Divided loyalties

Ray and Laura Brusca with their son, Josh Brusca. Ray is a Towson Grad and Laura is a Maryland Grad. Josh got his bachelor's degree from Towson and his master's from Maryland. (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun / September 30, 2011)

Forget Army vs. Navy, Alabama vs. Auburn, Ohio State vs. Michigan.

On Saturday afternoon, in a game that has no bearing on the national rankings, Towson University will play the University of Maryland in the first-ever football battle between the state's largest schools.

And in households and businesses all over the area, people are getting their game faces on — like the Cardins, Ben and Myrna. Maryland's junior U.S. senator graduated from the University of Maryland School of Law in 1967. His wife is not only Towson Class of 1965, she also serves on the school's Board of Visitors.

"Myrna and I share the same political views, but that that doesn't mean we will be rooting for the same team on Saturday," said Cardin in an email.

A similar scene might play out at the governor's mansion. Martin O'Malley is a Terp by way of Maryland's law school, Class of 1988. Katie O'Malley is a Tiger, Class of 1985.

Also feeling a familial pull: Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, former Baltimore County executive who was a varsity lacrosse player at Maryland and married high school sweetheart Kay, who earned a master's degree from Towson. The congressman's sister is a professor at Towson.

"It's a hard call for me," said Ruppersberger, a football fanatic. "Probably more of my constituents are Towson graduates. But once a Terp, always a Terp. I'm loyal to my school."

On the other hand, Under Armour decidedly is not playing favorites, despite the fact that President Kevin Plank was special teams captain for the Terps and graduated in 1996, the same year Senior Vice President Steve Battista got his bachelor's degree from Towson. The uniforms for both teams were designed and manufactured by the Baltimore company, and both men declined to do any public bragging.

The Tigers and Terps have faced each other before in more than a dozen sports, including lacrosse and basketball — even golf.

But football? Never.

The reason can be found in the alphabet soup that is the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Maryland is an FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) school while Towson plays a notch down in the FCS (Football Championship Subdivision). That leaves few opportunities in the fall schedule for local competition.

Last season, Maryland went local, playing Morgan State for the first time and Navy for just the second time in 45 years. This year, it's the school 38 miles to the north coming to College Park.

The Maryland-Towson game was originally scheduled for Sept. 3, on the opening weekend of the season. But a chance for the Terps to play Miami in a prime-time national broadcast on ESPN caused a reshuffling of the deck.

By most accounts, Maryland should win. But Towson is undefeated at 3-0. Maryland is 1-2 and still licking its wounds from the thrashing last weekend by the Owls of Temple.

Ruppersberger said the game is good for the state and that developing a robust intrastate rivalry would be good for both sports programs.

But not so good for tranquillity in Hunt Valley, as Ray and Laura Brusca can attest.

"We'll be out of town, but we'll be following the game online," said Ray, a vice president at Stanley Black & Decker and proud member of Towson's Class of 1980.

"He's trying to woo me away with a four-day weekend," said Laura, a financial analyst who graduated from College Park in 1987. "Whatever. I think he's afraid his team is going to lose. I think he's fearing the turtle right now."

The Bruscas knew there might be friction when they pulled up at a restaurant for their first date in 2000 and noticed that their license plates touted different allegiances. Somehow, love triumphed over school spirit.

In 2004, the Christmas card of their new, combined family included Ray and son Josh wearing Tigers garb and Laura and stepdaughter Erin in Terps gear.

"It was," Laura said, laughing, "a family divided."

Pity Madieu Williams, an athlete divided. He started his football career at Towson before transferring to Maryland. Now a safety for the San Francisco 49ers, Williams said he'll be following the game online.

"I have to root for the University of Maryland, my alma mater," Williams said. "But I have fond memories of Towson and have family and friends who went to Towson."

Williams agreed with Ruppersberger about the value of the game, as long as it becomes an annual event and isn't one-sided.

"For Towson, it helps with recruiting when they play against Maryland, a 1-A school. For the University of Maryland, it helps generate buzz in the state," said Williams. "I'm excited for this game. It's been a long time coming."

Josh Brusca, with a foot in each camp, has cobbled a solution.

"I will be rooting for the Tigers along with some of my fraternity brothers this Saturday," said Brusca, a Towson undergraduate with a master's from Maryland. "But I think all of us cheer for the Terps throughout the season at some level, as well. No matter where in Maryland you're from, you've got to cheer for the Terps. But … I think all of us would be pretty pleased to see Towson crush 'em this Saturday."

candy.thomson@baltsun.com