It was perhaps the most memorable—and, indeed, most classless—moment of Maryland’s 2014 football season.
With 103,000 fans watching from the stands, and with millions more watching on television, the Terps made a statement of intent in Central Pennsylvania—a statement of intent regarding their long-term relationship with that hated school from Happy Valley. They made this statement not with how they played that day at Penn State’s Beaver Stadium, however. Rather, they made it by the way they acted. They made it by refusing to shake the Nittany Lions’ hands.
This was not something that Maryland coach Randy Edsall planned, nor was it something he even endorsed; in the aftermath of what should have been a day to celebrate for the Terps, in fact, Edsall was forced to apologize for his players’ behavior. But while their coach may have disagreed with their actions, the fact that the three Maryland captains that day–Stefon Diggs, Sean Davis and P.J. Gallo–did what they did tells you something about how those players, and their teammates, feel about Penn State.
Which is to say, of course, that the Terps really don’t like the Nittany Lions.
The question, of course, is whether the Nittany Lions care.
For those who aren’t familiar with the history of this “rivalry” series, it is important to understand that, really, it hasn’t been a rivalry at all. Before Maryland knocked off Penn State that fateful day last fall, the Terps’ all-time record against the Nittany Lions was a woeful (and almost incomprehensible) 1-35-1. That’s right. In the schools’ 37 meetings, the Terrapins managed to lose 35 times.
Maryland fans and players and coaches may have hated Penn State all those years, and they may still hate Penn State today, but the feeling almost certainly wasn’t and isn’t mutual, because the Nittany Lions always had and continue to have bigger fish to fry. For a good long while, there was Syracuse. Later, there was West Virginia and, of course, Pitt. And when the time came for Penn State to take its game to the Big Ten, there was a natural and immediate rivalry with Ohio State, not to mention an at-times spicy series with Michigan (the Wolverines were responsible for perhaps the most crushing defeat the Nittany Lions have suffered in recent years, delivering a dagger of an upset to a previously unbeaten Penn State team in 2005).
In other words, yes, Penn State already has its rivals. Now, of course, Maryland wants to be one of them (Edsall, asked at Big Ten media days last week about who his program’s rival is these days, went ahead and said, “Well, it’s Penn State now.”). And it’s certainly no mystery as to why they feel this way: they need a rival.
The Terps may not have been a powerhouse in the ACC, but they had a long and proud history in that league. They had an identity there. They had their rivals there. That was home. In the Big Ten, however, they now find themselves trying to build a new identity in a new league that offers little in the way of a natural rival.
Ohio State will not concern itself with Maryland. Nor will Michigan. Nor will the likes of Purdue, or Iowa, or Wisconsin, for that matter. And no, Penn State may not currently concern itself with Maryland, either.
But from Maryland’s perspective, that’s precisely the point. Perhaps even Edsall understands that, right now, Penn State doesn’t care much, or worry much, about his program. Perhaps even Maryland’s players and fans and alumni know–even if they won’t admit it–that they aren’t really Penn State’s rivals. Not yet, at least.
With time, though? And with wins–both on the field, and on the recruiting trail?
Well, you never know what might happen.
Edsall alluded to this last week as well, telling reporters: “[Anytime] that you beat teams from your area or if you beat a team that you haven’t had really particular success against — when you’re 1-35-1 against a program that you played consistently, you know, through the ’60s, the ’70s, the ’80s and those eras, to be able to go and beat them in Happy Valley for the first time and the first time you’ve ever beaten them there and also the first time since 1961, I think it showed kids in our area that we can compete with them and we can win.
And I think kids look at that. High school kids look at that. Penn State has always had a niche for being able to come down to Maryland and take players up there. And that’s one of the things that we knew if we wanted to get some recruits, we’d have to beat them on the field.”
So can it happen? Sure it can. It’s not likely. But it can happen; in fact, we’ve seen it before.
After all, there was a time in the not-too-distant past when mighty Texas didn’t concern itself with Baylor or TCU. And today? Well, today the Horned Frogs and Bears are the kings of the Big 12—and Texas is trying desperately to catch up. If the Longhorns didn’t take those program seriously a decade ago, well, they certainly do know. Because, quite frankly, Texas isn’t nearly as good as either of them.
For Maryland, then, that must be the goal: to one day not just talk the talk when it comes to Penn State, but to walk the walk as well.
Words don’t make rivalries. Actions don’t either. Only wins do.
Maryland picked up a big win against Penn State last year.
If they want the Nittany Lions to consider them a true rival, all they’ve got to do is get more big wins.
Getting another one this season would be a great start.