Commentary

Saunders: ACC may change, but we'll always have Maryland memories

bsaunders@newsobserver.comNovember 19, 2012 

“What took y’all so long?”

That question came to mind upon hearing that the University of Maryland is leaving the ACC. Thirty-eight years after Lefty Driesell allegedly first threatened to bolt because his talented Maryland basketball teams sometimes couldn’t even make it out of the ACC Tournament, we find that the school really is bidding adieu to Tobacco Road.

And it’s for the basest, most common, reason imaginable: filthy lucre.

To his credit, Maryland Chancellor William Kirwan pretty much acknowledged that the departure was a money grab, that the school was selling its athletic soul – lock, stock and banners – to the highest bidder. In a Washington Post story Monday, Kirwan delivered this coup de groin kick. “(T)he world’s changing, and the ACC isn’t the ACC anymore.”

Say what?

Well, neither is Maryland the same as it once was, one of its premier athletes told me.

Maurice “Mo” Howard, a starting point guard for Maryland during the mid-1970s, when it was one of the best teams in the country, said, “There are no Maryland people involved in this decision and that made it easier. What I see is not people loving the University of Maryland, but loving money.”

‘A total disregard’

Howard, one of my high school heroes, said he thinks Maryland leaving the conference of which it was a charter member shows “a total disregard for the past and tradition. I love Maryland, but I think it’ll be a bottom-tier Big 10 program for years to come.

“People up here have long felt there was a slant, a bias, toward Duke and UNC. ... If you want people to respect you, you have to beat those teams. We beat ’em all one season.”

Howard is 59 now and a data systems analyst for Montgomery County Schools in Maryland. But it was with unrestrained glee that he recalled the joy of coming to North Carolina and beating the state’s best teams.

“We beat ’em all,” he repeated, effortlessly rattling off the team’s conquests. “We beat Wake Forest with Skip Brown. We beat UNC with Phil Ford, Walter Davis and Mitch Kupchak. We beat N.C. State with David Thompson. They called us the ‘Tobacco Road Sweepers.’”

Tears in Carmichael

I asked Howard whether he had any special memories of the trips Down South. He pondered for about a 10th of a second. “We beat Carolina in ‘Blue Heaven’” – Carmichael Auditorium – “by 28 points,” he said. “People in the stands were crying.”

I didn’t tell him that some of us in Rockingham were, too.

It was a game that Maryland lost, though, that some consider the greatest and perhaps most important college game ever. Maryland’s overtime loss to N.C. State for the 1974 ACC Tournament Championship is the game that led to the NCAA expanding its tournament entries from 32 teams to 48. It’s now expanded to 800 teams. Or so it seems.

“We were No. 4 in the nation and didn’t make the (NCAA) tournament because we didn’t win our tournament,” Howard said less gleefully. State won 103-100 in overtime in a game where both teams shot over 60 percent. The winner went to the tournament and the loser went to the NIT or home: Twice, Maryland chose home.

It was widely reported that Driesell, in a fit of foot-stomping pique, wanted the university to pull out of the ACC so he could win a #@$% championship.

We didn’t know back then that a basketball coach, even one as colorful as Lefty, couldn’t unilaterally do that: Why, you’d have to be a college football coach to wield that kind of power, right?

bsaunders@newsobserver.com or 919-836-2811

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