As college football rivalries go, the one between the University of Maryland and the U.S. Naval Academy was about as nasty as they get -- with fans hurling insults and beer cups and brawling in the stands, and players committing dirty personal fouls.
It got so bad that for 40 years, Navy simply refused to put Maryland on its schedule.
Until tonight, when the two schools will meet for the first time since 1965. And even though the football players -- and in some cases, their parents -- weren't born the last time the Terrapins played the Midshipmen, the rivalry survives.
"I guess it's taken them 40 years to get the courage to play, but I can tell you we are going to beat them," roared Vice Adm. Rodney P. Rempt, the school's superintendent and a 1966 academy graduate, at a pep rally Thursday in Annapolis.
The intrastate rivalry came to an abrupt end after a Nov. 7, 1964, game. That's when a Maryland linebacker, Jerry Fishman, thumped Navy's Skip Orr out of bounds on a third-quarter punt return and received a penalty for a late hit. When the Navy fans booed Fishman, he replied with a one-fingered salute to the Midshipmen, repeating the gesture after a miraculous 101-yard punt return gave Maryland a 27-22 victory in the final minutes of the game at the aptly named Byrd Stadium.
The schools played one more time, the next year, because their contract mandated it, but after that, Navy officials declined to schedule football games with the Terrapins. Maryland officials and others have repeatedly asked Fishman to apologize, but he says he is not sorry at all.
"Of course not," Fishman, who now lives in Boca Raton, Fla., said in an interview. "What for? It's a game. It's a silly game. It's football, it's not a diplomatic blunder."
Despite Fishman's intransigence, Navy fans who remember the so-called Finger Bowl have more or less forgiven Maryland.
"There are some old-timers who are bitter still," said Bill Busik, who was Navy's athletic director in 1964. "There were a lot of incidents over the years that people forget. I'd just as soon forget them, too."
At Thursday's rowdy pep rally, Rempt proclaimed: "If we go out on the field on Saturday night and you're all there and we fire it up, we are going to have turtle soup."
Meanwhile, children wearing goat masks chanted, "Fear the goat," mocking Maryland's "Fear the turtle" slogan.
The reinvigorated rivalry has also reached the State House, where Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a College Park graduate who attended the final game, has made a bet with Del. Herbert H. McMillan, the only Naval Academy graduate in the General Assembly. If the Midshipmen win, Miller (D-Calvert) will wear a Navy jersey and cap on the first day of the legislative session in January. McMillan (R-Anne Arundel) will don Maryland colors if the Terps triumph.
And, in a political reversal, aides to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) said the governor will participate in the game's opening coin toss with Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel). On Thursday, aides to Ehrlich had called the prospect unlikely, citing a previous occasion when the three officials were booed.
"If anything, the governor's staff is guilty of trying to protect him," said spokesman Henry Fawell. "He overruled his staff."
There was no such waffling for Chad Watson, a Navy graduate, and his neighbor Rob Brady, a Maryland graduate, who have spent the past year planning for tonight's game in Baltimore. They are organizing a tailgate party for fans of both sides and expect to attract 300 people, evenly split between the teams.
In the case of Joe Brennan, a former Navy player who is driving from Atlanta for the party and the game, the rivalry cuts right through his family.
"I have a brother-in-law and a sister-in-law that are both Maryland grads," Brennan said. "My brother-in-law is a huge Maryland fan, so he won't even sit with us. My sister-in-law is a Navy nurse. She's sitting with me. She'll have to root for Navy."
Although Brady and Watson said the party will be friendly, when asked to make predictions about the game, they conjured up the spirit of old.
"I don't see how Navy is actually going to win, from a sports perspective," Brady said. "I think our physical size will wear them out over time. They don't have the line we have. They can't sustain the beating for four quarters."
He added, "They're generally not as bright."
Watson retorted: "It's an excellent opportunity for Maryland to get the chance to play an Ivy League school."
But Brady said he would have the first laugh with a pregame prank he planned to pull on his friend Watson.
If Operation Turtle went off as planned last night, Watson rolled out of bed this morning to the sound of the Maryland fight song and the sight of a big red M painted on his driveway.
Staff writers John Wagner and Lauren Wiseman contributed to this report.