Champs Sports Bowl

29 December 2006

Earlier I posted a short recounting of one of the University of Maryland basketball games against Duke from 2007; this page is similarly focused on the Maryland football team. For those who aren't college sports fans, the University of Maryland has a long history of excellent basketball teams and mediocre football teams. The football team hasn't been completely terrible over the years, but more often than not it's been struggling to qualify for a bowl game as opposed to challenging for conference titles. Maryland's one national title was won back in the ancient history of 1953 and it seems very unlikely that the school will be in contention for even a Big Ten title, much less a national title, any time soon. There was a short period where Maryland's football was actually pretty good, however, and I was lucky enough that this aligned with my own time at the university. This period coincided with the hiring of head coach Ralph Friedgen, who won the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2001 and sent the team to the Orange Bowl, then followed it up with visits to the Peach Bowl in 2002 and the Gator Bowl in 2003. The team won 10 games all three of those seasons and spent the bulk of each season ranked in the top 25. It was an exciting time to be at the school (with the men's baksetball team also winning the national title in 2002), and I was right there traveling with the football team to most of their away games, part of the UMD marching band. Honestly, if the football team hadn't been doing so well I doubt that I would have stuck with the marching band for all four years of undergrad studies. I never had much interest in the marching itself, it was the atmosphere of being at the games that drove me to keep signing up.

The following years weren't quite as good for the UMD football team, but the 2006 squad had a more successful campaign. The team finished the regular season with a record of 8 wins against 4 losses, with the highlight of the season coming when Maryland won a victory on the road at Clemson. Writing from the perspective of 2018 that seems almost unbelievable, but it really did happen. (This was a weird period for the ACC, with Wake Forest actually winning the league in 2006 and Florida State and Miami struggling to post winning records.) The season was good enough to win Maryland an invitation to the Champs Sports Bowl, a middle-ranking bowl game held annually in Orlando, Florida. I decided to attend the game with my best friend Scott, with the two of us driving down together and spending a few nights in Orlando. Scott and I have been friends since our childhood in elementary school, and he was at the University of Maryland as well in 2001-2002 during the greatest sports year that the school ever had. We thought this would be a fun road trip and a chance to see the Maryland football again in a winnable game.

That's a picture of Scott above. We drove down from the Baltimore area to Orlando with our little Maryland car flag flying on the outside window, with a handful of other fans making the trip south honking in response along the way. We arrived a day early and decided to go to Universal Studios to see the theme park (back in the days before the addition of the Harry Potter attractions). In order to save money on the tickets, we agreed to sit through a timeshare presenation where a shady real estate agent tried to sell Scott on purchasing a condo in Orlado. This was amusing on several levels since we were both just out of undergrad and neither of us had the money to purchase a timeshare; we repeatedly told the agent that we were only there to get the discounted Universal Studios tickets. I don't have any pictures from that visit, but we found the theme park to be pretty underwhelming. It's no surprise that Universal Studios was getting killed by Disney at the time, and it was a stroke of great fortune that they secured the rights to the Harry Potter franchise shortly thereafter.

As for the game itself, it was being played at the Orlando Citrus Bowl, an old stadium located in the downtown portion of the city. At the time of this writing in 2018 it was currently known as "Camping World Stadium", but the name has likely changed again by the time that you read this. Those stadium naming sponsorships seem to change on annual basis. Most people still call this place the Citrus Bowl, the name it's held throughout most of its history.

We arrived at the game well ahead of time. The stadium was mostly deserted 85 minutes before kickoff, and we were able to take pictures from down near field level and watch the stadium slowly fill up with fans. Maryland was playing Purdue University in this bowl game, an amusing opponent in retrospect since both schools are now part of the Big Ten conference. (Bowl games are always played between teams in different conferences barring very unusual circumstances.) Our seats were located in the Maryland student section of the stadium, since I was still a grad student at the time, near the open end and near where the Maryland marching band would be seated. We were as interested to see the Maryland band as anything else at the game. I still had some friends in the band while Scott majored in music education and was a drum major for two years in the Towson University marching band. This was a group near and dear to our hearts.

