LANDOVER -- The last time Maryland and Georgetown played, ESPN was a fledgling sports cable network with a rookie college basketball analyst named Dick Vitale, Gary Williams was in his second year as a Division I coach at American University and many of the current players were barely out of kindergarten.
The last time Maryland and Georgetown played, in the Sweet 16 of the 1980 NCAA tournament, the more established Terrapins lost to the up-and-coming Hoyas at The Spectrum in Philadelphia. It was Maryland's second defeat that season to Georgetown, and the rivalry ended amid angry words between the two head coaches, John Thompson and Lefty Driesell.
Today, Maryland and Georgetown will meet again in their respective season openers. After much debate in recent years about why the area's highest-profile college teams avoided each other, after much back-room maneuvering for almost a decade, the Terrapins and Hoyas will play this afternoon in a nationally televised (ESPN) 2 p.m. game at the USAir Arena.
But whether this is merely a one-time reunion or the rejuvenation of a long-standing rivalry depends greatly on the fan interest it generates and, perhaps, on the outcome it produces. Despite a hefty, $29.50 price for most of the 18,000 seats, promoter Russ Potts anticipates a near-sellout. As of yesterday, about 3,000 tickets remained.
"If the place is crowded and there's a line outside the Capital Centre, then I can appreciate it, and if that happens, maybe we'll consider it again," said Thompson, whose 15th-ranked Hoyas are considered clear favorites. "I don't think the interest has ever been as much as in the minds of the people who have written about it or talked about it on the air."
Said Williams, starting his fifth season at Maryland: "I don't see how, after not playing for 13 years, you can say it's a big rivalry. It can become a big rivalry if we play next year. I'd like to play them every year, but it takes two teams to schedule it. I can want the game all I want, but it won't matter if the other guy doesn't."
The interest is certainly there among the players, many of whom grew up competing against each other on the playgrounds and in the gyms of Washington.
There has been little in the way of trash-talking since it was scheduled last spring, but the subject has come up when the players bumped into one another at summer-league games and shopping malls.
"It's a big game for me," said Maryland sophomore forward Exree Hipp, who has known many of the Georgetown players since he was a sophomore in high school. "Wherever you go, people are talking about it. There are a lot of mutual friendships. Whenever I'll see one of their guys, they'll say, 'We're going to get you on the 26th.' But I don't want to be too emotional."
Said Georgetown senior forward Robert Churchwell: "I think it comes down to pride. You want to show your team is better than their team. It's sort of like when we were in high school, but it's much bigger now."
The game came about because of Georgetown's need to schedule some tougher early-season opponents, given that the Hoyas have two Big East games in December and don't want to prepare for them by playing such powerhouses as St. Leo's.
Also, perhaps Thompson feels a bit threatened by the recent success of coach Mike Jarvis at George Washington, and wants to re-establish Georgetown's status in the community.
For whatever reason, Thompson agreed to play Maryland.
"The time is right to do it," Thompson said last week. "We didn't sit down and meditate on this for a long time. Someone asked me one day if I'd do it, and I said yes. It shocked them."
There was talk of a multi-year contract and a possible home-and-home series, but that hasn't materialized.
Potts, a former promotions director and assistant athletic director at Maryland who now runs his own company in Winchester, Va., said he eventually would like to schedule an annual two-day Christmas tournament involving the two schools.
"What we're trying to do is put some juice into Washington-area college basketball," said Potts, who promoted the 1982 game between Georgetown and Virginia, featuring Patrick Ewing and Ralph Sampson, and helped revive the rivalry between Kentucky and Louisville the next season. "I've always felt local rivalries have a special magnetism about them."
Thompson apparently doesn't. He said at his team's annual media day that "local rivalries are passe. . . . Basketball is national and is going international."
For his part, Williams said he looks forward to the national exposure today's game will provide his rebuilding program.
Maryland isn't expected to upset Georgetown, but a strong showing for the young Terps certainly would help their confidence.
And an early-season victory over a nationally ranked opponent could be the catalyst for a surprising season in College Park.
"Winning a game like this will get everyone excited," said Maryland sophomore point guard Duane Simpkins.
"I'm not excited at all," he said. "It's just another game on our schedule."
NOTES: Potts said the reason for the steep ticket prices was that this game is part of a three-game contract this season at the USAir Arena that includes Virginia Tech-Virginia and West Virginia-Virginia Tech, and he had to pay rights fees to Virginia Tech and Virginia for giving up home games. Potts said if they lower the rights fees "then the ticket prices could be $15." . . . . The Hoyas have won the past three meetings.