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Maryland’s return to Michigan for Quick Lane Bowl conjures memories of 1985 Cherry Bowl

The announcement earlier this month that Maryland would face Boston College in the Quick Lane Bowl on Dec. 26 at Detroit's Ford Field brought back old — and very cold — memories for many longtime Terps fans.

The last time a Maryland football team played a bowl game in the state of Michigan, the Terps were 8-3 and coming off winning an ACC championship. The financially strapped athletic department was in need of a big payday.

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Enter the Cherry Bowl, a second-year game being played at the Silverdome in Pontiac, Mich., whose organizers were promising a lucrative $1.2 million payday to Maryland and its opponent, Syracuse.

In 1985, it was the fifth-highest payoff behind the Rose, Sugar, Cotton and Orange Bowl games on New Year's Day. This year's payday — the same $1.2 million — is tied for 17th among the 40 bowl games.

Bobby Ross, then in his fourth year as Maryland's head coach, said that athletic director Dick Dull promised that a bulk of the money from the Cherry Bowl would go to improving the team's then-outdated facilities.

"That was considered big-time money and I remember Dick talking about it," Ross recalled recently. "The previous year, Army had beaten Michigan State and they had sold out of the stadium, and they were guaranteeing that and all sorts of things. It sounded very attractive. It certainly didn't end up being that way."

Aside from 20th-ranked Maryland's 35-18 win over Syracuse, it was not exactly a pleasurable trip.

The weather was so bad that week that the combination of arctic temperatures and blowing snow caused a problem with the roof of the Silverdome. Water dripped down onto the field. The teams had to do a couple of walk-through practices in the ballroom of their respective hotels.

"I remember being in the hotel a lot," recalled Bruce Mesner, then a Maryland senior and one of the team's defensive stars.

At previous bowl games, Mesner said the team spent time at the beach in Waikiki while in Hawaii for the Aloha Bowl or going to what was then a relatively new Disney World before the Citrus Bowl, or even to Juarez, Mexico, when the team played in the Sun Bowl.

"When we got to Detroit, they took us to the Ford Museum," Mesner said. "I was like, 'We should be on the beaches of Hawaii. This is BS.'"

Said Ross, "It wasn't easy. Where were the guys supposed to go for a little R&R? They went to Canada. The bowl people would take 'em over there and I guess show 'em a good time. I don't know what all they did. It wasn't something they really enjoyed. It was cold and it was winter and it wasn't really a good environment for a bowl game."

It came three years after the Terps had played in Hawaii in the Aloha Bowl, two years after the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Fla., and one year after the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas.

According to Dull, Maryland didn't just follow the money out to snowy Michigan. Despite reports at the time that the Terps turned down other invitations, Dull said last week that no official offers were tendered.

"If you remember, Maryland's problem was we didn't travel [many fans] and nobody ever wanted us. It was constantly begging people to take us," said Dull, who hired Ross shortly after becoming athletic director. "The Cherry Bowl wanted us and we didn't really have another choice."

Dull, who left his alma mater during the turmoil that followed the death of basketball star Len Bias in 1986, said the Cherry Bowl wound up losing its certification because it could not meet its NCAA-mandated minimum payoff of $400,000.

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Maryland received $300,000, which was not enough to pay for the cost of the school's traveling party, Dull said.

Dull said that before the Citrus Bowl, "we gave away a ton of tickets." For the Aloha Bowl — the first bowl played in Hawaii in 30 years — the Terps benefited from a pre-existing relationship with bowl director Lenny Klompus, a Maryland grad who owned a Washington-based sports syndication company.

"In those days we had pretty good quarterbacks that we could market," Dull said. "They were excited because we had Boomer Esiason, and Frank Reich followed him. They never expected us to travel with many people to Hawaii."

Mesner said Ross had told the team the players would vote on where they wanted to go.

"We had a pretty good year, lost to some good teams and Coach Ross' thing was that we should use the bowl as a reward, and he left it up to us to where we wanted to play," Mesner said. "I was the only one who had been to Hawaii in 1982 and we really wanted to go to Hawaii or some other place warm and fun."

Mesner said that in most years, Ross would send players home from bowl games if they broke curfew. On the team's second night in Michigan, Mesner and a few other seniors went across to Windsor, Ontario, and returned to the team hotel after the assigned curfew.

"The assistant coaches were there to usher us up to our rooms," Mesner said.

Ross kept the players in Michigan — possibly as punishment.

"I don't know if we really wanted to go home, but we were kind of rebellious that we got stuck in Detroit," Mesner said.

Unlike this year's team, which reportedly is receiving a swag bag worth over $500, Mesner said the players each received one memento: a Cherry Bowl ring. It turned out to be a collector's item. The bowl — whose chairman was the appropriately named Muddy Waters, the former Michigan State coach — folded a few months later.

It took more than a decade for a bowl game to return to Detroit, first as the Motor City Bowl, then as the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl — or the "Pizza Pizza Bowl" as the locals called it — and starting in 2014 as the Quick Lane Bowl.

The inaugural game two years ago between Rutgers and North Carolina drew a reported 23,876. The attendance at last year's game between Minnesota and Central Michigan rose to 34,217 in the 65,000-seat NFL stadium.

Though Maryland wanted an invitation to the Pinstripe Bowl because New York would have been a much better attraction for its fans, any bowl game is good for first-year coach DJ Durkin and the development of his program, Ross said.

"It's a big plus for him," Ross said. "If you got the opportunity, take it. More practice time for the development of younger players. And it's something you can point to — that's something that can be very positive for the program. And people don't pay attention to what your record was at the time."

Dull said Maryland's matchup with Boston College is eerily reminiscent of the Cherry Bowl. Dull said he has empathy for current Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson for having to take what was considered the bottom bowl pick with a Big Ten tie-in.

"It sounds like the same thing," Dull said. "I understand the difficulty Mr. Anderson has before him because not too much has changed. I give this coach a lot of credit, because he's come in his first year and is going to a bowl game. I think they've got the right guy. I'm impressed with him."

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But as far as traveling to a bowl game — let alone one in Detroit the day after the Christmas — "6-6 doesn't excite a lot of people," Dull said.

More than three decades later, at least one thing will be noticeably different for Maryland.

There is very little snow in the forecast during the team's four-day stay in Michigan, with temperatures ranging from the low 30s to around 40.

Compared to 1985, it'll be downright balmy.

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