It all started with a day in the sun

MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

I enjoyed watching the University of Maryland men’s lacrosse team play for the first time this season on Sunday night.

The Terps, the No. 1-ranked team in the country, steamrolled Penn State, 18-7, in the first Big Ten game of the season and, under head coach John Tillman, have it all going with this team according to the announcers on the Big Ten Network Sunday night.

They are 8-0 and have handily beaten No. 2 Virginia, the defending national champion (the Cavaliers having defeated Maryland in the final, 17-16), No. 4 Princeton, No. 16 Notre Dame and No. 18 Syracuse, as well as Loyola, which was ranked at the time, with three of their final four opponents, Ohio State, Rutgers and Johns Hopkins, currently being nationally-ranked as well.

Lacrosse, you say? A kid from Western Maryland? How? Why?

Well, 45 years ago this fall I was thrown from a speeding car and onto the doorsteps of Ellicott Hall on the campus of the University of Maryland and was told to grow up and figure it out.

In the time I spent in College Park (and it was a lot of time), I found out; I didn’t necessarily figure out, and I grew aware, but not necessarily up.

One of the things I became aware of was the sport of lacrosse and there were two reasons why I did. The first was I was a resident on the third floor of Ellicott, the dorm on campus known as the “jock dorm” in the vernacular of the time.

The football players and the basketball players were on the top three floors of the dorm and then there was a trickle-down effect with the rest of the men’s teams. Many of the lacrosse players lived on the third floor, including on the same wing I lived on — Smokin’ Ellicott C, or so my new T-shirt said.

I came to know a few of the guys, particularly while trying to get from my door to the elevator while a couple of them would play catch in the hall.

The second reason for my awareness of lacrosse is easy, particularly for a young man in his first year at college. Nearly every beautiful girl on campus tanned in Maryland Stadium on the first beautiful days of the spring and, naturally, a lot of us — male college students — went to the stadium to study their technique.

As it turned out, most of the days the girls were out in the sun came on days when Maryland was playing lacrosse. And given our shiny object attention spans — hey, it was the ‘70s, all right? — we began to watch the games.

Then we began to go to the games and follow the team. After all, we did know these guys. Then we found out that Maryland was actually quite good at this game — as good as anybody in the country was, in fact, other than Johns Hopkins, the UCLA of lacrosse at the time.

Then we found out Maryland had won 13 national championships in lacrosse up to that time, including two NCAA championships (lacrosse was not always sanctioned by the NCAA), the last one having been just three years prior (by now it had become the spring of 1978), and the one prior to that having been 1973, both led by the legendary Frank Urso, No. 21, the only Maryland lacrosse player to have his number retired by the school, and Coach Buddy Beardmore, who made “Be The Best” the forever mantra of University of Maryland men’s lacrosse.

Not saying for a second that since my time at Maryland I have grown to be a lacrosse man, or anything of the sort. Not at all. I don’t study the game, I don’t know the rules, although you pick them up as you go along if you pay attention (ahem).

Yet like hockey, I enjoy watching the game, because it’s a great, fun, entertaining game. As Mike Golic Jr. said last spring when he was a lacrosse analyst for ESPN, lacrosse is a fun mix of soccer, hockey and football. And it is. Play on the field is non-stop (as is the game clock) and it gets very physical, particularly with each player carrying around a long stick as he runs all over the place.

The hand-eye coordination of these athletes is art in itself, as the ball (no more than eight inches in circumference) is shot, thrown and caught quite naturally for distances as long as 60 to 70 yards. Lacrosse players can thread a needle with the ball more beautifully and with more precision than a quarterback and a wide receiver can complete a pass in traffic down the middle of a football field, and make it look as second nature as breathing.

On top of everything else, I enjoy rooting for the Terps in anything. And now, thanks to the Big Ten Network and improved coverage by CBS Sports Network and ESPNU, lacrosse is easily found on television.

Maryland lacrosse for 42 years since the 13th national title, had been not unlike Maryland basketball in the same period of time. Always a conference power — be it Big Ten or that other one Maryland was a charter member of — and always a national power, Terps men’s lacrosse could never quite make it back to the mountain top, while Terps women’s lacrosse in the meantime was busy winning 14 national titles.

While always being in the picture, the Maryland men couldn’t quite get themselves into the middle of the picture. Since 1975, the Terps had lost in nine national championship games after being ranked No. 1 in the nation on several of those occasions. Then on Memorial Day, 2017, it finally happened when Maryland beat Ohio State, 9-6, for its third NCAA national championship and 14th overall.

It was a great day to be a Terp. But then, every day is a great day to be a Terp, and given all that’s going on with both lacrosse teams and now baseball, we could be in store for even better days this spring in College Park.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT