Seven straight Terrapin victories and the Byrd Stadium parking lot was full Saturday morning. Legitimate excitement here, parked right between the yellow lines. So many tailgaters.
Some strange scenes, too. A few Maryland students stood atop a beer-coated van, dancing Rockette-style to some new-wave cacophony called "Positive Thinking."
The Terrapin mascot played pavement politico giving high fives to his Maryland constituents. A travel agency passed out flyers as your air vehicle to whatever bowl the Terrapins attend. One Maryland fan said "Aloha!"
Even as the morning winds blew treachery throughout this merriment, the scene never changed. Bourbon, barbeque and braggadocio.
Sure, the Clemson people were friendly, but this southern comfort came in a bottle. "I've never been north of Chapel Hill. Is it always this cold up here?" asked Clemson sophomore Michele Mewborn, wearing a shirt that read, "I'd Give My Heart To Danny." The Clemson coach, Danny Ford, would have been proud.
"I should have brought my skis," said Louise Ramsay, a Clemson senior from Denver.
The Maryland people seemed as pleased as any 7-2 fans in America.
"It's more enthusiastic around here than when we went 11-0 and went to the Cotton Bowl in 1976," said Mark Manges, the former Maryland quarterback (1974-77), now of the nonstriking Washington Federals. Manges smiled and reflected as the smoke from the hot dogs circled him from behind.
"In previous years, we'd be 7-2 and everyone would be blase."
The excitement in Clemson lately has been reserved for the NCAA investigation.
"We've all been passive about that probation stuff," said Bob Long, in his 40s, a longtime Clemson follower with a Tiger paw painted on his cheek to prove it. "What can we do about it? We're still, I think, the No. 1 team in the country."
What did Long think of the Terrapins? Among all the red and orange, his was a blue-and-gray view. Long snarled a bit, shook his glass of warmth and said of Bobby Ross' team: "They're Yankees."
The final Terrapin drive was two incompletions old and the student section kept chanting "ACC! ACC!" Hope and belief hereby joined hands.
Halfway up Section 10, Maryland student Rex Caldwell stood. His hands were clasped. His eyes were looking skyward. His voice was saying in fourth-quarter desperation, "Please, God! Please, Boomer!"
"The goalposts are coming down if we win this one," Caldwell, a junior, told those who would listen and those who would not. "Then, Cole Field House will come down. We'll worry about Lefty later."
Then with 25 seconds left, Terrapin quarterback Boomer Esiason's third-down pass was intercepted by Clemson's Billy Davis on the Maryland 38. Clemson's winning streak was up to seven. The Maryland winning streak was cut at seven.
Rex Caldwell saw the interception. He didn't say a word. Speechless. Winless. Over.
Twenty-five seconds later, the goalposts were still standing.
"I was saying a prayer on that final (Maryland) drive," said Jim Attaway, a 1930 Clemson graduate, now living in Fredericksburg, Va. "We're hoping for the Orange Bowl now."
"I'm very depressed. I was expecting a win," said Maryland senior Jude Brown. "I guess the team is going to Hawaii. I was hoping for Florida. No student can go to Hawaii."
Walking away from Byrd Stadium and away from the 24-22 Maryland defeat, Brown said, "I feel sorry, very sorry for Boomer."