The Maryland football day here begins about first light.By 6:15 a.m., Terrapin heads are popping out from their shells, and in less than three hours the players are in full armor on the practice field. They are taking Mickey Mouse's bowl seriously.
The Tangerine also is a small Orange in terms of postseason collegiate football prestige, although victory for either Maryland or Florida here Saturday night would be an immense boost mentally and financially. The familiar tourist lures add to the appeal.
Where else would you see Jerry Claiborne riding an elephant?
Where else would you see Claiborne prepare for that elephant ride by riding a terrapin the day before? This was an honest-to-Jim Kehoe cousin to Maryland's athletic symbol, an oversized turtle that Claiborne mounted Wednesday.
Coaches in bowl games must suffer publicity fools. As Calvin Coolidge posed in Indian garb because he thought it would help him become president, Claiborne endured a photo session with a turtle even Randy White couldn't press. Rival coaches and rival mascots, Claiborne and his terrapin versus Charlie Pell and his gator.
Everybody was cooperative, to a point.
"I asked the guy (who provided the turtle) if I could sit on the thing," Claiborne said. "So I did. And while I was sittin' on him, he started walking. He just walked right off, with me on his back."
The daily folly begins around noon, after several hours of trying to find ways to send Pell's Gators slinking back to Gainesville on their bellies Saturday night. Toward that end -- and with Maryland having played about as badly as possible in its last bowl in his mind -- Claiborne has altered the team's routine.
Two years ago, Maryland lost to an ordinary Texas team by 42-0. The game was called the Sun Bowl nearly everywhere except College Park. Marylanders have taken to calling it the Stun Bowl.
"That's the worst I've ever been beaten in my life," said defensive lineman Marlin Van Horn, a fifth-year Terrapin. "In anything. I've been involved in all kinds of sports, but never been beaten 42-0. I've always seen it happen to other people, never to us.It's something I'll never forget. Unfortunately."
Before the Stun Bowl, curfew for the Terrapins was 1 a.m. Before this bowl, and with infinitely more distractions here than in El Paso, Tex., the Terrapins are tucked in at 11 p.m. Bed checks are routine. And the players' days, on and off the field, are filled with so much activity that anyone with Hornung-like instincts is too tired to follow them.
If bending the college football work ethic even farther than usual is important, Maryland should beat Florida. The Gators are not tied to their beds until two hours after the Terrapins and do not rise each morning until sinfully after 7. The Gators also practice a half-hour less each day, 90 minutes to Maryland's two hours.
"We're a little hungrier this time," Van Horn said. "We didn't go to a bowl last year. I knew when we got knocked out last year (Van Horn missed the season with an injury) we'd be more hungry this year, 'cause we're used to going to a bowl each year. We want to win this one.We want to get back our pride."
Claiborne is trying to keep his players' minds riveted to Saturday's test, but he allows himself and his assistants to look ahead a bit. While the good teams to bowling, the others are working for a recruiting advantage with high school prospects back home.
So while they devise game plans here and visit every imaginable World here -- from Disney to Sea to Circus -- Maryland coaches also manage to find time to phone prospects they especially covet. And also write wish-you-were-here cards to players gifted enough to keep Maryland in bowls for years to come.
"There's more going on here than just about any bowl," Claiborne said. "More distractions. But this, to me, is part of what the bowl is. Some of the players in our part of the country have never seen things like that (water) ski show we've gone to."
Claiborne had a good feeling about this team before the season began, though the record suggests almost no surprises. Maryland won eight games against teams with equal or slightly inferior personnel and lost three times to teams with better players.
"I thought we'd be pretty tough to beat, though you never know what the wins and losses will be," he said. "I knew the kicking game and defense would be pretty strong, and that if we didn't make mistakes we'd win our share."
He also is confident about Saturday. Practice has gone well, despite all the things that can turn players' heads. Still, being a coach, he was fussing some on the way back from the workout this morning, about whether all the on- and off-the-field details had been covered and whether the elephant that shortly would walk into his life would be less headstrong than the turtle.