On Sept. 5, 2011, as Randy Edsall took the field at Byrd Stadium for his first game as coach of the Maryland football team, the Terps might as well have been at the center of the college football universe. They beat Miami, 32-24, in prime time on ESPN. They introduced "Maryland Pride" to the sartorial lexicon. They polarized viewers who didn't know College Park, Md., from College Park, Ga. Even LeBron James watched.
Now, on the eve of what might be Edsall's going-away game, a march into No. 1 Ohio State's lion's den in Columbus, it's jarring to look back at his debut. It feels almost of a different era altogether.
"I feel like it doesn't get any more big than this," kicker Nick Ferrara told The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Barker after the win. "Except for the ACC title and national championship, and we're playing for that, too."
Sure, Maryland got about as close to a national championship as a 2-10 team can. But the win over the Hurricanes, depleted though they were by suspensions, felt hugely important. Edsall was not Mike Leach, the Average Joe's pick to replace the ousted Ralph Friedgen after a resurgent 2010 season, but his offense played fast enough — and his quarterback, Atlantic Coast Conference Rookie of the Year Danny O'Brien, well enough — to appear transplanted from Texas Tech that rain-soaked Monday night.
"Superduper sophomore quarterback Danny O’Brien got the Terps up to the line of scrimmage so quickly that ESPN’s instant replays needed to be instanter," The Washington Times' Dick Heller wrote.
Edsall's success, like Friedgen's, was immediate. The historical significance was auspicious. The good press was overflowing.
"Edsall became only the second Maryland coach in the past 52 years to win his debut with the Terps," The Sun's Don Markus pointed out. "The only other coach to win his first game at Maryland since 1959 was Friedgen in 2001."
Maryland "looked unrelenting everywhere except inside the red zone," The Washington Post's Eric Prisbell wrote.
"Maybe the Terps will generate some buzz for their on-field exploits rather than their apparel," the Times' Patrick Stevens suggested.
"From how they looked to how they played, this season’s Maryland team bore no resemblance to the teams of the Ralph Friedgen era," ESPN's Heather Dinich concluded.
Until, well, it did. After the "almost giddiness" from the season opener faded, the Terps were on their way to a two-win season, the low-water mark of Friedgen's decade-long tenure, reached just two years before.
While Miami limped to a 6-6 record, Danny O'Brien played as small as Danny DeVito. First-year Maryland defensive coordinator Todd Bradford, lacking hair on his upper lip as well as any kind of game plan, was not welcomed back. Twenty-plus players, including a future NFL lineman, joined him at the exits. The following April, athletic director Kevin Anderson called the year "unacceptable," and while back-to-back winning seasons in 2013 and 2014 got the Terps back into bowl games, they remained barred from the national scene.
Now Maryland is being noticed once more, and for unwanted reasons. Anderson has kept mum on this deterioriating season. It is a telling silence, to be certain: In the 54 games since his first win, Edsall is 21-33. The crowds at Byrd Stadium have yet to reach the mark set in the Terps' next game in 2011, a loss to West Virginia. Quarterbacks have been injured, or underperformed, or both.
LeBron hasn't tweeted again about the Terps, either, and if you ever needed a season recap entering Saturday's game, you could do a lot worse than his 4-year-old hashtag: #Ewwwwww!