COLLEGE PARK — By his own admission, first-year Maryland football coach Mike Locksley has not had much time to get too caught up in the hype surrounding Friday night’s Big Ten opener against No. 12 Penn State at Maryland Stadium.
When it was announced more than two weeks ago that a record number of student tickets had been requested, Locksley groused that it would be nice for the 14,000 or so students who asked for them to first join the team for its road game that week at Temple.
And when asked at his weekly news conference Tuesday whether he could feel the buzz on campus, Locksley said: “I’m stuck at Gossett [Team House]. I don’t know what the buzz is. One of the things we’ve tried to do is really insulating ourselves and worrying about the things we can control.
“It’s great to hear that hopefully we’ll have the type of crowd that our players deserve to have, and I know our fans are excited about this game. But for us, all of our focus is on being the best version of Maryland football that we can become Friday. We’re looking at it no different than the other three opportunities we had.”
Maryland fans attending Friday’s sold-out game were hoping that the Terps resembled the team that won its first two games handily over Howard and then-No. 21 Syracuse rather the one that went to Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field as the highest-scoring team in the Football Bowl Subdivision, only to struggle offensively in a 20-17 defeat to Temple.
With some frighteningly eerie irony, the margin Maryland had outscored its first two opponents by this season is the same as the margin Penn State has beat Maryland by in the teams’ past three meetings — 142-20. The Terps fans who piled into the parking lots by mid-afternoon Friday were hoping to see a rare win in a series the Nittany Lions have dominated. Instead, Maryland’s recurring nightmare against Penn State continued with a 59-0 loss, dropping the Terps to 2-40-1 in the all-time series.
Still, for Mike Tine, Friday night reminded him of the scene before games in the early 2000s when Ralph Friedgen led the Terps to three straight double-digit win seasons. Tine, a 1997 Maryland graduate who lives outside Annapolis, started going to games in the early 1980s with his father, Chuck. The elder Tine was a teammate and remains close friends with Friedgen, the honorary captain for Friday’s game.
“It feels like the way it was, back 10 years ago when Ralph was here,” Mike Tine said. “We missed the tailgate scene, we missed the games. We know what’s coming down the road. We’ve got good coaches, good players, we’re excited to be here and have Ralph back in the family.”
Nat Ballard, an Annapolis resident who also graduated from Maryland in 1997, said he went to last year’s game in State College.
“It’s always a different animal as far as the games go,” Ballard said.
The expectation of the first sellout in four years and the lack of secondary roads leading into the campus forced school officials earlier in the month to give professors with afternoon classes the option to either rearrange their schedules, teach remotely or give their students the day off.
It was only the fourth sellout since Maryland joined the Big Ten in 2014 and the team’s first prime-time home game since that year.
The Terps hoped to do a little better Friday than they had playing before their last sellout crowd, a 28-0 defeat to No. 22 Michigan in 2015. Maryland also lost twice at home the previous year before sellout crowds, dropping a day game, 52-24, to No. 20 Ohio State and a night game to No. 12 Michigan State, 37-15.
Much has transpired since.
In December 2015, the Board of Regents for the University of Maryland system voted, 12-5, to change the name of the venue from Byrd Stadium, which opened in 1950 and was named for Harry C. “Curley” Byrd, a former player and athletic director who as university president opposed admitting black students.
The name change came at the urging of university president Wallace D. Loh, now in his last year before his announced retirement next June, who said having Byrd’s name on the stadium was a “painful reminder” of Byrd’s tenure. Loh added that “the values of the past are no longer the values of today.”
Since its last home night game, Maryland has fired coach Randy Edsall and his successor, DJ Durkin.
Edsall was fired within weeks of the 2015 loss to Michigan and was replaced on an interim basis by Locksley, then the team’s offensive coordinator. Durkin, who had been the defensive coordinator at Michigan, was fired last Oct. 31 after being placed on administrative leave following the heatstroke death of offensive lineman Jordan McNair.
Speaking of the turmoil and tragedy that has surrounded the Terps the past few years, Penn State student Eli Rosellius of Pittsburgh said: “But I think they can [be successful]. This place is definitely going to be electric if they win. We’ve got to shut that down.”
Nancy Currier and Lynda Heavner, longtime friends from Montgomery County, planned to sit together with their respective husbands despite the fact that Currier, her husband and one of their three daughters went to Maryland and Heavner and her two daughters both went to Penn State.
Mike Currier is still upset that Friedgen was fired in 2010.
“And he had a winning record,” Currier said.
Kim Laubaugh of Mountain Top, Pennsylvania, and Lisa Zavada-Rizzo of Exeter, Pennsylvania, Penn State graduates and Kappa Alpha Theta sorority sisters, are longtime season-ticket holders and often travel together to road games. They are among legions of Nittany Lions’ fans who follow their favorite football team as it were an iconic rock band.
“I’ve been to Michigan, Purdue, Wisconsin, the Rose Bowls, Syracuse, Rutgers, North Carolina State,” said Zavada-Rizzo, who more than three decades ago was on her way to Maryland as an undergrad until she received a late acceptance to her home state school.
Their only trip to Maryland for a game against the Terps came at M&T Bank Stadium in 2015, Locksley’s first as the team’s interim coach, and won by the Nittany Lions, 31-30. Friday’s game marked their first at Maryland Stadium, and left both a little confused.
Sitting near the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center waiting for a Penn State alumni function to begin, it didn’t seem to either Zavada-Rizzo or Laubaugh that they were at a college football game. Certainly not one at Beaver Stadium, which seats close to 107,000.
“We got here and we said, ‘Where’s the rest of the stadium?' ” Laubaugh said of the 54,000-seat Maryland Stadium. “And it’s half the size of Beaver Stadium.”
A bit removed from the party that was going on in Lot Z, Zavada-Rizzo seemed to miss being home in Happy Valley.
“Where’s the music? Where’s all the tailgating?" Zavada-Rizzo said.
It was certainly there, more than it had been for awhile.
Nat Ballard, who said he saw “the bottom end of the bell curve" for Maryland teams that went a combined 17-27 under Mark Duffner and Ron Vanderlinden, was happy to be back.
“It’s great to have a packed house and a full parking lot. It’s awesome," Ballard said. "Certainly success is going to bring more fans out. I think this is what you get when you have success early in the year. I think everybody’s excited.”
Baltimore Sun reporter Peter Schmuck contributed to this article.