It was fun for several reasons to attend the first home game of the USFL's Baltimore Stars on Sunday at Byrd Stadium on the University of Maryland campus in College Park. The small stadium, recessed into a hillside, is about half the size of the daunting monolith of RFK Stadium in Washington, erstwhile home of the USFL's former Washington Federals and, of course, the NFL Redskins' home base.
At Byrd stadium, even in seats diagonally above the end zone, one feels close to the action, best demonstrated in the close-up view of the New Jersey Generals' lone touchdown by Herschel Walker, an 80-yard run from scrimmage. (For those who don't read the sports pages, the Stars won, 29-9.)
Perhaps the most engaging moment of Sunday's game took place before kickoff. Crews carried onto the field four 30-foot-long sausage-shaped polyethlene bags each filled with hundreds of helium-filled balloons of the Stars' colors -- red, gold and white. The crews had to wrestle the bags in a brisk wind to keep them on the ground. Finally one bag prematurely burst open, with half its contents spilling into the sky, amid cheers from the crowd. The formal dispersal of the remaining 3 1/2 bags a few minutes later wasn't anywhere near as much fun.
Byrd Stadium will be the Stars' home field this year only, and those unfamiliar with it should know a few useful facts:
* Although the Stars and its team of female cheerleaders, the Costars, are officially sponsored -- as the public address announcement repeatedly noted -- by a noted brand of light beer, the heaviest form of beverage available from local vendors is a cola drink. If you want anything more potent, bring your own -- but not in a cooler, which is verboten.
* Home-brought seat cushions are advisable. The benches at Byrd Stadium are fabricated from flat and unforgiving metal (and the seating spaces are narrow).
* Special advice for Washington-area fans. Since the Stars are a Baltimore team, most fans arrive by car from our neighboring city via the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. You're advised to avoid approaching the stadium from the east; take it from one who learned the hard way that the best arrival is via University Boulevard from the west.
Incidentally, do you know how Byrd Stadium got its name? It's dedicated to the late Harry C. (Curly) Byrd, who was U-Md.'s football coach from 1913 to 1934 and the university's president from 1936 to 1954.