The journey to our humble hero, the walk-on who ran for the winning points yesterday in Byrd Stadium against Pitt, requires a broken-field dash through sweaty shoulder pads and several excuse-mes to more prominent Maryland players. You zig and zag toward the concrete wall at the end of the second row of lockers and hang a left at the enormous fan.
There stands Doug Cox, still grinning, still shaking his head in astonishment and laying some truth seldom seen outside pulp fiction to other scribes forced to visit what passes for slums in Maryland's lavish dressing room.
For more than three years, Cox has given himself to the Terrapin football program in anonymous ways that hurt. He has sacrificed in every situation imaginable--and paid a price that includes cash money. All those hours, all those bruises, and Cox still has not gotten a scholarship.
In stunning sunshine yesterday, Cox lived a fantasy fellows such as he sometimes sense no longer is possible. Trying to bring glory to a teammate, as usual, Cox all of a sudden found his hands on a football that an instant before had been on the Pitt kicker's foot.
A blocked punt would have been enough to make everything worthwhile. Not that there have been any regrets.
"It's football," he said. "I love it."
Only deeply devoted Maryland fans knew the identity of the No. 42 chasing the bouncing ball he had just caused. Had there been time for such a thing, deeply involved Terrapin players and coaches would have gulped. Oh, no, not stone-mitts Cox trying to field a football!
"They do sort of cringe when they see the ball coming my way in drills," Cox admitted later. "I've dropped a few in my day."
Maybe the Grid Gods decided that several seconds of ecstasy would more than make up for several seasons of sacrifice. Footballs can take funny hops, and this one took a beaut, attaching itself to stone-mitts Cox 39 yards from the Pitt end zone.
"I was thinking: 'Please, nobody catch me,' " he said. "I had both hands on the ball and didn't want to look behind me."
For once, a terrified Terrapin was faster than a panting Panther.
"To tell you the truth," Cox said, "the only real picture of the play I have is the ball going up in the air (after he blocked it). It seemed to hang there about a half an hour. I don't know if it bounced after that. Things got kinda foggy."
If such as Cox are not the sort of players who anchor national championship teams, they are the ones coaches root hardest to succeed. They embody every cliche in sport. And damned if one of them doesn't up and beat the No. 16 team in the country and get mentioned in the same national television breath as Marcus Dupree.
Here was a rather undersized linebacker trying to do nothing more than open a path to the punter so a guard could make the block. Off the films, the Terrapins figured that was the likely scenario. Off the snap, Cox fought through himself.
"It's what football is all about," Coach Bobby Ross gushed.
So what about Cox doing all this for free? Doesn't winning one of the few big games Maryland has ever won lately rate at least slipping Cox a notebook and No. 2 pencil?
If it were possible, Ross would have lateraled a full-ride scholarship Cox's way as he arrived back at the bench after giving Maryland the lead for good with 3 1/2 minutes left before halftime. We can assume that Cox, on a hot streak, would not have muffed it.
"If I didn't feel I have the ability to make scholarship," he said, "if I didn't feel I belong at the same level as the guys on aid, I'd have been out a long time ago. Coach and I have discussed it. We've got a little bit of an agreement. It's a week-to-week thing."
Fact is, Ross could throw the tackle who nearly blocked Pitt to victory, 290-pound Bill Fralic, over Cole Field House quicker than come up with a scholarship for Cox at the moment. Every one is allocated, some to Cox-like walk-ons.
"I base giving 'em on classroom work, position on the depth chart and contributions to the program," Ross said. He smiled, knowing that nobody had made more of a bottom-line contribution to the program than Doug Cox.
"The last week in January would be the soonest one would come up," Ross said. "Then I could count it for next year."
At Largo High School, Cox played every position on the offensive and defensive lines. But 195-pound linemen are not much in demand at the big-time factories. There were some small-college offers; he chose Maryland, for its architecture program.
"I thought going to a small college would be like playing high school football all over again," he said, "not movin' on."
Cox is an applied-design student now, and currently movin' on in football. He dressed some his first two years, then was a redshirt who made the traveling team once in a while, in case a mass of injuries hit. He arrived back for summer practice as a second-team linebacker and special-teams player.
"Cracking the starting lineup is the general idea now." Cox said. His hair still was matted; his thoughts poured from under a blondish mustache; his posture was military-erect; his stone mitts were covered with pads; his teammates were in high-pitch celebration.
"This is what you hope for," Cox said. "This is why you're here."