A screaming red welt rose upon Tim O-Hare's right shoulder. His hip was an ugly brown-green field of bruises. Scratches ran aimlessly over his back, drawing blood. Taken as a whole, Tim O'Hare said, he never felt so wonderful in his life.
He is a football hero. At last. In four years as an anonyous quarterback at the University of Maryland. O'Hare threw seven passes. That's about one every seven months. A guy can forget which hand he throws with in that time. Jerry Ford was president for less time than O'Hare was waiting to play at Maryland.
Resourceful, daring and dead calm with it mattered most. O'Hare led Maryland on a last-quarter touchdown drive for a 21-20 victory over North Carolina here yesterday. He completed five of seven passes for 67 yards of the march. And if this game turns out to be as important as it now seems - the winner figures to become the Atlantic Coast Conference champion - Maryland will remember O'Hare's march reserving a special fondness for a simple pass play called "82."
The play sends the wide receivers deep and toward the goals. Then they cut to the sidelines. It was second down, 28 yards to go from the Carolina 35. So O'Hare sent Gary Ellis down the left side. This was desperation time with only eight minutes to play. Carolina led. 20-15.
Throwing across the width of the field, O'Hare placed the ball perfectly on the sideline, safely out of the defender's reach.
Only one problem. Ellis was looking into the middle of the field.
"Gary, please turn the other way." O'Hare would remember thinking. No sooner thought than done. Twisting the other way. Ellis made a beautiful catch at the sideline stripe. The play was good for a first down by inches, and two plays later Steve Atkins ran six yards for the winning touchdown.
"I don't panic and nobody else does," O'Hare said. Reporters stood around him at his locker. They wanted to know why Maryland didn't come apart at the end. Without saying the words, they wanted to know how a fifth-year quarterback goes from the shadows to the sunlight.
"I just said, 'C'mon, we gotta score,'" O'Hare said. "They got the championship rings and we want 'em.'"
O'Hare has the unblinking gaze of a race car driver. With each question, he looked directly at the man asking it. He watched men write down his words.How strange, this herodom. A man from NBC radio put a microphone near O'Hare face. The quarterback first withdrew from it, but then, sizing up the situation, spoke slowly and distinctly for radioland.
Quarterbacks need presence, O'Hare has it. "He's cool and calm and a really good leader," said Ellis, the quarterback's collaborator. "He runs, he throws, he scrambles and reads defense. What else is there?"
When practice began six weeks ago, the conventional wisdom held that Maryland would stun people on defense, thereby keeping games close enough to win with a grind-it-out running game.
The quaterback? Who needed one? Just get a guy to hand the ball to Atkins. Preacher Maddox and Charlie Wysocki. Might as well give the job to this guy Tim O'Hare. He has been a loyal soldier. Surely, he could hand the ball without botching up everything.
So much for conventional wisdom. In three games, O'Hare has completed 30 of 53 passes for 416 yards and three touchdowns. He has thrown no interceptions.Not only that, he is a scambler who invests every snap with exciting possibilities ("Tim, how do you get away from all those guys - a sixth sense?" "I hear 'em breathing").
O'Hare is 22 years old, a drama major. He can read. So he knew what was expected of him this fall: Not much. He had read preseason speculation that marked Maryland a longshot in the ACC.
"If it wasn't for the unknown quantities at quarterback, we might have been up there higher," O'Hare said. The third-person reference to his unknown abilities was delivered coolly. No smile. No bitterness. Just a fact, and he knew it.
"If quarterback was a big question mark this year," he said, "I hope it's answered."
Again. no smile. Eight games to go, and this quarterback is celebrating nothing yet.
"I feel better and better each week," he said. And he knows that is important. "As the quarterback goes, so goes the team. I can't have a bad game. I have to come up with the big play. And I like that, I like playing in front of a lot of people . . . I've got a lot of confidence in myself and a lot of confidence in the team."
O'Hare said all the nice and proper things a leader says. He praised the offensive line, the running backs, the receivers, the defense, the coaches. "We have enough guys on this team to make up for any one guy's mistake," he said.
The four years' wait wasn't so bad, he said. He always felt the equal of Mark Manges and Larry Dick. The only difference was, they wer playing on Saturday. Now reporters come by O'Hare's locker. Fans wait for him outside the locker room and small children ask for his autograph.
Was the long wait worth it?
This time. O'Hare made no eye contact. He looked away, as if recalling a pleasant image. "Yes. Yes. Just give me a year. One year. It'll all be worth it. I never thought of quitting. I knew my time would come sooner or later. It was just later."