College Park, Maryland. The crown jewel of PG County may not be much to look at, but if you take the time to immerse yourself in its culture, you find it has a special life rhythm, a unique pre-revitalizational splendor all its own.
So when my producers told me a visit to College Park was imminent, my response was simple, and immediate: where do I sign. When College Park comes calling, my friends, you have no choice but to accept the charges.
The deal was only sweetened for me when I was informed, as we all clambored into that late-model Mercedes SUV, that the weekend in question was, in fact, homecoming weekend.
Homecoming weekend. It’s a time-honored tradition in this part of the world. Friends and family come from far and wide to pay visits to a favorite son, niece, or buddy who, with any luck, is working toward his or her diploma, that ticket to the real world that comes rushing at you like a Pamplona silverback stoned on Vivarin and Fundador. Revelers of all stripes eat and drink as if the world might end, and above all, they root. Root root. For the home team. Throw Midnight Madness in there, and you have the makings of a weekend for the record books, especially as they pertain to the local jail population.
Being from New York City, I admit to some uncertainty over the homecoming phenomenon. Fortunately for me, College Park offers the perfect initiation. The street food — hamburgers and hot dogs grilled in the open air, Thermonuclear hot wings, doughy Ratsie’s pizza — provides a veritable culinary rainbow for a humble, road-weary New York City traveler like myself. After a bite to eat and a drink or five, we head to Lot 4. And that’s where I see it for the first time. A father and son, both members of the same fraternity, wearing matching Under Armour shirts just a touch too small, weaving arm-in-arm through the crowd, vomiting on shoes, calling everyone gay. That’s when I finally understood. Though I hadn’t known it when I’d first set out, this was what I had come to see.
Oh, and I have also come for a football game. A football game between two teams bad enough that an ersatz rivalry was in order for the locals, and their football heroes, to give a crap. Maryland linebacker Alex Wujciak derided Virginia students as essentially a group of preppy snobs. Virginia coach Al Groh said that had he known about standout Terp receiver and Virginia native Torrey Smith, Smith would be playing for the Cavs right now. I suppose there is, after all, some legitimacy to this rivalry. As Ralph Friedgen points out, these campuses are relatively close, and a lot of the players know one another. Nevertheless, talk of this being some sort of blood feud rings as hollow to me as my road-weary footsteps on the lonely midnight pavement of New York City, where I grew up.
Even as the schools are close, so too are their teams. Virginia has rebounded from a winless start (which included, you’ll recall, a loss to William and Mary) to marshal a 2-3 record, nearly equalling Maryland’s illustrious 2-4. Star Cavs running back Mikell Simpson is doubtful for the game, which could put the pressure on big fullback and alleged felon Rashawn Jackson. Maryland, again, is in a similar boat. With their ground game gaining only 62 yards last week without Da’rel Scott, QB Chris Turner now may wish to seek out Torrey Smith, who is no doubt looking to show UVA what they missed. The aerial attack may be the Terps’ best chance, but it will face a UVA defense ranked third in the ACC against the pass and led by reining ACC Defensive Back of the Week Ras-I Dowling. You may remember that he picked off a pass in last year’s 31-0 Virginia romp over the Terps.
And there’s my segue. I’m from New York City, so I don’t know much about the state of Maryland. But in doing this show, I now know the state of Maryland football. They want revenge for last year’s butt-kicking, but frankly speaking, the signs are not encouraging. The predicted bad weather could turn this into trench warfare — not a strong suit for the Terps. We’ll see if Davin Meggett and the linemen are up to the task. My belief is they are not. Field goals will soar through the rain-soaked air like the mortar shells thumped over the treetops of Bastogne. And in the end, the Cavaliers will prevail. And the revelry in College Park will take a turn for the worse. But you know something? That’s my kind of party.
Prediction: Virginia 19, Maryland 9