Rick Badanjek, today's Maryland hero, figured it was last year's loss to Clemson that caused the Atlantic Coast Conference to give Maryland silver championship rings.
This time, the Terrapins want gold rings to match their solid-gold offense. Maryland, with Badanjek rushing for 217 yards, won its second consecutive ACC title, with a 45-34 victory over Virginia in Scott Stadium.
Maryland won the title last season because Clemson was on probation. Today, the Terrapins left no question as to which was the best team in the league, gaining 575 yards offense, 402 rushing, to finish 5-0 against ACC teams.
As Bobby Ross, one of the coaches the University of Missouri would like to talk with about its vacancy, said, "There's no asterisk by this championship. We won it outright."
Maryland, ranked 18th in the country, finished its regular season 8-3, with six straight victories, and now will wait for the Dec. 22 Sun Bowl against Tennessee.
Virginia had its nine-game unbeaten streak broken. And the Cavaliers, having run up 527 yards and converted 10 of 14 third-down plays, were left wondering what more they had to do to win.
The Cavaliers played before a home crowd of 43,017 -- the third largest here ever -- but Maryland produced the day's fabulous plays: Badanjek's 65-yard touchdown run, Alvin Blount's 72-yard touchdown run, and another carry by Badanjek that covered 72 yards before he ran out of bounds.
Virginia's afternoon wasn't a complete waste, though. The Cavaliers accepted a bid from the Peach Bowl, where they will play Purdue Dec. 31.
Virginia, however, will spend the next few days trying to figure out how its defense, which had allowed only 12.1 points per game the last nine games, could be so ineffectual against Maryland.
Maryland, trailing, 14-6, with nine minutes to play in the first half, scored 32 points in the next 18 minutes to take a 38-21 lead. The Terrapins wound up in the 40-point zone for the fifth time in six games.
That left Virginia linebacker Charles McDaniel to say, "They scored 42 points against Miami and 41 against Clemson; I guess that puts us in some pretty good company. It's not like we're the worst defense in the country."
Virginia's George Welsh, the ACC's coach of the year, said, "It was the kind of game I just abhor -- a shootout. We just couldn't stop them. Nobody's stopped them since Penn State (Oct. 6), so I guess you'd have to say it was more their execution than our lack of defense."
And another reaction to Maryland's offense, from Virginia quarterback Don Majkowski: "It was kind of hard to understand. We thought we'd have momentum (after scoring), and they'd come back and do the same thing to us. Their offense is so explosive, maybe they can get by with allowing teams to score 34 points."
There's no telling how many points the Terrapins might have scored had they gotten off to a decent start. Their first two possessions consisted of eight plays for zero net yards, and they couldn't get into the end zone even though Virginia fumbled a punt at its 17.
Maryland did take a 3-0 lead on the first of three field goals -- this one 47 yards -- by Jess Atkinson.
But the Cavaliers, with Majkowski (219 yards passing, 79 rushing) running the option offense at near maximum efficiency, took a 14-6 lead early in the second quarter on short touchdown runs by Majkowski and Howard Petty.
At that point, Maryland got going, about the same time Ron Mattes, Virginia's 6-foot-7, 286-pound left defensive tackle, went out of the game on the last play of the first quarter with a broken arm.
With Mattes, an all-ACC player, Virginia had pressured quarterback Frank Reich and stopped Maryland's early rushing attempts.
Ross and his players said they were in the process of making adjustments, anyway. But the fact remains that with Mattes, Virginia's defense allowed 18 yards on 13 plays. After Mattes departed, Maryland averaged 10.7 yards per play.
"I don't know what really happened over there," Maryland center Kevin Glover said, "but they moved (right tackle) Tom Kilgannon over there, who is just as good. But maybe he's not used to playing on that side."
On the next play, Badanjek went 65 yards on a sweep-left for the touchdown, then popped the same play for the two-point conversion that tied it at 14.
According to McDaniel, "Maryland runs the best sweeps I've ever seen."
Maryland got the ball back after a punt, and got a 25-yard touchdown pass from Reich to Azizuddin Abdur-Ra'oof that made it 21-14 with a little more than a minute left in the half.
Virginia tried to score quickly, but Maryland's all-ACC linebacker, Eric Wilson, intercepted Majkowski and returned 30 yards to set up Atkinson's 28-yard field goal, which put the Terrapins ahead, 24-14, at halftime.
Wilson's interception was probably the most significant defensive play of the game and was the exception to Ross' statement, "That's the worst defense we've played in three years."
The Terrapins' lead went to 31-14 on the first possession of the second half with Badanjek going 18 yards in two carries, Reich hitting Greg Hill for 26 yards, and Badanjek scoring a one-yard touchdown.
Virginia kept mounting sustained drives. The Cavaliers went 71 yards to pull within 31-21. But Maryland countered with Badanjek's 72-yard run, going out of breath and bounds at the Virginia 11. Tommy Neal scored on the next play for 38-21.
Badanjek had already broken Steve Atkins' Maryland career record for touchdowns, with 34. And he would have liked another. "But I just ran out of gas," said Badanjek, a fullback who at 220-or-so pounds, is not built to set Olympic track records. "It looks so embarrassing to get caught from behind like that."
The coaching staff worked with Badanjek all week on not cutting inside so quickly on sweep plays, which is one reason he stayed outside and picked up so many yards.
When Virginia completed an 80-yard drive on Barry Word's six-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter, the fans in Scott Stadium stood and responded with a long, loud ovation.
But only 23 seconds later, it was quiet again as Blount went 72 yards on another sweep to make it 45-27.
As Glover explained, Virginia was sometimes putting its linebackers close to the line of scrimmage. The Terrapins linemen were getting the backs through the initial point of attack, and there was usually only one Cavalier left.
"Just open spaces and the orange cone in the corner of the end zone," Blount said.
"What does it feel like when we're out there? It feels like we can't be stopped," Blount said. "We want the defense to just get us back the ball, so we can score again and again."