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Georgia Dome's demolition brings back memories of Maryland's 2002 national title

The photo has been on the refrigerator for years, of two young Maryland fans standing in enemy territory two days after the Terps won the 2002 national title over Indiana at the Georgia Dome.

After the family drove halfway home, stopping overnight in Greensboro, N.C., their father made an unexpected pit stop in nearby Durham to take a picture in their Maryland gear, with the Duke chapel as the backdrop.

The boys, ages 8 and 13, signaled that Maryland was No. 1, except they didn’t use their index fingers to do it. My sons are now 29 and 24 and I will never forget that picture or the night in Atlanta that inspired it.

The memories came back Monday after the Georgia Dome was demolished by 5,000 pounds of explosives as the $1.6 billion Mercedez Benz Stadium has taken over the neighborhood.

In their mind’s eye, most Maryland fans can still see Juan Dixon breaking a long scoring drought with a huge jumper to regain the lead and start the run that led to a 64-52 win.

They can still see Gary Williams climbing the ladder to cut the last piece of the net, then twirling it in the air over his head. They can see the confetti falling from the rafters and Williams holding his grandson.

There are other memories for me, too.

I was there six years before for the 1996 Olympic Games, where the U.S.’ real “Dream Team” were a bunch of tough female gymnasts who finally took home the gold, beating Russia on the strength of Kerri Strug’s landing despite two torn ligaments in her ankle.

I was there in 1998 when Tennessee quarterback Tee Martin solidified his legacy with the Vol Nation by throwing two touchdowns to help beat Mississippi State. A month later, Martin did what Peyton Manning never did in Knoxville — win it all.

There are some Maryland fans who were also there twice in 2002 — first for the national championship and then in December for the Peach Bowl, to see Ralph Friedgen’s team win its 11th game of the season by dismantling Tennessee, 30-3, in the Peach Bowl.

But that early spring weekend in 2002 is what I remember the most.

A year after fulfilling a promise to my older son of taking him to the Final Four if the Terps ever made it, I had to then do the same for my younger son, whose obsession with Dixon and the Terps was already fully developed. We packed up the family van and headed to Atlanta, where I was covering the Final Four for The Sun.

The tickets I had purchased through the NCAA for them were so high up in the Georgia Dome that from where they were sitting, it was hard to distinguish between Dixon and Lonny Baxter except for the numbers on the backs of the jerseys.

For years afterward, my wife talked about how she had never seen so many grown men cry, unable to grasp the magnitude of their suffering from watching some of Lefty Driesell's best teams denied the opportunity of even making the NCAA tournament.

For years afterward, my younger son seemed not to remember much about the game itself, and more about his unending search for Dippin’ Dots at various concession stands. It took watching an ESPN Classic replay for him to realize what he had witnessed.

As much as I can recall parts of the game and the post-game interviews — particularly talking with Dave Dickerson, then a first-year assistant under Williams whose playing career at Maryland began when Len Bias was a senior — I mostly remember the trip back home.

After breakfast at the hotel where we were staying in Greensboro, the thought came to me about stopping at Duke with these two young Maryland fans who had grown up hating the Blue Devils no matter how much I sung the praises of Grant Hill and Jason Williams.

When I pulled off the highway and they saw a sign that said “Duke University,” my kids reacted if I were taking them on a surprise trip to the dentist. But as I pulled onto the quiet campus and told them to put their Maryland hats on, they seemed to buy in.

“OK guys, tell them who’s No. 1,” I said as I steadied the camera.

They did. Except not with their index fingers.

RIP, Georgia Dome.

don.markus@baltsun.com

twitter.com/sportsprof56

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