Every college basketball season, when Duke makes its annual trip north to take on Maryland, I get no small amount of pleasure listening to my wife complain about the perception people have of Terps fans.
Inevitably, someone (often yours truly) will make a joke in the days leading up to the game about Maryland fans burning couches or chanting curse words at J.J. Redick, and my wife (a 1998 Maryland graduate) will give me an apocalyptic death stare that is as serious as it is scary.
She'll ball up her little fists, turn a shade of crimson that I can't quite describe and then launch into a four-minute tirade about how other schools are just as bad. The drunken campus bench bonfires at Duke after victories never seem to get much play in the media, she says, yet ESPN did a one-hour special last year on the unruly behavior of Terps fans. How is that fair? she asks.
The thing is, she's right. (The first rule I learned about marriage is: Women are always right. At least in the end.) Maryland fans have been getting singled out, somewhat unfairly, for their bad behavior for several years now. In reality, the Terps are probably no worse than half a dozen other Atlantic Coast Conference schools.
Do they burn stuff in College Park after a big victory? Quite often, in fact. Do they occasionally scream nasty things at smug Duke shooting guards who like to write bad poetry? Definitely. But the rest of the league doesn't exactly behave like saints, either.
Four years ago, Virginia students notoriously chanted "crackhead parents" at Maryland guard Juan Dixon, a pathetic and intellectually bankrupt attempt to poke fun at the real life tragedy that Dixon had to deal with growing up in Baltimore.
Last season, a small group of North Carolina State fans allegedly heckled Wake Forest guard Chris Paul with taunts of "I killed your grandfather," a cowardly reference to the fact that Paul's grandfather, Nathaniel Jones, was murdered in a robbery attempt during the point guard's senior year of high school.
Not to be left out, Georgia Tech fans got into the act this year, taking a lame cheap shot at Terps guard D.J. Strawberry by chanting "cocaine" during a game in Atlanta, a reference to Strawberry's father, Darryl, and his much-publicized struggles with alcohol and drug addiction.
Members of the Wake Forest student section held up signs not that long ago saying that Duke forward Luol Deng (who was born in Sudan, but fled with his family at age 5 to escape civil war) should "be deported."
Even the Cameron Crazies at Duke, who love to act like they're above engaging in typical boorish fan behavior, had no problem making repeated jokes in the mid-1990s about rumors that North Carolina guard Jeff McInnis was having an affair with the wife of Phil Ford, a longtime Tar Heels assistant coach.
The buzz got so loud that McInnis felt compelled to deny the rumors publicly in a 1996 interview with the Orlando Sentinel after a pre-draft workout with the Magic, saying that "Duke people blew the whole thing up."
The problem isn't that Maryland fans are really that much more offensive than the rest of the crowds in the ACC, it's that lately Terps fans have tried to use everyone else's bad behavior as a justification for their own. And eventually, you either have to vow that you're going to be part of the solution, or accept the fact that you're part of the problem and stop getting so angry with the messenger.
Most Maryland fans would like this issue to simply go away and are tired of having the whole Terps fan base indicted just because one moron threw a water bottle at Carlos Boozer's mother several years ago. That's a fair point. But this isn't just about a couple of idiots throwing objects on the court. This is about a hatred of Duke that's so intense that, at times, it borders on being unhealthy.
I've seen a ton of otherwise clever and witty people inside Comcast Center resort to screaming obscenities for two straight hours because their hatred for J.J. Redick burns hotter than 1,000 suns. I saw a fan last year hold up an incredibly racist sign calling Duke forward Shelden Williams "The Missing Link" and comparing him to a gorilla. That's not supporting your team. In fact, it very well might be hurting it. Just ask Gary Williams.
"We've had a program that's been good enough to win a national championship," Williams said. "We have to act like that at the game now. Most great players get motivated when people personalize by personal cheers, like it's happened to D.J. Strawberry at a couple places this year. You can't do that. [Duke] is too good. ... They don't need any extra motivation to play well. We've got to be wild and loud, but nothing personal. Our students need to understand that."
They should understand this, too: No team in the ACC has had more success against Duke than Maryland in the past five years, which means that come tomorrow night, if the Terps win - and believe me, they have a real chance - Maryland fans should act like they expected it all along. That means no rioting, no vandalizing street signs and no destructive fires.
I'll be watching at home from my couch, which is where my wife says I'll be sleeping from now on as punishment for writing this column. Assuming, of course, she can refrain from dragging the couch into the front yard and setting it on fire in celebration. It is the Maryland-Duke game, after all.