-ranked seasons. The last time the Terps were in the top 10 was 1976. They have an excellent basketball program – one that won the NCAA championship in 2002 – but in football, they are an afterthought. If we’re talking about football tradition, Maryland’s peaked about the same time as disco music.
But from the moment the Terps ran onto the field on Sept. 5 in those uniforms that were patterned after the Maryland state flag, they have been the most talked about and the most controversial team in the country. Even Alabama coach Nick Saban addressed the uniform subject in a press conference during the week. When is the last time the Alabama coach even had an indirect, vague reference to Maryland?
The reality of all traditions is they have a starting point. Perhaps Maryland’s is this year with first-year coach Randy Edsall, who said the wild first-week uniforms were state pride uniforms. Edsall said he was surprised at the criticism of the uniforms, then said something that should get everyone’s attention – the 17- and 18-year old recruits who were at the game loved the uniforms. Ah, future Terps.
Students also loved the new look. So did alumni. I went to #Terps on Twitter and the comments were overwhelmingly positive – so much so that one person finally wrote, “Am I the only one who thinks they were ugly?”
Hardly. But then, all those who were critical really don’t matter. In the interest of full disclosure, my daughter graduated from Maryland and at age 25, she loved the uniforms. And unlike so many people in my age range, I liked the uniforms, too.
In my world of sports, they looked right.
But then I haven’t forgot that I liked tie-dyed shirts, Sgt. Pepper’s uniforms, black light posters, psychedelic music, the mods, beatniks and Jimi Hendrix’s wardrobe.
Critics should remember words attributed to legendary promoter P.T. Barnum, who said: “I don’t care what they say about me as long as they spell my name right.”
And before anyone points it out, yes, I do know that Barnum founded the circus (insert obvious one-liner) and that he also said, “A sucker is born every minute.”
The truth is, however, those who like the wild and crazy uniforms are not the suckers; it is, rather, those who fail to see an ambitious attempt to create new traditions. One of those is to let Maryland football captains choose uniforms from a selection of four different jerseys and four different pants each week. For their game Saturday against West Virginia, this is their choice, which is a good one because for those “traditionalists” who long for the good old days, these would look good even on a black and white TV.