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It was supposed to be a new era of Maryland football, a team built to compete for ACC championships and to put fans in the stands.
At least that's what was promised by Director of Athletics Kevin Anderson this winter when the University bought out the remainder of Ralph Friedgen's contract and replaced him with Randy Edsall.
A 9-4 season earned Friedgen the boot. Right now Edsall can only dream of a six-win season.
The 2011 Terrapins have just two wins this season, none in a month, and on Saturday Byrd Stadium was filled with a pedestrian 29,945 fans, the lowest dip in attendance since 2000, when Ron Vanderlinden was at the helm. During the Friedgen era, the lowest home attendance was 33,254.
But more than just the frigid temperatures and early snowfall, it was the team on the field that's to blame – a team that needed to win four of five remaining games on their schedule to become bowl-eligible, but instead looked disinterested as the one-win Boston College Eagles pummeled their way to a 21-3 halftime lead.
"It kind of spoke for itself," quarterback C.J. Brown said Tuesday. "It was disappointing, but you can't really blame [the fans] with that kind of weather and the season that we're having. Part of that's on us. We got to go out there and perform and win and draw a crowd and entertain."
The program is personifying Murphy's Law. Stuck in the midst of a four-game skid, the starting quarterback is a mystery every week, half of the defense consists of first-year players and the rest are part of the mash unit.
In the opener, the nation's eyes suddenly turned to College Park to see the fashion faux pas, but were suddenly tuned in as the Terps made a statement on primetime television by defeating Miami, one of college football's traditional powerhouses. Since then, there was the unimaginable – Temple travelling to Byrd and nearly posting a shutout. And there was the frustration – against West Virginia and Georgia Tech and Clemson – when the team teased fans with halves of explosive offense and playmaking defense, but unable to put it together for 60 minutes.
Naturally, the lack of success on the field eventually translated to lower attendance figures. But as Maryland tries to turn a corner, tries to build this program back to relevance, Anderson reached out to fans and students Monday evening, e-mailing them and encouraging them to attend the Terps' home finale against Virginia.
"I can tell you that no one associated with our football program is satisfied with our overall record this season. We have had our share of good moments as well as difficult ones, and it is during these difficult times that we need your support and attendance the most," Anderson's e-mail read. "For us to elevate this program to where we would all like it to be, we need to all be pulling on the rope in the same direction. As I often tell our staff, we are one band with one sound and you are an integral part of our band."
The weatherman is predicting temperatures in the 50s and sunny skies on Saturday, so that excuse is out.
And so is the team's 2-6 record, according to senior defensive tackle Maurice Hampton, who will be one of the 16 seniors honored before kickoff. Hampton could not comprehend the lack of support last week. He and his teammates noticed the empty stands, and they felt like everybody had left their corner.
"I love our school," Hampton said, "but if you're going to be a fan you're going to be a fan. If you're going to have my back, you're going to have my back, just like I would have your back. I'm not going to leave you hanging just because things got bad."
When things do go astray, though, Maryland fans typically continue to show support. During back-to-back 5-6 campaigns in 2004 and 2005, Byrd Stadium averaged 51,410 and 52,426 fans. And in 2009, the 2-10 Terps averaged 44,452 fans per home game, including a season-high 51,514 in mid-November as the team, 2-7 at the time, faced Virginia Tech.
But the hiring of a new coach, one who brought Connecticut to national relevance with a trip to the Fiesta Bowl last year, who inherited a squad that went 9-4 and challenged for an ACC crown and a quarterback in Danny O'Brien that earned ACC Rookie of the Year honors, the fans' expectations were raised, considerably.
Almost 53,000 were on hand when Maryland hosted Miami on Labor Day night, ranking among the top eight crowds ever at Byrd Stadium. Of course, a 32-24 victory only further assured fans that the Terps were contenders this season, and vice versa.
"In a game like Miami, when that many people are out there, the more of a crowd you got out there the more amped us you get. The crowd is roaring at you; it gets inside your body. It's like everything that they can't do, you can do for them," Hampton said. "But to deal with the fact that nobody was there last game, it was just another game and we were just fighting for ourselves, and we saw that."
An even greater crowd filled the stands when West Virginia came to town the following week, only to see the Terps stumble out of the gates in the first half. The team has been on shaky ground ever since.
But despite the team's disappointing record, Edsall believes a real fan needs to be supporting the team each and every game, win or lose, rain or shine. He likened the situation to his own.
A Baltimore Orioles fan, Edsall watched the Birds win fewer than half of their games and finish at the bottom of their division a fourth consecutive year. But he hasn't jumped off the bandwagon because that's not what true fans do, he said. Instead, they need to stay behind their team, because although he won't change the way he coaches, he promises changes on the field.
"Sometimes things don't always go as expected. I'm not panicking. I'm not going to change anything that we're doing or anything that we've done because I believe in what we're doing and I know what we're doing is right… The worst thing you can do is start to panic and start changing. That sends messages that we are doing things wrong."