The Terrapins men’s basketball team had just lost to Arizona in its first game of the season. It was a disappointing start for a team ranked second in the Associated Press preseason poll. Terps fans were certain that this would be the year they would finally hoist the national championship trophy. A Big Ten/ACC Challenge matchup with Illinois on Nov. 27, 2001, would be a chance to prove that these lofty expectations were not rooted in fantasy.
I had been to many games at Cole Field House before this trip to College Park, but this game seemed to carry special significance. This Terps team featured a starting lineup with four future NBA players. That March, I was in Minneapolis watching the Terps in their first-ever Final Four. The stars seemed to be aligning for a special season, and this game would test whether this team was for real.
Cole rocked that night. The excitement was palpable and the passion inside the arena was contagious. The student section roared the entire game, essentially willing their team to victory. For most of the night, I could not hear myself speak. It was as if my high-pitched cheers added nothing to the deafening noise emanating from every corner of the arena.
Coach Gary Williams pumped his fist and the crowd erupted; Chris Wilcox notched his first slam dunk of the night and the crowd erupted; Juan Dixon stole the ball in the open court and scored a breakaway dunk and the crowd erupted. The noise was constant, and it was amazing.
Beating the Fighting Illini on that November day marked the Terps’ 80th consecutive nonconference victory at Cole. It was a place where no opponent wanted to play.
Why was beating the Terps at Cole Field House so difficult? The answer became clear to me when I rubbed Testudo’s nose after we defeated Illinois on that cold fall night. The secret sauce consisted of just one ingredient: the students. I was only in third grade, but I knew I wanted to be just like the raucous kids who cheered for their team from Cole’s red seats. I admired their unmatched passion and their refusal to let their team lose.
Pride meant something to those students. They did not care that Cole had no air conditioning and was full of asbestos; they just wanted to do their part in ensuring a Terps win.
Most of my classmates never had the chance to watch a game at Cole. They never experienced the intense excitement that routinely filled that historic arena.
This Friday, however, students will have an opportunity to embrace Cole’s storied history. We will have an opportunity to fill an old venue with the same passion I witnessed 12 years ago. But showing up to Maryland Madness is not enough. My peers cannot accept what alumnus Scott Van Pelt has bemoaned as a Terps student section culture of “home-field indifference,” rather than a home-field advantage.
What has happened to the passion that filled Cole? To the students who refused to let their team lose? To the stadium where opponents were almost always defeated?
It’s no secret that the student sections in Comcast Center and Byrd Stadium are too often emotionless or worse, empty. A culture of apathy has destroyed the revered boisterousness that opposing teams once knew characterized this university’s students.
Maybe a trip to Cole will inspire my peers just as it inspired me when I was a little kid. Hopefully a small window into the passion that previously existed can stir that same excitement once again.
Ben Kramer is a junior government and politics and history major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.