Saturday, November 23, 2013

A 61 Year-Old Going Away Party

There are very few experiences in sports like watching your college team switch conferences. In the past, it was a totally alien feeling that might have only be discussed around the water cooler if there was nothing else to talk about. Now? Another fanbase is talking about this sensation every other day. And on this day, it was Maryland fans going through this. In a fairly empty Byrd Stadium, the Terps tried to honor their ACC past while looking to their B1G future, and it felt incredibly awkward. I imagine this is how a lot of other fanbases have felt recently, but putting pen to paper on these thoughts might codify them for those who will never experience the feeling.

Many fans were given a poster shaped in the number 61, referring to the number of years Maryland played ACC football, complete with ACC moments across the front. Everything from the game when Byrd Stadium hosted the Queen of England in 1957, to the Labor Day game 2 years ago when the world was introduced to "Maryland Pride" was included. Maryland is not a school that has much football history, so I imagine this will feel far weirder when the basketball team has this moment in March. But even then, the people in the stadium didn't really know how to react to some of these moments. When some members of the 1953 National Championship team were introduced, everyone cheered, but it felt like an obligation, not one out of an impulse of nostalgia. Some notable Terps games from seasons past were shown in moments on the scoreboards during commercial breaks, and it felt nice to see them, but nostalgia can only get you so far.

But maybe the weirdest moment was during halftime when the Maryland Band performed. Fittingly, they lined up in the shape of the ACC logo at one point during the performance, and then went to the shape of the B1G's new logo. The stadium had thinned out from an already sparse crowd that started the game, but those that saw it didn't really know how to react. Laugh? Cry? Both? Most if not all Maryland fans have memories solely in the ACC, so going to a new conference is certainly going to bring culture shock. Going from complaining about Carolina refs to Michigan refs is going to be weird the first few times one of the drunk stragglers in the student section at Comcast Center says it.

But what this day really cemented for me, someone with no attachment to Maryland athletics aside from this season and last, is that no one really has come to grips yet with Maryland switching conferences. Sure, the football schedules up until 2019 have been released, and Terps fans are already wondering what trips to Madison will be like compared to trips to Raleigh or Winston-Salem. Implicitly, every Maryland fan has already accepted what the future holds. But today told me that no one, including the athletics staff themselves, have really begun to come to grips with what is coming next fall. Maybe it won't be until Maryland fans get to October and see Ohio State coming on the schedule instead of Clemson that people will accept the B1G as the new home of Terrapins everywhere. But today, it didn't feel like anyone was ready to accept the future yet.

Drunk on nostalgia, everyone watched as Maryland coughed up another win at home, making it 3 straight losses at home. No matter what happens against NC State, or in the bowl game, Maryland will always be an ACC team, until the realization that they aren't hits home.

And for the 32K people in the stands, and probably to the people making the game happen, it hasn't yet. Nor will it any time soon.

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