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Maryland's great escape should prompt more meetings with Navy


THE ODDSMAKERS said it would be a mismatch, but it came down to a missed tackle.

Maryland tailback Lance Ball yanked his foot through the fleeting grasp of Navy cornerback Greg Thrasher and broke a second tackle to keep a last-ditch drive alive and turn a major Division I-A upset into a great escape for the heavily favored Terrapins last night at M&T; Bank Stadium.

Right up to that moment, Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen had to be figuring that it would be another 40 years before he agreed to start another season against the Midshipman, who have made a habit of turning the oddsmakers on their ears during the Paul Johnson era.

Moral victory? I'm guessing the Mids don't see it that way, even though they returned the fewest starters of any team in the country after completing one of the greatest seasons in the history of the academy.

Resounding season-opening triumph? Not sure that Friedgen will look at it that way after the Terps were dominated in the first half by an inexperienced team that was rated no higher than 70th in preseason magazine rankings.

The one thing that's for certain, it was the kind of game that could stoke a re-ignited rivalry, if the two schools can come together to create a lasting relationship.

"We had a chance," said Johnson. "The kid [Ball] just made a great play. If we get him, he's 8 yards short of the first down."

They didn't get him, but it was obvious all evening why Johnson was named Bobby Dodd National Coach of the Year in 2004 (the same award that was won by Friedgen in 2001). He plugged new players into the key positions vacated by former quarterback Aaron Polanco and fullback Kyle Eckel and Navy's triple-option offense chugged right into 2005.

It doesn't get any easier next week, when the Mids take on Stanford at upgraded Navy-Marine Corps Stadium, but it's obvious that Navy does not view this as a rebuilding year.

There were 10 honorary captains for the coin toss, including Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, House Speaker Michael Busch and Lt. Gov. Michael Steele. With that many politicians around, it was a minor upset that the coin managed to hit the ground.

The possibility of losing to the Mids caused so much angst on the Maryland side in the first half that a couple of redshirted Terps fans had to be separated.

Only possible explanation: At least one of the guys had to be from Philadelphia.

It wasn't Disco Demolition Night. Heck, it wasn't even Hairiest Back Night, but the Chicago White Sox can still put on a strange promotion - as evidenced by Mullet Night on Friday at U.S. Cellular Field.

Fans bearing the much-maligned hairstyle paraded around the warning track and the first 500 marchers were given White Sox Mullet Night T-shirts. There also was a fireworks show, but fortunately nobody's hair caught fire.

Sports Illustrated has tabbed the Carolina Panthers to win the Super Bowl, so you can cross them off your list.

The Ravens, by the way, are ranked seventh in SI 's NFL Preview, behind the Colts, Panthers, Patriots, Steelers, Eagles and Falcons.

In a slightly related development, recently rated Camden Yards 18th in its Fan Value Index, an analysis of the relative cost-friendliness of major league ballparks.

The winner was Miller Park in Milwaukee, even though the survey supposedly took into account the competitiveness of the team. The Brewers entered the weekend with the 18th-best record in the majors, so they must be giving away the hot dogs and beer.

In case anyone outside New York was wondering, Shea Stadium was where baseball fans get the least for their money.

North Run Farm in Stevenson has unveiled this year's corn maze, an amazingly intricate agricultural achievement that is contoured to resemble a Ravens helmet when viewed from the air.

This means that for a few bucks, visitors can find out how it feels to be lost inside a Ravens helmet. I'll let you fill in your own Kyle Boller joke here.

Contact Peter Schmuck at peter.

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