I've taken thousands of phone calls during my career as a radio host. I know better than to think the opinion of any one caller reflects a consensus among local sports fans.
But still, a call I received on local radio station 105.7 The Fan this weekend stands out. The caller was discussing Maryland's 51-41 win against Texas Sept. 2 and said (and I'm paraphrasing), "You know what I really learned yesterday? Just how bad Texas is!"
I don't believe that sentiment reflects the broader opinion held by Maryland fans. My own social media timelines and text inbox have been filled with either casual or hardcore Maryland fans who have offered far greater acclaim for the Terps' victory.
And considering I've been known to be a bit cynical, I want to make sure I publicly align myself with those fans.
There is no world in which the Terps' season-opening victory against the Longhorns should be minimized in any way. It is one of the most remarkable wins in the modern history of Maryland football and every person involved in the program deserves to be heralded for the accomplishment.
That's not hyperbole. I'm very aware of the reasons why, perhaps, someone might choose to be painted as less than fully impressed. Yes, this Texas team was a flimsy Top 25 bunch. Preseason rankings mean next to nothing as pundits do their best to guess which programs might end up being good. The truth is the Texas roster was made up of players who had managed to put together three consecutive losing seasons. While the arrival of offensive guru Tom Herman as head coach seemed to signify a new era of Texas football, it would still be easy to think that group might be significantly less than invincible in its season opener.
The reason the win in Austin was so significant has less to do with the Longhorns and far more to do with the Terps, however. This is a Maryland team that was 3-9 two seasons ago and did not beat a single team that finished with a winning record last year. It is a program that has been mired in mediocrity (if not worse) for more than a decade and has hardly been relevant -- not only in college football but frankly just in the local sports landscape in general.
Maryland going to Texas and getting a win isn't a big deal because it's Texas. Maryland going to Texas and getting a win is a big deal because it's Maryland.
The Maryland players deserve a significant amount of credit for their performance during the victory, particularly considering the circumstances. Before he got hurt, starting quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome showed a far more balanced ability as a passer and runner than we saw during his freshman season. When freshman Kasim Hill replaced him, he showed poise and moxie in a brutally difficult environment.
Maryland's run game picked up right where it left off in 2016 behind Ty Johnson's 11 yards per carry. Wide receiver D.J. Moore celebrated a bit of a national coming out party during the win, and the Maryland defense overcame injuries to allow just three scores for the Texas offense -- one of which came at the end of the fourth quarter when the game was already decided.
Yet what sticks out to me most about this remarkable victory is what the win says for head coach DJ Durkin. There is no way to understate the significance of Durkin getting these players to believe they were capable of pulling off a victory of this magnitude. Durkin took over one of the most impossibly difficult jobs in the country in 2016, inheriting an irrelevant program that had to compete in a division with Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and even a Michigan State program that was coming off a trip to the College Football Playoff the year before. The job has not gotten easier, but Durkin has handled himself more than admirably, endearing himself to players, recruiting the area well -- despite having no prior connection to Maryland -- and making himself available to media on a regular basis.
Now he has a signature moment -- no matter what happens with Texas the rest of the season -- to help him sell his vision. Maryland's path to bowl eligibility still looks daunting (particularly considering how banged up they are), but there's actual excitement (or
) surrounding the program and real reason to believe that even if it doesn't pan out immediately, something special may be brewing in College Park, Md.
That's why this win mattered. That's why it can't be minimized because Texas might not be as good in practicality as it is in name value. It's a win that actually mattered and that forced people to care about Maryland football. And it's a win that makes you think a head coach may be proving he can move (metaphorical) mountains to change the culture of a program.
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox