They met in the oddest of places and times, the coach who had fallen to the greatest magic show in the history of big-bucks football and the quarterback who had made it happen.

Frank Reich was in the parking lot outside the Orange Bowl at dusk because a television crew had wanted one more word from the hero of Maryland's comeback for the ages. Still in uniform, the game ball still tucked in his left arm, Reich was searching for cameras and lights.

From the opposite direction came Miami Coach Jimmy Johnson. Helpless, he had seen Reich pull that 42-point second-half rabbit out of his helmet. Very likely, Reich will pop into Johnson's mind many more times.

Johnson hardly expected to come eyeball-to-chest just now with his future nightmare, pads and the No. 14 still attached, and also a smile as wide as the rainbow about to form overhead. Cripes, Johnson must have thought, can't I ever shake this guy?

Startled, the coach mumbled: "Great game." Then he patted Reich and added: "You did a great job." Composed now, he volunteered just the sort of classy perspective the moment demanded: "That's something you'll remember the rest of your life."

As will everyone who saw it. Down by 31-0 at halftime, Maryland won by two; seemingly down and out for his career, Reich strutted off the bench the second half and completed 12 of 15 passes for 260 yards and three touchdowns.

Maybe Mondale felt worse this week than Maryland after the first 30 minutes today. Bernie Kosar resembled Joe Namath, John Unitas and Sammy Baugh, and his teammates hit like the drink of the same name.

Too many Hurricanes have knocked many a man senseless -- and Maryland was groggy. Also angry, at itself. Needing the tiniest of sparks, Coach Bobby Ross turned to one who measured 6 feet 4.

"He kinda came up to me," Reich recalled, "and said: 'You'll be starting the second half.' " Four days ago, Ross had kinda come up to Reich and said: "Sorry, but the job I told you was yours isn't."

Reich had suffered a mildly separated right shoulder against Wake Forest six weeks ago. Usually, players assume their starting jobs when they mend. But backup Stan Gelbaugh had been so extraordinary in relief that Ross had little alternative than to break his word.

Reich is a bright fellow, already in grad school, and his reasonable side understood the decision. His emotions almost always threw his good sense for losses.

Before Ross arrived three years ago, Reich considered playing out his time at Maryland and graduating on time. He wasn't playing anyway and Jerry Claiborne might not let him pass if fate even got him on the field.

Reich gambled that he would get a chance to run Ross' wide-open offense, and he won. Sort of. Inexperience and greasy hands conspired for an 0-2 and 2-3 start.

Then his passing shoulder came apart; then his job got taken by circumstances both logical and unfair. How come I'm always on a mountain when I fall? a country philosopher sings.

Searching for comfort in the worst way, Reich found it in commiseration from his girlfriend, Linda Fick: "It's always darkest before the dawn."

"I hadn't heard it before," Reich said, "and it struck me. I thought about it. She told me it before the Duke game, when I was starting to feel better and it looked like I still wasn't going to play.

"But I decided to hang in there. I didn't know if things would get better, like this, or if I'd just finish out school and be a success in life. I tried to keep a level head."

How dark was it for Maryland under a dazzling sun today? Pitch-black, with fog. Incredibly, dawn occurred about 2:35 in the afternoon, when Reich took his third handoff and whipped a 39-yard touchdown pass to Greg Hill.

"What we were thinking," Reich said, "was one play at a time, one touchdown at a time. When we stopped 'em that first drive and then scored, the momentum started to change.

"And as we kept going, in the back of the players' minds was: 'This could be a great comeback.' "

The Orange Bowl has been the scene of so many indelible moments. This past New Year's night had been one of the best, Kosar passing Miami to the national championship over heavily favored Nebraska.

The Hurricanes won because Nebraska couldn't execute a two-point conversion; they lost today because their own two-pointer failed. They had a lead most basketball teams cannot overcome, and blew it.

If the Fat Lady was not quite singing at halftime, she was at least in the back of the end zone adjusting her breastplate. And very likely humming.

"This week had been one of my best practices," Reich said. "I threw well, tried to keep interested. Just in case."

Of all the passes that arrived on target, Reich will remember longest the one that bounced off a Hurricane defender and into Hill's hands for a 68-yard touchdown.

"When I let it go," he said, "I thought it might be too far. A while before, Greg said he could beat his man on a sprint-and-go. He told me, I told the coach who calls the plays and we came back with it.

"The wind held it up a little bit, and Greg kept his concentration." Incredibly, Maryland took the lead with that play, 35-34; nearly as incredibly, the Terrapins almost saw it bounce away on a botched punt.

"Thing is," Reich said, "We shouldn't have gotten in position to have had to punt at the end. On third down, I had the tight end open for a sure first down and slipped.

"I was setting up, but one of the spikes in my shoes was missing. So my feet went out from under me. Otherwise, we run out the clock."

What wacky irony that would have been, Ross screaming: "My kingdom for a cleat."

Not to worry.

"I've never seen this place," the newest Orange Bowl legend said as he walked perhaps a quarter-mile to the anticipated television interview. "I still can't believe it. My previous biggest thrill? Beating Pitt last year. But it's a far second now."

Reich had walked much of the path he had passed so splendidly. He had surrrendered his helmet strap and two small ear cushions to kids, but not that game ball. After the chance meeting with Miami Coach Johnson, Reich suddenly realized the trip had been futile.

So besieged had Reich been near the dressing room, so long had it taken to arrive that the cameras and lights had been removed. The interviewer apologized.

"No problem," Reich chirped. "Next time I come back from 31 we'll do it."