The football players weren't the only ones yesterday reviewing strategies, gearing up with protective wear and hoping to emerge unscathed from the sold-out game at College Park between the Maryland Terrapins and Virginia Tech. Campus authorities spent the day outlining extensive contingency plans to deal with the 52,000 fans and the possibility of postgame violence from rowdy crowds.
It was this season's only scheduled weekday game, and campus authorities had to contend with the convergence of rush hour traffic, college students struggling to leave after classes and fans rushing to get to Byrd Stadium for the 7:45 p.m. kickoff.
"The unusual part of this game is that it's on a Thursday night," said Kathy Worthington, executive senior associate athletics director for U-Md. "That causes some serious complications. The campus is only so big."
To make room, the university cancelled night classes and encouraged nonessential campus staff to leave early.
As kickoff neared, traffic in the area slowed to a crawl, turning Interstate 495 into a sea of brake lights.
"Oh, man, 495 was a disaster. It was like 4 to 5 mph all the way,'' said Mike Cooke, 52, who drove from Sterling in a van full of Virginia Tech fans.
It took Cooke and his companions three hours in bumper-to-bumper traffic to get to a Metro station parking lot, where they waited 20 minutes for a shuttle to the stadium.
Others, however, made meticulous plans to avoid the traffic. Members of one group of Terrapin fans riding on the Metro had parked their cars in Bethesda and taken the Metro to College Park, where a friend with a coveted stadium parking pass picked them up before the game.
"We came prepared," said Derek Whitwater, 30. "I got season tickets to the Capitals, so I know my game-day strategy."
To ease congestion, the university also arranged with Metro to keep the College Park stop open late to help disperse fans, with the last train scheduled to leave at 1:33 this morning, metro officials said.
With the stakes and emotions high in the clash between the Terrapins (4-2) and undefeated, third-ranked Virginia Tech (6-0), campus police quietly prepared for the worst.
The university called in reinforcements from Prince George's County police, Maryland State Police and Maryland-National Capital Park Police and kept riot gear on hand, said Maj. Cathy Atwell, University of Maryland police spokeswoman.
"We will have all equipment we think is necessary to disperse a disorderly crowd," Atwell said.
In the past, violence has occasionally broken out after men's basketball and football games. This year, in the aftermath of a Terps basketball victory over Duke, police made about 15 arrests on charges of disorderly conduct and assault. Police used pepper spray to steer crowds off the street and onto the sidewalks.
In letters this week to the campus newspaper, the university's police chief and the vice president for student affairs cited past postgame violence and pleaded with students to restrain themselves.
In the end, everything -- except the Terrapins' 28-9 loss and snarled postgame traffic -- was fine.
"We didn't have any serious incidents and we're very proud the fans behaved so well," Atwell said early today.