You could pen a thick book about the traditions and history of the Maryland and Johns Hopkins men's lacrosse teams, including colorful characters like Henry Ciccarone and Frank Urso, hard-fought games, respect, mutual disdain and a nasty bench-clearing brawl in 1977.
They've met 110 times, including NCAA championship games in 1973, 1974 and 1979. They've staged tension-filled playoff games throughout the last four decades.
For sports fans in Maryland, the rivalry is bigger than that rich history. It's a harbinger of spring, like the Orioles and the Preakness.
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In 1987, over 19,000 fans at Byrd Stadium watched an undefeated Terps team led by Jimmy Beardmore, Tom Worstell, Brian Willard and Brian Jackson top the Blue Jays, 11-7, in the regular season. That Terps team played with flair and scored gorgeous transition goals while steamrolling through everybody — but began to believe the press clippings. Maryland fans were starved for success after the death of basketball star Len Bias the previous year because of a cocaine overdose. Butthe top-seeded Terps were upset by the Blue Jays and Brian Wood in the NCAA semifinals in May.
Maryland got sweet revenge in 1995, shocking an undefeated Hopkins team in the NCAA semifinals. Hopkins and their coaches were on edge, and the pressure had them gripping their sticks too tight. Meanwhile, Maryland coach Dick Edell took the Terps to the National Zoo in Washington the day before the game. Behind a stellar performance from goalie Brian Dougherty, defender Dan Radebaugh, midfielder Kip Fulks and passer Rob Chomo, the Terps delivered a 16-8 rout. Hopkins would need another 10 years to recover. That day proved that anything is possible in the rivalry.
Saturday's game at Homewood might be a sellout, but it'll be hard-pressed to have the pageantry and emotion of the 100th meeting in the series, played in 2004 in front of 10,555 fans. And nobody will ever put on a shooting clinic the way the Terps' Joe Walters did in 2006 with six goals and two assists. Every year provides a distinct chapter.
In 1998, WMAR-TV, the ABC affiliate in Baltimore, televised the Maryland-Johns Hopkins game. Big crowd, party atmosphere with local flavor, and an exciting game that had strong TV ratings and received sponsorship ample enough to foster a "Game of the Week" format the following spring. That initial package has led to more coverage on ESPNU and other national cable stations.
The rivalry was the foundation for national television coverage of a sport that was widely unseen, other than the NCAA title game, outside of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. That television coverage has continued to fertilize growth across the nation. So while the Terps and Blue Jays have accounted for only two national championships since 1987, their impact on the big picture remains enormous.
The rivalry represents the past and the future of the sport. As both programs get set to enter the Big Ten in 2015, Maryland and Hopkins could play twice a year, a regular-season game followed by a potential matchup in the Big Ten tournament. The Big Ten Network will continue to spread the gospel, showcasing a rivalry that's almost as old as Michigan-Ohio State football. Fans hope to see Ohio State, Penn State, Rutgers and Michigan take the next step to greatness — ramping up their programs to compete with the two traditional powers — and eager to see new growth at other conference schools like Northwestern, Minnesota and Michigan State.
Neither Maryland nor Hopkins is as dominant as it once was. The Terps have been sniffing around an NCAA title forever, but they haven't held gold since 1975. Hopkins hasn't appeared at championship weekend since 2008 and is in jeopardy of missing the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive season.
Maryland had last weekend off, part of a 10-day break beneficial to players like faceoff specialist Charlie Raffa (knee) and junior defenseman Goran Murray. The Terps have found their second wind after a loss to North Carolina on March 22 and a sluggish first half in a victory against Virginia on March 30.
Hopkins played well last Friday night at home, beating Albany, 13-8. The Jays are who you think they are, and are what their record says they are — a solid, middle-of-the-pack team with no superstars. They might be good enough to qualify for the NCAA tournament but are unlikely to earn a trip to M&T Bank Stadium for the final four. A new motion offense has shown flashes with Wells Stanwick, Ryan Brown and Holden Cattoni. But their overall team speed is deficient, and the defense is too passive, which will allow Maryland to dictate tempo, grind clock and tire them out.
Maryland has a stronger lineup, mainly because of defensive personnel (Murray, Michael Ehrhardt, Casey Ikeda), goaltender Niko Amato and midfielder Mike Chanenchuk. The Terps are masters of the possession game, tilting the scale in their favor with faceoff wins, ground-ball hustle, careful play on offense, game-changing saves by Amato and a defense that strangles the life out of its opponents. The Terps are a two-goal favorite in what should be a low-scoring game.
Quint Kessenich covers college sports for the ESPN networks and writes a weekly column for The Baltimore Sun during lacrosse season.