The Maryland band entered the stadium about 75 minutes before kickoff; I knew from my part experience that they had arrived about four hours before kickoff, marching completely around the stadium to entertain the fans tailgating in the parking lot. The free trips with the marching band were great for anyone who likes travel, but you do have to spend a lot of time entertaining the fans before and after games. The band was "trucking" into the stadium, the name of the marching cadence that the band used to get from place to place. I can still remember it very well from all those hours spent marching to and from performances. Anyway, these pictures skip ahead to the pregame performances that took place shortly before kickoff. Purdue's band went first and they were easy to tell apart due to their gold and black uniforms. Purdue's marching band is famous for having the "Big Bass Drum", a drum advertised as the largest in the world at a height of about ten feet tall. It's visible in the above picture at the right side of the frame near midfield. Whether or not this is actually the largest drum in the world - and it almost certainly isn't - the drum is a unique tradition that helps to distinguish the Purdue band. I know nothing else about the Purdue band but I can always remember that big drum.

The Maryland band had the second of the two pregame performances. This was a show I knew very well, as Maryland kept the same pregame show for more than two decades, although they finally introduced a new pregame show for 2017. (I was sad to see the tradition end.) The pregame show featured performances of the school fight song, victory song, the state song "Maryland my Maryland", and so on. The highlight of the show was the "Block and Mess" portion, where the band members would double time in a follow-the-leader pattern that looked completely chaotic, and the challenge for band members was always to avoid wiping out by falling on your butt. We did some performances on wet fields and this wasn't always easy, with some memorable crashes that I can recall. The pregame show ended with a big version of the Maryland flag unfolding as the band marched in formation towards the stands, which usually would get big cheers from the crowd. It was more fun performing the show at road games because the Maryland crowd would always be much more into the performances there, as opposed to at home where the fans would often arrive late or not be overly interested in what was going on. On this night the band put on its usual excellent show, and with those pregame theatrics out of the way, it was time for the game to begin.

I wasn't too sure what to expect in this game, not knowing very much about Purdue's football team. They also had a record of 8-4 for their season and Maryland had been an uneven team in 2006. Fortunately this was a night where the good version of the team showed up, and Maryland jumped out to an early lead with a touchdown in the first quarter. That was down at the far end of the stadium, but we had a much better view in the second quarter when Maryland drove the ball down to the goal line again. I took a picture with the team lined up, and then another picture ten seconds later after Cory Jackson ran the ball in from the 1 yard line. This put Maryland ahead 14-0, and the team extended that lead to 21-0 on a long passing play to Darrius Heyward-Bey later in the second quarter. Darrius Heyward-Bey would later go on to be picked by the Raiders near the top of the NFL draft, and then turn into a pretty gigantic bust in his professional career. Purdue scored to cut the lead to 21-7 before halftime, but that was mostly it for the rest of the game. Maryland would tack on a field goal for a final score of 24-7. Here's a link to the box score for the bowl game; Maryland's defense was dominant and held Purdue to only 21 rushing yards for the whole game. With Purdue also turning the ball over twice on a fumble and an interception, it wasn't a very close game and the whole second half mostly consisted of running out the clock.

We were able to move down to sit with the band as the clock ticked away in the fourth quarter. After the game ended, the players came over to celebrate with the fans in the Maryland section of the stadium, one of the traditions common to every college team that I've always liked. The players sang along with the school's victory song before heading back to midfield for the official trophy presentation. It was a fantastic ending to this trip, and certainly a lot more fun than driving down to Florida to see the team lose. Maryland ended up winning three of the four bowl games that I attended with the team, with the one exception being a pasting in the Orange Bowl back in 2001 against a much better University of Florida team. After this game, Scott and I went back to our hotel and then made the drive back to Baltimore the following day. For a short little trip, this one was a blast.

Hopefully this provides a window into some of my experiences with the Maryland marching band and the football team during my long years at the university. As always, thanks for reading.